Pregnancy Complications From Low-carb Diet Are High, Study Warns

Pregnancy Complications From Low-carb Diet Are High, Study Warns

A study warns moms, or prospective moms, who are on diets that pregnancy complications from low-carb diet may arise if they do not take the necessary steps to ensure they dietary needs are complete.

Many women nowadays believe that low-carb diets (like Atkins, Paleo, Keto, or gluten-free) are greatly beneficial to their health. However, if they plan to have children, pregnancy complications from a low-carb diet may arise, putting their children’s lives at risk claims new research.

A recent study published in the journal Birth Defects Research revealed that women with a low carbohydrate diet are 30% more likely to give birth to babies with birth defects.

The study looked into data from more than 11,000 mothers who gave birth during a 13-year period. What the researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found was disturbing.

Pregnancy complications from low-carb diet

"We found that women with low carbohydrate intake before conception had a higher risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect compared to other women," lead researcher Dr. Tania Desrosiers, PhD, MPH, of UNC's Gillings School of Public Health, said.

"This is significant because it points to a potential opportunity to prevent some birth defects in the future," Desrosiers was quoted as saying.

Pregnancy complications from a low-carb diet may result in birth defects, specifically neural tube defects (NTDs). These may include spina bifida (malformations of the spine and spinal cord) and anencephaly (absence of portions of the brain).

Eventually, they case lifelong disability and infant death.

pregnancy complications from low-carb diet

It's all about folic acid

The researchers pointed out that the connection between low-carb diets and NTDs lies in folic acid. Folic acid is an important nutrient long known for preventing NTDs. This is why prenatal vitamins are loaded with folic acid.

Desrosiers said this is why some governments "require that folic acid be added to 'enriched' grain products like bread, pasta, rice, and cereal." 

When women go on diets without a lot of carbohydrates, they miss out on folic-acid-enriched food. This in turn causes pregnancy complications from low-carb diets.

"As a scientific community, we've wondered if low-carb diets could lead to meaningful reductions in folic acid intake that could in turn lead to an increase in the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect," Desrosiers said. "This study is the first to investigate this question directly."

Recommended intake

The study also showed that women on low-carb diets only get half of the recommended dietary intake of folic acid compared to other women who include carbohydrates in their diets.

"Pregnant women or women trying to become pregnant should have a conversation with their health care provider about their diet and any special eating patterns they might practice," Desrosiers said.

“And continue taking a vitamin every day before and during pregnancy that contains at least 400 micrograms of folic acid," she added.

Moms need complete nutrition

Folate is a natural form folic acid, so mothers should do well to eat foods rich in folate. They’re usually green leafy vegetables, legumes like peas and beans, oranges, and avocados.

It’s also worth noting that a lot of parents don't plan their pregnancies. Therefore women of reproductive age should consider their folate or folic acid intake level.

"Neural tube defects appear very early in pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant," Dr. Desrosiers said. "This is why the CDC recommends that all women who are capable of becoming pregnant take a vitamin containing at least 400 mcg of folic acid every day, whether or not they're trying to get pregnant."

Healthy hi-carb recipes for moms

If you're going to include folic acid in your diets, you might as well do it right and make it delicious. And fun! Here are some recipes you could do at home from one day to the next.

1. Fiesta Lime & Black Bean Rice



  • 1 cup brown rice, uncooked
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth or water
  • 1/3 red onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • pinch of sea salt and pepper
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • small piece of jalapeño
  • 1 cup sweet corn
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Fiesta Lime Sauce
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • sea salt and pepper, to taste
  • extra jalapeño slices for fun

Find the whole recipe & directions at The Glowing Fridge

2. Spinach-Potato Tacos


  • 2 large yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 package frozen spinach, thawed
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium poblano pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 cup unsweetened, unflavored plant milk
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Find the whole recipe & directions at Forks Over Knives

3. Açai Bowl


  • 1 tablespoon hemp seeds
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened vanilla non-dairy milk
  • 1 tablespoon buckwheat groats
  • 1 large handful of greens
  • 1.5 cups chopped frozen mango
  • 1 heaping cup frozen mixed berries
  • 1 frozen açai berry packet
  • granola of choice
  • 1.5 - 2 cups sliced fruit for topping
  • 1 teaspoon hemp seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cacao nibs
  • maple syrup

Find the whole recipe & directions at Keepin It Kind

4. Cauliflower Wings


  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 1.5 cups whole grain flour
  • 1.25 cups soy milk
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 cup corn flakes

Find the whole recipe & directions at Our Blog

5. Yam Chickpea Spinach Curry
high carb low fat vegan recipes


  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 inch of ginger
  • 1-2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 cups of fresh spinach
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • salt to taste
  • 1 cup of yams/sweet potatoes
  • ¼ teaspoon garam masala

Find the whole recipe & directions at Forks Over Knives

6. Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins


  • 2 cups rolled oats, ground
  • 12 dates, pitted
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¾ cup plant milk
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1.5 tbsp ground flax seed
  • ¾ cup applesauce
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar

Find the whole recipe & directions at Our Blog

7. Avocado Mango Brown Rice Sushi


  • 1 cup short grain brown rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 ripe mango, sliced into vertical strips
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • ⅓ cup micro greens, optional
  • 1 cucumber, sliced into long strips
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, optional
  • 4 nori sheets
  • tamari or soy sauce
 Find the whole recipe & directions at Love And Lemons

8. Melon Salad With Mint & Lime


  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons agave syrup
  • 3 cups peeled cantaloupe
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/4 cup lightly packed mint leaves
  • Sriracha hot sauce to serve

Find the whole recipe & directions at The Post Punk Kitchen

9. Pasta Primavera
Pregnancy Complications From Low-carb Diet Are High, Study Warns


  • 12 ounces quinoa penne
  • 3 cups broccoli
  • 2 cups carrots
  • 1 onion
  • 1 cup red bell pepper
  • 1½ tablespoon garlic granules
  • 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • ½ cup raw cashews
  • 1 cup soy milk
  • ½ cup oat flour
  • 2 cups green peas
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes

Find the whole recipe & directions at Forks Over Knives


Materials provided by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Journal Reference:

Tania A. Desrosiers, Anna Maria Siega-Riz, Bridget S. Mosley, Robert E. Meyer. Low carbohydrate diets may increase risk of neural tube defects. Birth Defects Research, 2018; DOI: 10.1002/bdr2.1198

Republished with permission from: theAsianParent Singapore

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