New research suggests that women who eat healthy before pregnancy can reduce risk of certain birth defects.

By Alesandra Dubin
August 27, 2015
Avocado toast with veggies

We already know so many reasons to stay physically fit and eat healthy during pregnancy. (Even if it's OK to cave to cravings from time to time!)

But here's yet another reason to maintain a smart diet even before you're expecting: New research indicates that women who eat healthy food before getting pregnant are less likely to deliver a baby with a heart defect.

The new study, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood (Fetal & Neonatal Edition)shows that women who ate very healthy foods were 37 percent less likely than those with unhealthy diets to have a baby with tetralogy of Fallot—that's a heart defect that limits the amount of oxygen babies' blood can carry, and causes them to turn blue. The healthy-diet women also were 23 percent less likely to have a baby born with an atrial septal defect, which is a hole in the wall that separates the heart's top two chambers.

So what does "healthy" mean here? A diet loaded with veggies, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and fish, with less dairy, meat, and sweets, seemed to reduce the risks of these problems. And foods packed with good stuff like folic acid, iron, and calcium are, of course, also great for moms and babies.

The study showed an association between such a diet and lower risk of birth defects, but did not prove cause and effect.

Data came from close to 10,000 moms of babies born with heart defects, and nearly the same number of moms with healthy babies, born between 1997 and 2009. Researchers asked the women what they ate in the year prior to their pregnancy in order to determine the findings.

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Alesandra Dubin is a mom to one-year-old boy-girl twins. She's also a Los Angeles-based writer and the founder of lifestyle blog Homebody in Motion. Follow her on FacebookInstagramGoogle+ and Twitter.

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