Salad

New findings published in a recent issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine suggest that women who regularly eat a healthy diet leading up to becoming pregnant are significantly less likely to have babies with serious brain and spine birth defects, cleft lips and cleft palates.

The women who the researchers studied that followed the Mediterranean diet or the U.S. food guide pyramid—which includes regularly eating a high amount of beans, fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains while avoiding excess meat, dairy and processed food and sugar—consistently produced fewer babies with birth defects, the study concluded.

“A lot of birth defects, including neural tube defects, occur very early in pregnancy, before women even know they’re pregnant,” said study researcher, Stanford University’s Suzan Carmichael, pointing to other factors that could have damaging effects early on including alcohol and tobacco use.

Carmichael and the research team compared data collected from 3,400 women whose babies had a neural tube defect or cleft lip or palate with the data of 6,100 women whose babies had no birth defects, and found that the women who ate a diet closely matching the healthy standards of the USDA Food Guide Pyramid reduced their risk of having a baby with a missing part of its brain and skull by half as much as women whose diets were farthest from the recommended guidelines. The risk of a baby born with a cleft lip was reduced by 34 percent and reduced by 26 percent for cleft palates.

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