Low carb diets like Atkins, Paleo, Keto associated with reduced intake of folic acid, which increases risk of birth defects

Tuesday, February 06, 2018 by

Low carbohydrate diets, such as Atkin, Paleo, and Keto, continue to become popular diets today. However, you may want to avoid these diets if you are pregnant or trying to become one as they could raise the risk of having babies with congenital disabilities, particularly neural tube birth defects, according to a study.

The study was carried out by a team of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who analyzed the association of carbohydrate intake and neural birth defects, such as anencephaly and spina bifida. In conducting the study, the research team used the data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study from 1998 to 2011, which involved 11,285 pregnant women from different states in the U.S. alone. In the sample, 1,740 had infants, stillbirths, and terminations with anencephaly or spina bifida, while 9,545 gave birth to infants without a birth defect. Anencephaly is the absence of major portions of the brain and skull, while spina bifida is the condition wherein the spine and spinal cord have malformations.

The findings of the study, published in the journal Birth Defects Research, revealed that the dietary intake of folic acid among women with reduced or zero carbohydrate intake was less than half of other women. In addition, adherence to these diets could raise the risk of giving birth to a baby with a neural tube defect by 30 percent.

“This finding reinforces the importance for women who may become pregnant to talk to their healthcare provider about any special diets or eating behaviors they routinely practice,” Tania Desrosiers, leader of the study, explained.

She also said that the findings raise concern because low carbohydrate diets are fairly popular nowadays. Low carbohydrate diets are being promoted by celebrities who follow these type of diets.

What is folic acid and why is it important?

Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, is an essential nutrient. Folic acid is responsible for producing red blood cells, the synthesis and repair of DNA and RNA, helping in fast cell division and growth, improving brain health, and preventing or alleviating age-related hearing loss.

But this vitamin is particularly important for pregnant women to consume adequate folic acid as it helps prevent the fetus from developing major congenital deformities of the brain or spine, such as neural tube defects. (Related: Folic acid supplements taken by mothers greatly reduces risk of cleft lips and palates in infants)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women who are pregnant or who may become one should take a daily multivitamin with a minimum of 400 micrograms (μg) of folic acid each day. In addition, even those who do not plan to get pregnant should consume enough folic acid because half of the pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned and birth defects develop in the early stages of pregnancy, about three to four weeks after conception.

Folic acid can be acquired from foods and supplements. Good sources of folic acid include asparagus, baker’s yeast, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, egg yolk, jacket potato, kidney, lentils, lettuce, fruits such as papaya and kiwi, milk oranges, parsnips, peas, spinach, sunflower seeds, and wholewheat bread. Since folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin, it is lost from vegetables during cooking. Thus, remember not to overcook vegetables to retain the vitamin content.

Learn more about what diet is good for you at Nutrients.news.


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