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

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

A study warns mums, or prospective mums, 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 beneficial to their health. However, if they plan to have children, pregnancy complications from a low-carb diet may arise, 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 a 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.”

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, these birth defects cause lifelong disability and, at times, 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.

Mums need complete nutrition

Folate is a natural form of folic acid, so mothers would 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 mums

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 can do at home every day.

1. Fiesta Lime & Black Bean Rice

Fiesta Lime and Black Bean Rice. VEGAN, GF, OIL-FREE. Crunchy, spicy, full of lime flavor and absolutely delicious, similar to a bowl at Chipotle! From The Glowing Fridge.

Image: The Glowing Fridge


  • 1 cup brown rice, uncooked
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth or water
  • 1/3 red onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • A pinch of sea salt and pepper
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • A 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 and directions at The Glowing Fridge.

2. Spinach-Potato Tacos


Image: Forks Over Knives


  • 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 and directions at Forks Over Knives.

3. Açai Bowl

My Favorite Acai Bowl + Tips & Tricks for a Stellar Smoothie Bowl

Image: Keepin It Kind


  • 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 and directions at Keepin It Kind.

4. Cauliflower Wings

plate of crispy baked cauliflower buffalo wings next to some carrot and zucchini sticks as well as vegan ranch dip

Image: Our Blog


  • 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 and directions at Our Blog.

5. Yam Chickpea Spinach Curry

Yam Chickpea Curry with Spinach: I thought I’d create a different spin on Chana Masala with them and this chickpea curry recipe is what I came up with. It’s very hearty and satisfying!

Image: Forks Over Knives


  • 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 and directions at Forks Over Knives.

6. Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins

three vegan blueberry oat muffins on a small bright blue plate and wooden surface next to blueberries

Image: Our Blog


  • 2 cups rolled oats, ground
  • 12 dates, pitted
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¾ cup plant milk
  • ¾ cup of 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 and directions at Our Blog.

7. Avocado Mango Brown Rice Sushi

Avocado Cucumber Sushi Roll Recipe

Image: Love and Lemons


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

8. Melon Salad With Mint & Lime

Melon Salad

Image: The Post Funk Kitchen


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

Find the whole recipe and directions at The Post Punk Kitchen.

9. Pasta Primavera

Pregnancy Complications From Low-carb Diet Are High, Study Warns
Pasta Primavera | Forks Over Knives

Image: Forks Over Knives


  • 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 of 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 at directions at Forks Over Knives.


Source: Materials provided by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Journal ReferenceTania 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


YOU CAN ALSO READ: Introducing spicy food to your toddler: How to do it wisely.

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