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Eating a low-carb diet in the months before or during pregnancy might not be good for your baby.
A new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that pregnant women who reported eating few carbohydrates in the lead-up to conception were 30 percent more likely to have babies with neural tube defects compared with women who did not restrict their carb consumption during that time.
Neural tube defects include spina bifida (a malformation of the spinal cord), and anencephaly (when part of the brain is missing).
Researchers analyzed data on more than 11,000 pregnant women across the United States. Just over 1,500 women had babies with a neural tube defect, although some of the babies did not survive.
The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Birth Defects Research, believe a low-carb diet may be risky for the developing baby because it reduces women's intake of folic acid. This important vitamin helps prevent neural tube defects. The government requires manufacturers to add folic acid to enriched grain products such as breakfast cereals, bread, pasta and rice. But if you don't eat these products, you may not get enough.
Women in the study who consumed low-carb diets had less than half the folic acid intake of other women, the authors calculated. Taking prenatal vitamins with folic acid did not appear to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. This could be because the vitamins alone aren't enough to compensate for the lack of folic acid from enriched grain products in the diet, the researchers speculated.
More research is needed to confirm these findings and to explore the folic acid theory, the authors said. One limitation is that the study relied on the women's own accounts of their carbohydrate intake.
Experts recommend taking 400 micrograms of folic acid a day, beginning at least a month before you start trying to get pregnant. It's actually a good idea to take folic acid supplements anyway if you're of childbearing age, just in case you have an unplanned pregnancy.
In a statement, lead researcher Tania Desrosiers said women who may become pregnant should talk to their health care provider about any special diets or eating behaviors they engage in.
Do you restrict carbohydrates in your diet? What do you think of this study?
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