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Old November 24th, 2003, 06:01 PM
Diarmid Logan
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Default Sugary foods 'birth defect risk'

Sugary foods 'birth defect risk'

Eating sugary or highly processed foods during pregnancy may increase
the risk of birth defects, research suggests.

US researchers compared the diet of 454 mothers of children with
neural tube defects like spina bifida, with 462 mothers who had
healthy babies.

They found the risk of defects doubled in women who ate lots of foods
which give a quick sugar hit - and among obese women it quadrupled.

The research is published in the American Journal of Clinical

The researchers, from the University of California, focused on foods
that have a high glyacemic index (GI).

This means that they release large amounts glucose into the blood very
quickly, giving a sugar rush, followed by a low.

Examples of high GI foods include corn flakes, potatoes, cooked
carrots, white bread, white rice, chocolate biscuits, honey and some
soft drinks.

Scientists believe that the sudden release of large amounts of glucose
may interfere with the development of babies in the womb - in
particular the formation of the tube of bone around the spinal column.

Low GI foods, which give a slow release of glucose, include green
vegetables, fresh fruit, wholegrain cereals and whole-wheat pasta.

Andrew Russell, chief executive of the Association for Spina Bifida
and Hydrocephalus, told BBC News Online that the research should be
treated with caution until further studies backed up the findings.

He said: "Neural tube defect research is very complicated, and
theories around about the significance of sugars, proteins, vitamins
and other micronutrients.

"The idea that a sugar surge in the maternal blood could cause spina
bifida, while not impossible, would need quite a lot of corroboration
because there are so many other things that feed into the metabolic
process which controls development and closure of the spinal column.

"I would not feel at all comfortable about telling a mother that
because she ate a cream bun in the early stages of pregnancy she was
responsible for her child's lifelong disability."

Mr Russell said the vitamin Folic Acid had been shown to play a
crucial role in the this process.

Research from Oxford Brookes University, published earlier this month,
found children who eat a high-GI breakfast cereal get hungrier before
lunchtime, and are more likely to snack and eat more calories overall.

A spokesman for Kellogg's, which makes corn flakes and other high GI
cereals, said: "The science is relatively new and in some areas

"There is clear evidence that foods such as Kellogg's Corn Flakes,
which are high in carbohydrate and low in fat, play an important role
in helping people reduce fat intakes, maintain weight levels and
possibly help their bodies to better control blood sugar levels."