As prior studies have shown, moms-to-be who eat a high-fat, high-sugar diet during pregnancy may be putting their babies at greater risk for childhood obesity. But according to animal research, cutting down on the negative health effects of a poor prenatal diet may be much easier than previously thought. The secret? Eating more foods that are rich in antioxidants.
The study, led by scientists at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and published in the December 2010 issue of the journal Diabetes, found that rat mothers who ate the "standard American diet"—mainly processed foods high in sugar and fat—during pregnancy tended to have offspring who quickly showed signs of glucose intolerance and obesity. But when scientists added antioxidants (vitamins C and E) to these foods, offspring showed no signs obesity and significantly better glucose tolerance.
In a March 14, 2011, media release from The Children's Hospital, researchers note that high-fat, high-sugar foods lead to greater "oxidative stress" in the body, a condition in which it is much more difficult for the body to control damage to cells. Oxidative stress has been linked to obesity and inflammation. But according to researchers, adding antioxidant vitamins to the diet may halt cell damage, removing a primary trigger for obesity—in both moms and babies.
Need to add some antioxidant power to your prenatal diet? Look for foods that have a naturally high vitamin C content, including cantaloupe, grapefruit, oranges, strawberries, and sweet potatoes. For vitamin E, eat nuts or drizzle some olive oil over your lunchtime salad. Or how about picking foods that do double-duty? Rich sources of both antioxidant vitamins include dark green leafy vegetables and bell peppers.