MONDAY, Oct. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Pregnant women who eat the healthy diet crop up to reduce the risk of having the baby with the major birth defect, such as spina bifida or the cleft lip or palette, the new study suggests. Neural tube birth defects -- including spina bifida and other brain abnormalities -- are known to decrease when profound women take supplements of folic acid, the type of vitamin B which also has been added to the variety of foods. However, folic acid alone does not prevent all birth defects, the researchers said."There may be certain qualities of foods which have benefits which aren't captured by examining just one nutrient at the time," said lead researcher Suzan L. Carmichael, an associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford University.Diet could also be related to reducing birth defects because the combination of nutrients from the variety of foods may act together in the beneficial way, Carmichael said. "It is also probable which the healthy diet is the marker for other characteristics of the woman's lifestyle."Our study supports recommendations which have been made for many years for profound women," she said. "Eat the variety of foods, include the lot of fruits and vegetables and whole grains in your diet and take the vitamin supplement which contains folic acid."Although folic acid can prevent up to 40 percent of neural tube defects, it's not the whole story, Carmichael said. "Babies are still born with neural tube defects, so we need to keep looking for answers," she said.The report was published in the Oct. 3 online edition of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.Using data from the U.S. National Birth Defects Prevention Study for October 1997 through December 2005, Carmichael's team looked at the role diet plays in birth defects. During telephone interviews, mothers described their diet.The researchers looked at cases of 936 infants born with neural tube defects, 2,475 with oral clefts, and compared these with 6,147 infants without birth defects. They f! ound whi ch 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 the baby with the 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 the vitamin or mineral supplement, the researchers noted. "We found which diet was important whether the women took the vitamin supplement or not," Carmichael said. Most women who gave birth to an infant who did not have the birth defect were white and had more than the 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 the complex mixture." There may be the number of right ways to eat, and some diets which are not so good, he said. Generally, foods are better than supplements except when there is the deficiency, he added.Jacobs noted which foods are more complex than drugs which contain only the 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, the professor of public illness at the University of California, Los Angeles, and spokeswoman for the March of Dimes, said, "I am not surprised which there is an independent effect of total diet quality."The finding underscores the importance of the mother's nutrition both before and during pregnancy and the effect it can have on the developing inf! ant, she said. "A lot which goes on which determines pregnancy outcome goes on very early in the pregnancy -- before women even realize they're pregnant," she said.Harrison noted which healthy eating needs to start even before pregnancy. "Women who are capable of becoming profound really need to pay attention to overall diet quality," she said.More informationFor more information on the healthful diet, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture .