Washington: Pregnant women should avoid diets that reduce or eliminate carbohydrates, as they could increase the risk of having babies with neural tube birth defects, a study has found.
The study, published in the journal Birth Defects Research, found that women with low carbohydrate intake are 30 per cent more likely to have babies with neural tube defects, such as spina bifida (malformations of the spine and spinal cord) and anencephaly (absence of major portions of the brain and skull).
It can lead to lifelong disability and infant death, when compared with women who do not restrict their carbohydrate intake.
This is the first study to evaluate the relationship between low carbohydrate intake and having children with neural tube defects.
"We already know that maternal diet before and during early pregnancy plays a significant role in foetal development. What is new about this study is its suggestion that low carbohydrate intake could increase the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect by 30 per cent," said Tania Desrosiers, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the US.
"This is concerning because low carbohydrate diets are fairly popular," said Desrosiers.
"This finding reinforces the importance for women who may become pregnant to talk to their health care provider about any special diets or eating behaviours they routinely practice," Desrosiers said.
Folic acid is an essential nutrient that minimises the risk of neural tube defects.
More than 20 per cent of women in the US have blood folate concentrations below the recommended level to reduce risk of neural tube defects.
For this reason, in 1998 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began requiring that folic acid be added to enriched grain products.
The researchers found that dietary intake of folic acid among women with restricted carbohydrate intake was less than half of other women.