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Healthy Mama – Healthy Baby – Healthier Generations

by Viviane Höger

By taking care of ourselves, and ensuring we are the healthiest we can be, we are not only safeguarding the wellbeing of our children, but that of future generations. So there’s no better time to get our health in check, than when you’re planning or have just started a family.  

What scientific evidence is available?

Epigenetics, the study of biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off, is one of the newest and hottest fields in the life sciences. It’s a phenomenon with enormous potential in human medicine.

Whilst it is evident that mother’s diet is important in determining the health of her baby at birth, there is growing evidence that what mothers experience environmentally (for example, diet, stress, smoking) during pregnancy, can have an impact on the health of generations to come.

This 'developmental programming' is understood to be a large contributor to the obesity epidemic seen today.

Some of the most significant recent findings in the field of epigenetics, pregnancy and nutrition include:

  • The quality of the mother's nutrition—both during and before her pregnancy—and the quality of the foods the child receives in the first two years of post-natal life have a measurable impact on metabolism and health throughout later life.
  • If the mother is overweight when she becomes pregnant, her child has a two-fold higher risk of being obese as an adult.
  • The placenta of mothers eating a high-fat diet offers weakened protection to the foetus against the stress hormone cortisol – which could lead to reduced foetus growth and the occurrence of mood disorders in adulthood.

What steps can I take to improve my eating habits?

Feeling well and healthy should be our main priority, pregnant or not. By focusing on eating wholesome and nutritious foods most of the time, and allowing ourselves the occasional treat, we won’t feel deprived, but empowered, in control of our own health. 

It’s not about embarking on a fad-diet you might be able to stick to only for a short period of time, but about making gradual changes that will improve your quality of life and long-term health of the whole family.  

  1. Get as much of your nutrition as possible from a variety of unprocessed foods. In other words, when buying food at the supermarket, focus on things that have not been cooked, prepared or altered in any way. Choose brown rice over white rice. Whole grains over refined grains. You’re far better off eating two apples than drinking the same 27 grams (roughly 6.5 teaspoons!!!) of sugar in a medium-sized glass of apple juice. 
  1. Eat as much home-cooked food as possible. Eating at home allows you to avoid processed ingredients more easily. It allows you full control over what you eat.
  1. Cut back as much as possible on refined sugar. Why? To put simply, sugar is making you fat, tired and it’s probably addictive, which means you’re wired to crave, eat, store it as fat, and the cycle goes on. Refined sugar is found in cakes, biscuits, chocolate, fizzy drinks and most processed foods. Try reducing the amount of sugar you use gradually, and using natural (never artificial!) substitutes if needed. Be careful with hidden-sugars - things like ready-made pasta sauces contain an enormous amount of sugar and so do condiments, some breakfast cereals and energy bars – all often marketed as healthy. 
  1. Fat isn’t the enemy. Good fats are good for you, particularly the mono-unsaturated fats such as olive oil and nut oils such as macadamia or avocado. Aim for a balance between omega-6 (as found in vegetable oils) and omega-3 fats (as found in walnuts, flaxseed, fish and grass-fed meat).  Good fats reduce sugar cravings and keep you feeling full for longer. In pregnancy, omega-3 fatty acids also help your baby brain’s development. Steer clear foods labelled ‘low-fat’ - products such as low-fat yoghurt and desserts are loaded with fructose (sugar) to make up for taste.
  1. Drink mostly water, but some alcohol (if not pregnant!), coffee (reduced intake if pregnant), and other beverages are fine. Remember: smoothies and juices can be a sugar-bomb! Eat the fruit instead and get a nice serving of dietary fibre instead. 
  1. Try eating a little protein with every meal (especially breakfast) – it helps with balancing blood sugar and cutting cravings. Nuts, seeds, eggs, fish, chicken or grass-fed meat are all healthy sources of protein. A serving size is roughly the size of your palm. If you’re pregnant, stick to two servings of oily fish a week, and no shark, marlin or swordfish.
  1. Feed the good bacteria in your gut! Give them plenty to feast on, so lots prebiotics (plant fibre found in fruit & veg). Avoid poisoning them with preservatives, processed (junk) food and sugar.   
  1. Food labels: read them carefully, too many ingredients = red flag! Aim to buy mostly foods that don’t come with a label it all! To calculate sugar content in teaspoons: divide sugar content by 4.2. And remember: a glass of apple juice contains the same amount of sugar as a glass of Coca-Cola!

Disclaimer: This blog post contains general information about nutrition, health and diets. The information does not constitute medical advice and should not be treated as such. Before starting any diet, you should speak to your doctor. You must not rely on the information on this website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. If you have any specific questions about any medical matter, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

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