Spoiler alert, it all traces back to preconception health.
My Masters research looked at ~17,000 women’s preconception diets and assessed if they were meeting dietary guideline recommendations (spoiler alert, most were not). We then stratified the data to understand if of those women, those who were actively planning pregnancy better adhered to the guidelines than women not planning pregnancy.
When I say adhered to dietary guidelines, I mean we looked at whether women were consuming the minimum serve recommendations of key food groups: fruits, veggies, dairy, grains, protein, fats and oils. We also looked at alcohol and discretionary food intake. Overall, there weren’t many significant differences in adherence by pregnancy intention. So overall 1) most women were not eating the minimum number of serves recommended (this isn’t ideal as evidence suggests 50% of pregnancies are unplanned and 2) the data indicated there were minimal differences between actively trying to conceive.
Why does this really matter? For one thing, food provides the essential nutrients we need for health. Folate (essential for pregnancy), for example, comes from leafy greens, beans, fruits etc. So if someone is not eating adequate veggies, fruits and beans daily, they likely won’t be getting adequate folate. Maybe folate is a bad example because it is recommenced to supplement folic acid 3-6 months preconception. But it applies to all nutrients. Inadequate food group intake = inadequate essential nutrient intake.
Further to this, a study looked at diets amongst women trying to conceive. It too found most women were not meeting the minimum diet recommendations, but most women thought they had a nutritionally adequate diet. Translated, this means we may think we eat better than we actually do.
Jules, the headline said food allergy prevention and so far you’ve talked about fruits and folate but there is not a peanut in sight. Ok, ok – I am getting there.
New research now recommends the most common foods accounting for over 90% of food allergies …
- tree nuts
- cow’s milk
- shell fish
… be regularly consumed during pregnancy and breastfeeding to help strengthen baby’s immune tolerance (If you have an allergy to these foods, then this general advice does NOT apply to you and you need to be guided by your healthcare team).
Connecting the dots here, these foods sit across three key food groups: dairy, protein and grains – and if parents are not meeting the minimum dietary serve requirements for key food groups, they’re potentially not consuming adequate food allergens (or getting adequate dietary nutrients ie: iron, iodine, folate, omega-3 and so forth) in preparation for pregnancy (where most nutrient requirements increase).
There is also research suggesting prenatal diet habits carry on in pregnancy -this deserves a post of its own discussing: pregnancy induced increased energy requirements, food cravings and aversions (all-day sickness), ‘eating for two’ mentality, etc, but just to touch on it here- establishing a nutritionally adequate diet preconception not only tops up nutrient levels before conception occurs, it also establishes healthier eating patterns, which will carry on through pregnancy – and be role modelled for baby. It’s a win win, and why I am so passionate about preconception nutrition. It plays a huge role in long-term health for all.
So to anyone who made it to the end of this post (hello!) and (thank you!). As always this advice is only general in nature. Contact me here or slip into my DMs if you would like to chat about prenatal health. You know I can talk about it for YEARS.