On a low carb diet? You have a higher chance of having a baby with a birth defect

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Low carb diets are more popular than ever. A few years back, the Atkins diet was all the rage; today, it’s Paleo and Ketogenic diets which people follow religiously. A word of caution, though: for women who are pregnant, being on a low carb diet actually increases your chances of encountering complications during pregnancy, and having a child with a birth defect.

More specifically, a 2018 study published in the Birth Defects Research journal shows that women on a low carb diet are 30% more likely to give birth to babies with birth defects. The study which was conducted by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill over a 13 year period tracked data from over 11,000 participants.

Out of these 11,000 participants, women who incorporated less carbohydrates into their diets were more likely to give birth to babies with neural tube defects (NTDs). Some babies had malformations of their spines and spinal cords, and others had their brains less developed than normal. These birth defects typically cause lifelong disability; in certain cases, they may even result in infant death.

The link between low carb diets and birth defects

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Why are mothers on low carb diets more likely to give birth to babies with birth defects? According to the researchers, it’s because these women are missing out on the folic acid that’s enriched in grain products such as bread, pasta, rice and cereal.

As a general rule of thumb, all women of childbearing age should consume at least 400 mcg of folic acid per day, and women who are pregnant are required to consume an increased dosage of 600 to 800 mcg per day. That said, women on low carb diets only get approximately half of this recommended intake.

Can you go on a low carb diet if you get your folic acid from other sources?

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Assuming that a pregnant women does get sufficient folic acid from supplements and other sources, does this mean that she will be able to go on a low carb diet without affecting the development of her foetus? As of now, the answer isn’t clear. Until further research is done, experts recommend that pregnant women eat all foods in moderation, instead of going out of their way to avoid carbohydrates.

On top of that, it’s also important for women to take their folic acid supplements (or prenatal vitamins containing folic acid) on a daily basis. Folic acid is necessary for both women who are already pregnant, and women who are trying to conceive. For best results, the latter should start consuming these supplements a month before conception.

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