It appears that unbalanced nutrition in pregnancy can affect its offspring forever. While the perfect maternal diet is still not established, we know that having great nutrition affects your child for life.
Nutrition that the fetus receives in the womb can affect the long term health of the offspring, long into adulthood, through a phenomenon called “metabolic programming”. This is a new field that looks at how fetal exposure and immediate post natal life nutrition affects long term development.
A review study looked at what the pregnant woman ingests, and the odds of the offspring’s chances of developing certain metabolic conditions. These conditions include type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, impaired glucose tolerance, and the Metabolic syndrome (MetS), which all increase cardiovascular disease.
It appears that the following situations disturb fetal development and the offspring metabolic profile:
-Repeated maternal hypoglycemia (periods of low blood sugar)
-Maternal gestational diabetes
-Maternal “junk food diet” (high fat, sugar, and salt)
-chronic hyperglycemia (chronically elevated blood sugar)
Conversely, a low GI (glycemic index) maternal diet is associated with benefits on the offspring. A high GI diet, compared to low GI maternal diet, is associated with heavier infants with a higher birth centile, a higher ponderal index, and a higher prevalence of large-for-gestational age. These are all strong predictors of chronic diseases in later life.
Low carbohydrate and high protein diets have also caused problems indicating that there has to be balance. In the search for the “optimum” pregnancy diet, it appears carbohydrates is an essential element. Carbohydrates are an important part of the maternal diet. Low carb diets caused cortisol secretion (a stress hormone) in response to stress in the offspring.
Another study examining metabolic programming looked at infant feeding and had similar conclusions on high GI carbohydrate foods. Their conclusion stated, “It is becoming clear that the origins of chronic diseases are not limited to only inherited genes and/or sedentary life styles. The results from the [study] suggest that nutritional experiences of infants during the immediate postnatal life such as overfeeding of formula and early introduction of supplemental weaning foods high in carbohydrates (e.g. cereals, fruits, juices, etc.) may contribute to metabolic programming leading to adult-onset diseases like obesity and diabetes.”
It appears that in addition to consuming whole foods free of pesticides and chemicals, we should be encouraging pregnant mothers to eat low glycemic index carbohydrates of sufficient quantity, and to eat without getting hypo or hyper glycemic. Since higher glycemic index foods are found in processed foods, and since fiber lowers the glycemic response, we can recommend unprocessed foods high in fiber.
1. IP Tzanetakou, DP Mikhailidis, et al. Nutrition during Pregnancy and the Effect of Carbohydrates on the Offspring’s Metabolic Profile: In Search of the “Perfect Maternal Diet” Open Cardiovasc Med J, 2011;5:103-109
2. MS Patel, M Srinivasan. Metabolic Programming: Causes and Consequences. J Biol Chem 2002, Jan; 277: 1629-1632