Pregnant women who eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and eat fewer foods high in things like saturated fats and sugar, have a lower risk of giving birth to babies with specific birth defects.
That’s the takeaway from a study released today by Stanford University School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics. The study showed pregnant women with healthy eating habits are less likely to have babies with neural tube defects (malformations of the brain or spine) and orofacial clefts (such as cleft lip or cleft palate).
Women from 10 U.S. states were surveyed about the quality of their diets immediately before and during pregnancy. Those with the highest quality eating habits were 36 to 51 percent less likely to have babies with anencephaly, a fatal birth defect where the baby is born without part of the brain or skull. Women with healthier diets were also 24 to 34 percent less likely to have babies born with cleft lip.
Suzan Carmichael, the lead author of the study and an associate professor at Stanford University, said her research team found that women with high quality diets were more protected from these birth defects regardless of whether or not they took vitamin or mineral supplements.
Carmichael said this was the first large-scale study examining the relationship between overall diet and birth defects.
“In the past we’ve focused on looking at one nutrient at a time - like the B vitamin folic acid. But in reality we know that foods contain a lot of nutrients that interact in our bodies. They don’t just act in isolation; they depend on each other.”