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02nd Feb 2018

Pass the bread: US study links eating carbs with healthy pregnancies

But Irish mothers mightn't benefit in the same way.

Anna O'Rourke

US study links eating carbs with healthy pregnancies

A new study shows eating carbs promotes a healthy pregnancy – but there’s a catch for Irish mums-to-be.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looked at birth data from Arkansas, California, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Texas and Utah.

They found that women who are currently pregnant or attempting to get pregnant should avoid cutting out carbs as this could increase the risk of their child being born with a Neural Tube Defect (NTD).

These defects, which include spina bifida, can result in lifelong disability and can even be fatal.

US study links eating carbs with healthy pregnancies

Many carbohydrate-rich foods in the US, including bread, are fortified with folic acid, a B vitamin shown to prevent NTDs.

Women who leave these foods out of their diets are 30 per cent more likely to give birth to a baby with an NTD, the study found.

Carbohydrates are also important for energy and fibre intake and so are key for pregnant women.

“We already know that maternal diet before and during early pregnancy plays a significant role in fetal development,” said lead researcher Tania Desrosiers.

“This is concerning because low-carbohydrate diets are fairly popular.”

US study links eating carbs with healthy pregnancies

Pregnant women in Ireland are not likely to get a folic acid boost from carb-rich foods as unlike in the US, it is not mandatory for manufacturers here to add folic acid to bread.

Another study this week, this time in the UK, called for all bread and flour to be fortified with folic acid.

There’s been caution around the vitamin because of previous research that linked excess consumption of folic acid with diarrhoea, cramps, sleep disorders, confusion, nausea and seizures.

This week’s study, undertaken at Queen Mary University of London, debunks that theory.

“Failing to fortify flour with folic acid to prevent neural tube defects is like having a polio vaccine and not using it,” said lead author Professor Sir Nicholas Wald from the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine at Queen Mary University.