When it comes to pregnancy, everyone knows that you’re eating for two (or more). But did you know that what a woman eats decades before she becomes pregnant can also have an impact on her baby’s future?
New recommendations published in the International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics, called “Think Nutrition First,” reiterate that nutritional choices starting as young as 10 years old have a huge impact on one’s ability to safely and healthily have children decades later.
The recommendations were developed by the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), the largest federation of maternal health professionals in the world, and funded by an educational grant from Abbott.
“We hear a lot about nutrition in the context of what new moms should eat, but the FIGO recommendations emphasize that diet can have an impact on reproductive health earlier in life than we realized,” says Christina Sherry, PhD, RD, a research scientist in prenatal nutrition with Abbott. “Poor quality diets can have longer-term consequences far beyond those of numbers on a scale.”
In many societies, women and adolescent girls are poorly nourished in terms of the levels and balance of macro- and micronutrients in their diet. This deficiency is detrimental to their health and that of their future children; good health and nutrition before conception are key to a mother’s ability to meet the demands of pregnancy and breastfeeding.
“’Think Nutrition First recommendations highlight the importance of balanced nutrition during those critical periods,” says professor Mark Hanson, chair of the FIGO Adolescent, Preconception and Maternal Nutrition Initiative. “Prevention of poor nutrition on a global scale is a critical step.”
Think Nutrition First recommendations focus on incorporating six key nutrients into the diets of girls and women:
Iron is particularly important in adolescent girls and pregnant women to make up for what is lost from menstruation and increased demands during pregnancy. It can be found in meat, liver, nuts, beans, dark leafy greens and tofu.
Iodine is vital during the early days of pregnancy, but is often missing from diets that do not include iodized salt. It can be found in seaweed, seafood and iodized salt.
Folic acid is critical before conception and in early pregnancy, but many people aren't eating enough of this nutrient. All women of reproductive age are advised to consume 400μg/day through supplements or fortified foods. Folic Acid can also be found in dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, collard greens and romaine lettuce.
Since vitamin B12 is only naturally found in animal products, it's often difficult for vegetarians and vegans to get enough of this important nutrient. Vegans can make sure they don't miss out by choosing B12- fortified plant milks and fortified breakfast cereals.
If girls and women are not getting enough dairy, chances are they may also have inadequate calcium intake. Higher intake is particularly important for adolescents during their growth spurts. Calcium is found in dairy products, fish canned with their bones, tofu and beans.
Foods are often low in vitamin D unless they are fortified with the nutrient. The majority of our vitamin D is made in our bodies when skin is exposed to sunlight, although people with darkly pigment skin are less efficient in making vitamin D. However, some foods that are naturally high in vitamin D are fish oils, fatty fish, mushrooms and egg yolks.
Authors of ‘Think Nutrition First’ hope that by instituting such recommendations, it will be possible to secure the health, productivity, life expectancy and wellbeing of future generations.