High-Fat Diets During Pregnancy May Be Detrimental to the Child

Patient Expert

New  research  suggests that a high-fat diet during pregnancy and during breastfeeding could have significant and long-term negative effects on the behavior and brain functioning of children.

The study was conducted on lab rats, where 12 were fed a standard meal and 12 were fed a high-fat diet that was similar to a standard American diet. A number of tests were conducted to evaluate the behavior of the offspring.

The offspring of mothers who were fed a high-fat diet weighed more, ate more, had a stronger preference for foods high in fat, were less active, less responsive to amphetamine, and had impaired object recognition. Male offspring of the same mothers exhibited altered gene expression in the hippocampus, which carried into adulthood. Similar effects were found in female offspring.

The Obesity Society spokesperson Kelly Allison, PhD, Director of Education, Center for Weight and Eating Disorders and Associate Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, believes the  study  can help motivate pregnant women to eat a more varied and nutritious diet.

The Right Stuff

In order to promote positive growth and development in an unborn child, a  diet  that is high in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, low-fat dairy, and whole grains is recommended for the healthy development of every organ, including the brain. There also are specific foods that enhance neuronal development in the womb.

Fortified cereals contain many micronutrients that are critical to proper fetal brain development. Iron deficiency during pregnancy is the leading cause of preventable mental retardation, so the iron in fortified cereals is welcome.

Fish contains the omega-3 fatty acid DHA that helps promote brain development. DHA deficiency during pregnancy can cause visual and behavioral defects, while high DHA intake during pregnancy produces children who test better on verbal, social, and communication skills in early childhood.

Sea vegetables such as seaweed nori contain the iodine that aids in brain in spinal development and helps to prevent mental retardation. The brown sea vegetable hijiki is to be avoided because it contains arsenic.

Nuts and seeds also contain healthy omega-3 fats and assist in normal brain functioning.

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