Ask the Expert: Will eating nuts during pregnancy make my baby more intelligent?
Q: I'VE just found out I'm pregnant – is eating nuts one of the things that could help my baby's development?
A: Florence Gignac, a researcher at ISGlobal, Barcelona Institute for Global Health, recently led a study into the effects a mother's nut consumption can have on her baby.
"First, we know the brain undergoes several complex processes during human gestation, and this constant neuro-development to function well is highly dependent on adequate supplies of nutrients," she says.
"Hence, maternal nutrition appears to be an important factor contributing to adequate foetal neuro-development with long-term effects. Therefore, a balanced diet all along the pregnancy is particularly important.
"One type of food that can be considered part of this healthy diet is nuts. In fact, nuts contain a substantial amount of plant protein, vitamins, minerals, but also and most importantly, some of them are rich in fat, particularly omega-3. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids for the formation of the cell membrane and the development of the neurons.
"In our recent study, after following 2,208 mother-child pairs from a population-based birth cohort in four regions of Spain, we found neuro-development benefits of maternal nut consumption for the child.
"Results showed that mothers who reported the highest intake of nuts during their first trimester had children who did better on cognitive tests at one-and-a-half, five and eight years of age. Cognitive function is responsible for critical skills such as attention, executive function and working memory.
"In terms of the quantity, women who reported the highest intake consumed about three servings of 32g (or three handfuls) of nuts per week. Considering those results, an increase in nut consumption in general is advisable for women who don't eat nuts or have a low nut intake during pregnancy.
"Nevertheless, it's important to have in mind that this study was established in Spain in a population with food habits that can differ from another country. In Spain, one of the main nuts consumed are walnuts and they are often served raw. For example, this type of nuts contains higher amounts of omega-3 compared to other types such as peanuts or almonds.
"Considering the variety of nuts with distinct nutritional profiles and different cooking methods (ie raw, fried, roasted or salted) that may alter the properties in the nuts, pregnant mothers should consult a certified nutritionist who can give personalised recommendations specific to their health characteristics."