If you listen to the Healthy Post Natal Body podcast, and if you don’t..why not?, you will know I did an interview with Libby Mills (MS, RDN, LDN, FAND) who is a spokersperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and this was one of the questions listeners of the podcast asked me to put to her.
This blog post is a, slightly more structured and detailed, version of what she had to say about this.
If you prefer to listen then here’s a little excerpt about this on our Youtube channel.
Is the KETO diet safe to do when you are breastfeeding?
Let’s start at the beginning, for just a second.
What is the KETO diet
A KETO diet is a diet where you’re going to be keeping the carbohydrate count, in terms of what you’re eating, to about 100 grams or less. So we’re talking any sort of extremely low-carb diet. This includes Atkins, the Carnivore diet etc.
You do this to get the body in a state of Ketosis. This is the state where, instead of glucose which you get from carbs, the body mainly burns fat as it’s primary fuel source.
Sounds like a good idea, right? After all, if you’re trying to lose fat then getting the body to directly burn that fat off your body sounds like a no-brainer.
However it has to be said that your body will ALWAYS burn your fat if you are in a calorific deficit. In other words, if you consume fewer calories than you burn your body will start on it’s fat stores. Assuming you haven’t cut your protein intake too far then your body should never start catabolising, using up, your muscle-mass.
So there is nothing magic about the Keto diet from that perspective.
So what are the benefits of a Keto diet over other diets?
After all, there are a LOT of people who follow a Keto-style diet and some absolutely swear by them.
There are several benefits to following a Keto diet if you’re trying to lose weight.
1; It’s premise is simple. Just eat your fats and proteins and lay off the heavy carbs.
2; You don’t tend to go as hungry on a Keto diet as you might on other diets. We all know that fats and proteins keep us feeling fuller for longer. So if you go with a Keto diet then you will potentially not be as hungry as you would be on other diets that restrict your calorie intake. Thereby making it easier to stick to.
3; It is fairly straightforward to stick to for a while. IF YOU LIKE MEAT. Let’s be honest, for a lot of people giving up carbs is easier than giving up meat. If you take the “Let’s remove an entire food group from my plate because I want to lose weight” approach it’s easier to throw out the potatoes than it is to throw out the steak. In the west we tend to glamourise meat, especially red meat, much more so than we do vegetables. Veggies are yucky whereas steak is….oh man, isn’t it just THE BEST!!???!!?
The downsides to a Keto diet
1; It requires a lot of planning if you want to do it right and in a healthy way. Of course, you could do a very shitty version of a Ketogenic diet and just cut out all carbs, including fruit and veg, and your body will go in Ketosis. And IF you are in a calorific deficit you will also lose weight. BUT you won’t be getting all the vitamins, minerals and fibre you need. So you either need to use supplements (yuck) or you need to take the time and plan your meals very carefully so you can make sure you get all the required nutrients in. This is not impossible but it requires more work.
Here is a clear example of a stupid way to go Keto.
Basically everything about this video is what’s wrong with most people who follow a Ketogenic diet. This stupid “It’s now acceptable to have burgers for breakfast because it’s Keto” reasoning is why people laugh at those on a Keto diet. You come across like a child if you eat like this.
2; It’s much more expensive than a “normal” diet. Meat, especially good quality meat, and fish are expensive. Carbs, including fruit and veg, tend to be much cheaper than proteins.
3; Again; You HAVE TO supplement. You really don’t have much of a choice. Now this is fine, of course, but I always say that any diet that forces you to supplement is probably not actually a good one. A lot of meat-eaters accept that vegans have to supplement but they don’t accept it for themselves. To be fair, as other dietitians I’ve interviewed have pointed out, everyone should probably use a good vitamin supplement because of the situation with soil depletion and food quality, but when going Keto it’s a must. And this can be expensive as well.
The problem with the Keto diet when you’re breastfeeding
Following a diet that’s very low in carbohydrates means is that there’s not going to be a lot of room for getting in key nutrients/key food groups from that we know are good for us. Like fruits. You can pretty much work a few vegetables into keto, but it’s going to eliminate most fruits, most whole grains, legumes. And these are great sources of nutrients like potassium, fibre, magnesium. And then, of course, iron and zinc also come from these food groups. You get your fibre from veggies and whole grains, and we know fibre is HUGELY important for our health.
Of course when you’re breastfeeding you’re trying to give your child all the nutrients he/she needs. When you don’t consume those nutrients yourself you’ll have a very tough time passing them on. And, I’ve written about this before, your baby will get all the nutrients it needs from you by hook or by crook and so your stores will end up being depleted very quickly.
When you are breastfeeding it really doesn’t make sense to cut out an entire food group because you need to have not only enough calories to support making the milk for the baby. But you also need to have the right nutrients to support your body, make sure that you’re nourished so that your energy level stays elevated, and you can function in your day.
The BIG QUESTION; Does it work?
Whether you will lose weight on a Keto diet really only depends on one thing; Whether you’re in a calorific deficit or not. If you are then, yes you will lose weight. If you overconsume calories then you will gain weight.
But will it get to me burning my bodyfat as a primary fuel source? This is very debatable. Keto diets, as with all diets, will mainly burn the calories you consume before moving onto your stored calories. So, in this particular case, YES, you will burn fat as a primary fuel source BUT that will always mainly be the fat you’re consuming on the day. KETO is not magic and the laws of thermodynamics still apply.
Screw it, I’m doing it anyways. what should I pay attention to?
Like I said, and like Libby mentioned on the podcast, I’m not a big fan of a Keto diet such as Atkins when you’re breastfeeding (or any weightloss attempt at all TBH) but I’m here to help and it’s your choice so here are some thing I would suggest you do;
Leafy greens! Eat them and eat them a LOT! Spinach is an awesome vegetable. It’s low in calories, has protein, iron and fibre and you can eat a LOT of it before you fill that carb macro. Asparagus are also an option but most root vegetables are off the menu.
Quality matters I always say that you can’t run a supercar on shitty fuel. If you’re removing one component from the fuel (carbs) then you have to make sure the other components are top-notch. £3 chicken just doesn’t hack it. Even my dogs won’t touch that stuff!
Remember that you don’t need to cut your calories too much to get results! I don’t mean “don’t cut them because you’re breastfeeding”. You should always include the additional calories you require for breastfeeding in your calculations! I mean; Even a 200 calorie a day deficit will get you results. Weight management should always be a “slowly, slowly, catchy monkey” sort of thing.
And finally; Remember that you will ALMOST ALWAYS still retain some weight whilst you’re breastfeeding because of the hormones in your body. Prolactin, the hormone that helps with breastmilk production, tends to come with 5-10lbs of weight. So don’t worry if you seem to hold on to this for a while.
Anyways, you do you and take care of yourself.
As always, just send me an email if you have any questions. That’s what I’m here for.