New York: Women who eat a better diet leading up to pregnancy are less likely to have babies with birth defects, according to a new study.Researchers found that fewer babies were born with brain and spine problems, called neural tube defects, as well as cleft lip and cleft palate, when moms-to-be more closely followed either a Mediterranean diet or the food guide pyramid."A lot of birth defects including neural tube defects occur very early in pregnancy, before women even know they`re pregnant," said Suzan Carmichael from Stanford University, who worked on the study."These messages are important for women who are at any risk of becoming pregnant."The bottom line for women who are pregnant or may get pregnant, she said is to "eat a variety of foods, including a lot of fruits and vegetables and grains in your diet, and take a vitamin supplement that contains folic acid."Grain products have been fortified with folic acid in the US since the late 1990s, when studies found that low levels of folate during pregnancy were linked to brain and spine birth defects. Pregnant women are also recommended to take a prenatal vitamin with folic acid and iron.Carmichael and her colleagues wondered if eating a healthy, balanced diet could have the same protective effect as getting extra vitamins and minerals through supplements. They used data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study to compare about 3,400 women who had a baby with a neural tube defect or a cleft lip or palate and 6,100 women whose babies didn`t have a birth defect.Each of those women completed a phone interview in the two years after her baby was born.
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