What Moms Eat Influences Unborn and Young Children

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Several studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition make a strong case for healthier food choices by moms-to-be and mothers of toddlers. Children naturally prefer sweet and salty tastes and shy away from healthier fare, however, they can be distinctly influenced by maternal food decisions and the home environment. One study showed that moms-to-be who consume healthy foods help their children get off to a healthier start because the flavors are transmitted from the maternal diet to the amniotic fluid and mother’s milk. Moreover, breastfed infants are more accepting of these flavors. By contrast, infants who are fed formula learn to prefer its unique flavors and may have a harder time initially with flavors not found in formula, such as those in fruits and vegetables.

Another study endorses the view that the home environment is the major factor influencing children’s attraction to energy-dense (sugary) foods that cause excessive weight gain.  A third study concludes that by the time youngsters reach the age of two, they have essentially completed the transition to ‘table foods’ and are consuming diets similar to other family members.

The importance of healthy food intake at an early age is reinforced by another study showing that excess consumption of sweets, in the form of added sugars from processed foods, can generate the beginnings of cardiovascular risks among children aged seven to twelve. Specifically, the researchers from the University of Colorado noted, increased intake of added sugars resulted in elevated blood pressure and triglycerides (a blood fat).

 My Viewpoint: The message in these studies is loud and clear. Mothers need to raise their own food awareness and intake because their decisions can influence the preferences of their children, even unborn children. A woman who eats a good deal of processed food throughout pregnancy, and serves such food to very young children, is setting up preferences and habits that can lead to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems later on.

 What This Means To You: Moms: You need to set the table, so to speak, for your kids by adopting healthy food habits yourself and early on. You have to be a role model, even for the unborn.

 Recommendation: This site is filled with healthy food advice. Here’s a good place to get started.

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