Healthy, Diverse Diet During Pregnancy May Lower Risk of Allergies in Children – Allergic Living

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Eating
a healthy, diverse diet during pregnancy appears to lower the risk of a baby
developing eczema and food allergies, a new study finds.

Conversely,
a poor maternal diet lacking in variety may raise the odds of children
developing eczema and food allergies, according to the research presented at
the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual
Scientific Meeting in Houston.

“Pregnant
women should be aware that the foods they eat during pregnancy may impact
allergy outcomes in their children,” said lead study author Carina Venter, PhD,
RD, an associate professor of pediatric allergy and immunology at Children’s
Hospital Colorado. “The more varied the diet – the more it includes healthy
foods such as fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and grains – the less likely your
child may be to have eczema or food allergies,” she told Allergic Living.

What is healthy vs. poor diet in pregnancy? 

The
study included 1,315 women of various ethnic, racial and socioeconomic
backgrounds participating in the Healthy Start study in Denver. Twice during
pregnancy, the women filled out a questionnaire asking how often they consumed
23 different foods on a regular basis. At eight points during their pregnancy,
the women also filled out a food log detailing all of the food they consumed in
the past 24 hours.

About
80% of the women (1,057) were found to have a healthy, diverse diet, which was defined
as regularly eating a range of fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products such
as yogurt and cheese, fish and non-fried meats.

About
20% (258) were considered to have a poor diet, meaning their diet lacked a
diversity of healthy foods.

Children
whose mothers ate a healthy diet during pregnancy had a 36% lower risk of being
diagnosed with eczema or food allergies by age 2, compared to women who ate a
poor diet.

The
connection between a healthy diet and lower eczema and food allergy risk may be
particularly important in mothers who have a personal history of allergies.  

About 33% of children whose mothers ate a poor diet during pregnancy and who had a personal history of allergies were diagnosed with eczema or food allergies by age 2, compared to only 19% of children whose mothers had a personal history of allergies and who ate a healthy diet. However, those results were not statistically significant, researchers noted.

Among
mothers without a personal history of allergies who ate a poor diet, about 26%
of their offspring developed eczema or food allergies compared to nearly 20%
whose mothers ate a healthy diet. 

“In
the group of mothers who reported a personal history of allergy, it appears to
be crucial to have a more diverse diet,” Venter said.  

Steps moms can take to prevent allergies in children

Previous research has found that children introduced to a variety of foods in infancy may have a lower risk of developing food allergies. But little research has looked at the influence of a mother’s eating habits during pregnancy, Venter noted.

“We
have preached for a while now that babies should have a diverse diet, but we
had no idea until now if the mother’s diet during pregnancy may have an effect
on the child’s allergic outcomes,” she said.  

While
the study shows an association between maternal diet and allergies in
offspring, it does not show cause and effect. About 20% of children whose moms ate
a healthy diet while pregnant still developed eczema and/or food allergies by
age 2. “You can eat a healthy diet and still have a child with eczema and food
allergies,” Venter said.  

Current
guidelines from the ACAAI advise women that it’s not necessary to avoid certain
potentially allergenic foods during pregnancy. This study suggests pregnant women
may want to take the added step of trying to incorporate a greater variety of
healthy foods into their diet, Venter said.  

“It
can be hard to eat healthy in pregnancy. Hormonal changes, morning sickness,
and food aversions can make it a challenge to choose healthy foods,” Venter
said. “But if women can try to eat as varied a diet as possible, and make some
healthy choices even if it’s in small amounts, it’s at least something they can
try.”

For
example, if you normally eat apples, vary your fruit intake by eating a wide
range of berries, melons, peaches, bananas and other fruits. If you like salad,
try to include more than lettuce and tomatoes. Add spinach, broccoli, peppers, and
cauliflower. For protein sources, also strive for variety, such as fish and
chicken (not fried), lentils and beans. For dairy products, eat a variety of
types of cheeses and yogurts.

Researchers do not know why a diverse diet may lower the risk of developing allergic disease. But other research suggests that eating a varied, healthy diet may impact the microbiome of both mother and the infant, which may impact the expression of genes involved in the development of allergic disease.

Related:
Inside the Microbiome: Why Good Gut Bacteria Is the Big Hope For Allergic Disease
Baby Meets Risky Foods: Parents Struggle to Adapt to New Food Allergy Guidelines

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