Taking care of yourself has never been more important than during pregnancy or even before getting pregnant. A healthy diet goes hand in hand with an active lifestyle. A poor diet during pregnancy could impact the child’s health in many ways. For instance, lacking essential nutrients may prevent the baby’s proper development and growth, leading to low birth weight.
Effect of a maternal high-fat diet during pregnancy
Now, a team of food scientists also show in animal studies that a mother’s high-fat diet before pregnancy may alter her offspring’s taste buds. The baby may grow to have a greater attraction or have more sweet-taste receptors to unhealthy food, leading to obesity in adulthood.
The study, which appeared in the journal Scientific Reports, highlights that maternal exposure to a high-fat diet before pregnancy induces detectable physical changes in the taste buds of the offspring. To come up with such findings, the team fed the female mice with high-fat, high-calorie meals five weeks before mating. There were also other mice fed with a high-fat diet from pregnancy through lactation.
The offspring, weaned after the lactation period, ate high-quality and healthy laboratory chow. However, when these offspring became adults and they received their first taste of a high-fat diet, they loved it and over-consumed the food. Senior author Robin Dando, who is also an associate professor of food science in the College of Agriculture and Life Science, explained via Medical Xpress that up until they had access to the unhealthy diet, they showed no difference to those in the control group.
The link between poor feeding behavior and obesity
Dando added that if a mother consumes an unhealthy diet, where she ate a sugary and high-fat diet, their progeny will also have the same predisposition for liking an unhealthy diet. The origin is not just because of the changes in the brain but other physical changes happening in their taste buds.
The study results may focus on mice but the heritability, combined with environmental factors, in humans is between 40 to 70%. This means that obesity in children is strongly predicted by the parents’ metabolic state. Dando added that their results introduce the concept of taste to the metabolic changes caused by fetal programming. “Maternal body mass index and gestational weight gain predict future obesity status of the offspring,” their study reads.
The authors said that their findings add to the evidence that taste buds affect the etiology of obesity. By etiology, it means the study of causation or origination behind the way things are or the way they function. If we are to consider the study from a public health viewpoint, improving knowledge of early postnatal and prenatal factors that program obesity in children can offer insight into therapeutic methods to combat the obesity epidemic.
According to Our World in Data, obesity is one of the leading risk factors for premature death. About 8% of global deaths were attributed to obesity in 2017. Obesity, defined as having a high body mass index, is the fourth leading cause of death, measured across all age groups and both sexes. In 2017, 4.7 million died prematurely as a result of obesity. This was close to five times the people that died from HIV/AIDs and close to four times the number that died in road accidents.
In 2016, countries with the highest share of adults that are obese (BMI equal to or greater than 30) includes Tuvalu (51.6%), Marshall Islands (52.9%), Micronesia (45.8%), Palau (55.3%), United States (36.2%), Saudi Arabia (35.4%), New Zealand (30.8%), and Egypt (32%), among others.
In 2008, researchers from UK-based nonprofit Wellcome Trust also found that poor diet during pregnancy could put children at risk of developing irreversible, long-term health issues, including raised levels of blood sugar and cholesterol and obesity. The effect is found to be more pronounced in female offspring.
Food and health survey
A 2018 food and health survey conducted by the International Food Information Council Foundation on 1,009 Americans ages 18 to 80 shows that brain function, energy, and weight loss are the top benefits consumers are interested in getting from food. The top desired benefit is for cardiovascular health.
The top purchasing driver that influence shoppers buying decision is taste, followed by price, familiarity, healthfulness, convenience, and sustainability of food.
Unhealthy high-fat foods include commercially-baked pastries, cakes, pizza dough, packaged snack food (chips, crackers, microwave popcorn), fried foods, and anything that contains hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. On the other hand, there are high-fat foods known to be healthy, including tofu, nuts, fish, seeds, avocados, boiled soybean, eggs, cheese, and flaxseed oil.
Registered nutritionist Adda Bjarnadottir, MS, who was not involved in the study, shared some foods that are healthy to consume during pregnancy. This includes dairy products, like yogurt, cheese, and milk. However, if the expectant mom is lactose intolerant, she can opt for yogurt instead, especially the probiotic yogurt. Another group of food she recommends is legumes, including chickpeas, beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, and soybeans. Legumes are great plant-based sources of iron, protein, fiber, folate, and calcium, which the body needs more during pregnancy.
Salmon is also an addition to the list as it is rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids. Yet, Bjarnadottir cautions to limit also the seafood intake due to mercury and other contaminants that are found in high mercury fish. Fish that are high in mercury are swordfish, king mackerel, bigeye tuna, shark, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, and marlin.
Dark, leafy greens and broccoli are also suggested. They pack in so many nutrients that the body needs. Bjarnadottir said that even if the expectant mom doesn’t like to eat green vegetables, such as spinach and kale, they can be squirreled instead into different dishes. Benefits include vitamin K, vitamin C, calcium, folate, iron, potassium, and fiber.
Obesity has become a chronic worldwide health issue and is increasing in adults and children. Although pregnancy is a period marked by altered food intake, expectant mothers should do their best to eat healthily as it can create long-term health effects on their baby. And after the baby is born, parents should continue to expose them to the right flavors. They may make a sour face when given broccoli but they will grow to eventually like them if they are continuously exposed to it.