Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Coincidence - Common Sense = Articles Like This

While scanning my email for low-carb tidbits, this headline caught my eye: "Birth defects down after low-carb craze". Naturally my first reaction was to roll my eyes. So now low-carb is also the cause of birth defects? This is one accusation I hadn't heard yet... and I thought I'd heard them all.

The following quote sums it up quite nicely:

"The N.C. Folic Acid Council and the March of Dimes reported that the rate of defects affecting the central nervous system has dropped 30 percent in the state since the low-carb fad peaked in 2003.

According to a study commissioned by the Aramark food-service company, 18 percent of Americans were on a low-carb diet in 2003.

During that year, the rate of neural-tube defects jumped to 8.4 for every 10,000 live births from 6.6 in 2002, the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics said.

The rate of spina-bifida cases, the most common type of neural-tube defect, rose to 5.1 for every 10,000 births in 2003 from 4.3 in 2002. There was a similar increase in spina-bifida cases nationally in 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

In 2005, the rate of neural-tube defects in North Carolina had dropped to 5.9 for every 10,000 births — a 10-year low — as women began to lose their appetite for the low-carb diet."

First, let's talk about the Aramark study.
"The research covered more than 3,200 adults, aged 18 and over, and was completed in January 2004. The goal was to create new items and nutritional information that would match each customer's unique DiningStyle™."

Maybe I'm missing something here, but I hardly think 3200 people can qualify as 18% of Americans. I've never understood how a group can poll a few people and assume they represent the rest of the country. One would think that a lot of factors would be in play here, such as geographic locations, different living styles, incomes, etc. (Maybe some of you out there can explain this to me.)

My next issue with these agencies using this study to promote their anti-low-carb message, is that we have no way of knowing that any of these 3200 people came from North Carolina, and thus no longer use a low-carb diet, therefore cutting the birth defect rates for that state. These ground-breaking *insert sarcasm here* new findings only apply to NC. This wasn't a nation wide declaration.

Don't get me wrong, I'm ecstatic that birth defects are down in NC. That's some of the most wonderful news a person could get! But to blame the defects on the low-carb diet "craze", as they like to call it, is just asinine.

The theory here is that the lack of folic acid in a low-carb diet is to blame. So lets take a look at the sources of folic acid in the diet, shall we? According to The Baby Center website :
What are the best food sources?
Food manufacturers are required by the Food and Drug Administration to add folic acid to enriched grain products such as breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, and rice so that each serving contains at least 20 percent of the daily requirement, and some breakfast cereals contain 100 percent (400 mcg) or more. Dark leafy greens are also a good source of folate, as are legumes such as lentils and chickpeas. Other sources include the following:

• 1/2 cup cooked lentils: 179 mcg

• 1 cup boiled collard greens: 177 mcg

• 1/2 cup canned chickpeas: 141 mcg

• 1 medium papaya: 115 mcg

• 1 cup cooked frozen peas: 94 mcg

• 4 spears steamed or boiled asparagus: 88 mcg

• 1/2 cup steamed broccoli: 52 mcg

• 1 cup strawberries: 40 mcg

• 1 medium orange: 39 mcg

Oh my! How will we ever get enough folic acid? Low-carbers no longer eat the foods that are artificially enhanced with this vital nutrient, as is stated above. Besides supplements, which I believe every woman knows she should take while in her child-bearing years, we also have the option of eating most of the foods listed above that are naturally high in folic acid. Sure there are a couple on the list we don't eat, and this is by far not an exhaustive list, but big deal! By not consuming the highly-processed, highly-sugared junk foods disguised as "healthy enriched grains" we are actually doing our unborn babies a favor. Now I'm not a doctor, but I know enough about health to know that eating the processed stuff listed above is not helpful to any one's health, pregnant or not.

When I recently asked Dr. Mike Eades, in a comment on his blog, about these accusations, after giving him the link I supplied to you above, he told me this:

"Thanks for the link. I hadn’t seen this one. I’ll need to take a look at the data to see what I really think, but on a worst-case scenario basis if it really is true, all one has to do is pop a folic acid supplement that probably costs a nickel to obviate the problem."

Exactly what I was thinking. Once again someone is trying to combine apples and oranges to come up with beef stew. It never works. In the media, common sense loses to sensationalism again.


Sue said...

Regina did a post about folic acid:

The current recommendation for folic acid/folate is 400mcg a day. Want to see just how easy it is to meet that intake with real food?

A salad made with 2-cups shredded romaine, 1/4 cup shredded red cabbage, 4 cherry tomatoes and 1/3 of a medium cucumber along with 1-cup cooked spinach provides 437.5mcg of folate before any other folate containing foods are included in the day.

That is what someone following a low carbohydrate diet might choose to eat in a day since it provides just 84-calories, 15g total carbohydrate and 8g of fiber, providng just 7g net carbohydrate in their day.

Sparky's Girl said...

Excellent Sue! I must have missed this one Regina's blog. Thanks for sharing!

Tracy said...

They neglect to mention, of course, that grains tend to interfere with the absorption/untilization of nutrients INCLUDING folic acid. And that if you're eating grains and intolerant of them (and more people are than is realized), you're more likely than most to have babies with neural tube defects (my mum had 2, one of whom died shortly after birth, and we're gluten intolerant in my family)

Keep the grains/carbs low/none, and your body can use nutrients more effectively.

Nice post on the study!

Sparky's Girl said...

Thanks Tracy! That's a great point and one that many people should consider when dealing with the "whole-grains-are-good-for-you" mantra.

John said...

You were wondering about how accurate a sample 1/100,000 of a population can be? By way of an analogy, here's why: suppose you want to measure the proportion of a 300 million population that prefers political party A vs party B. How many people would you need to accurately survey? 100? 1000? 10,000? Now suppose you want to measure the proportion of tails of a coin toss of 300 million coin tosses. How many tosses would be needed? The two situations are actually quite similar although they may not seem that way.

A sample size of 3200 seems quite low but in fact it is quite suitable.

Sparky's Girl said...

Hi John! Thanks for clarifying that. I've never understood how that worked.