They found that women with diets similar to the Mediterranean Diet -- which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish and light in fats and sugar -- or the Food Guide Pyramid of the U.S. Department of Agriculture were at lower risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect or oral cleft, compared to women who reported eating less-healthy diets.
This finding remained even after adjusting for other factors such as taking a vitamin or mineral supplement, the researchers noted. "We found that diet was important whether a women took a vitamin supplement or not," Carmichael said.
Most women who gave birth to an infant who did not have a birth defect were white and had more than a high school education, the researchers found. Among mothers in the survey, 19 percent smoked, 38 percent drank, 78 percent took folic acid supplements and 16 percent were obese.
David R. Jacobs, Jr., the Mayo Professor of Public Health at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and co-author of an accompanying journal editorial, said, "We have confused the constituents of food with food itself. Food is a complex mixture."
There may be a number of right ways to eat, and some diets that are not so good, he said. Generally, foods are better than supplements except when there is a deficiency, he added.
Jacobs noted that foods are more complex than drugs that contain only a single element and have been tested. "Food are not well understood," he said.
"There are some better ways to eat and supplements are probably not the right answer -- we should eat food," Jacobs said. One should not eat too much and eat mostly plants, he added.
Commenting on the study, Gail Harrison, a professor of public health at the University of California, Los Angeles, and spokeswoman for the March of Dimes, said, "I am not surprised t
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