Pregnant? Eat fruit and vegetables now

by Eveline Gan

Did you know that what your mummy ate while carrying you in her womb might be one of the factors affecting your current state of health?

Increasingly, researchers are discovering how maternal nutrition during pregnancy can influence the “programming” of the foetus’ genes and immune system, as well as brain development. In fact, mummy’s choice of diet during pregnancy might even have a lasting impact on your behaviour.

For the first time, a study has shown a link between a mother’s folate status during pregnancy and her offspring’s behaviour later in life.

Women whose diet were low in folate – a water-soluble B vitamin found in green leafy vegetables, fruit, fried beans and peas – during pregnancy were more likely to have children with behavioural issues and hyperactivity.

The study, published in the May 2010 Journal of Child Psychiatry, also found that the babies of pregnant mums who had higher folate levels had larger head circumference and fewer behavioural and hyperactivity problems.

A Nutriplanet study conducted from 2009 to 2011 found that 60 to 70 per cent of women in the region, including Singapore, do not have optimal levels of folate when they first become pregnant.

In Singapore, obstetricians routinely prescribe folic acid – the synthetic form of folate found in supplements – for women in the early stages of pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects, which result in deformities in the spine, skull and brain.

There are no official statistics on the folate status of pregnant women here. However, Singapore women generally do not have enough of this B vitamin before and in the early stages of pregnancy, noted Dr Beh Suan Tiong. The obstetrician and gynaecologist at Beh’s Clinic for Women, Thomson Medical Centre, spoke on the topic at a media conference last week.

Explaining why this B vitamin is important, Dr Beh said: “Folate helps maintain and produce new cells, especially during important periods of rapid cell division and growth during pregnancy and infancy.”

He added that low folate levels during pregnancy “could potentially affect the development and connection of neurotransmitters during the foetus’ brain development stage”.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that drive critical thinking, memory and focus.

The Health Promotion Board recommends 400mcg and 300mcg of folic acid daily for pregnant and lactating women, respectively.

Also present at the press conference was Dr Eline M van der Beek, research director, Singapore, Danone Research Centre for Specialised Nutrition.

She stressed the importance of having a well-balanced and wholesome diet during the nine months of pregnancy.

“This is the time when the foundation of your baby’s body is laid down. What you eat will provide the vital building blocks for your child’s health and development,” she said. Eveline Gan

– Today Online