Health Update: You Are What You Eat (and So Is Your Baby)

Your pregnancy cravings could impact your tot's favorite foods -- and how much he eats of them.

That third scoop of Rocky Road may be a delish comfort at the end of a long achy day, but moms-to-be may want to think twice before giving in to every last craving. Eating tons of junk food while expecting or breastfeeding may raise a baby's risk of becoming obese, according to a new animal study published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Scientists fed rats either a mix of food including jelly doughnuts, chocolate-chip muffins, potato chips, and pancakes, or regular rat chow (a combo of soya, grains, protein, vitamins, and minerals). Those who ate the pastry-packed diet gave birth to babies who craved more high-fat, high-sugar, and high-salt foods than those whose moms subsisted on chow. "We know that flavors from a woman's diet are transmitted through amniotic fluid, which her baby drinks as his lungs develop, or through breast milk while she's nursing," says Miriam Erick, RD, senior clinical perinatal dietitian at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and author of Managing Morning Sickness. "So your child's palate gets accustomed to these sweet, rich foods, which he may have a natural penchant for as he grows up."

We know what you're thinking: It's bad enough I have to ditch spicy salmon rolls and Chardonnay; now I have to feel guilty whenever I grab a handful of Cheetos? Truth: Only if you eat junk food excessively. "If something indulgent is calling your name, don't deny yourself to the point of being miserable," says Erick. "Everyone deserves a splurge now and then, but do be smart about it." Keep these compromises in mind:

  • Take the longest time to eat the smallest amount of your not-so-healthy craving. "Give your plate your undivided attention," says Erick. "Sit down with the TV off, move away from the computer if you're at work." Aim for a half-hour for each meal, including drinking a cup or two of water. "When you suck your meal down like a vacuum, the food flies over your taste buds and doesn't leave you as satisfied, so you end up eating more than you normally would."
  • Think about how baby benefits. If your go-to nosh is always a doughnut, there's not much vitamin A, C, folic acid, or calcium -- all essential nutrients for your growing bambino. Instead, alternate treats with some nutritional pay-off, says Erick. A low-fat mozzarella cheese stick and whole-grain crackers or low-fat chocolate pudding satisfy a salty or sweet tooth and give a healthy shot of calcium, for example.
  • Start small. When that gotta-eat-everything-in-sight feeling strikes, take a palmful of whatever you must have -- M&Ms, cashews, chips and guac -- and step away from the bag. Then allow another 10 to 20 minutes after eating to decide whether you're still hungry.

How to Eat Healthy During Pregnancy:Decoding Pregnancy Cravings
How to Eat Healthy During Pregnancy:Decoding Pregnancy Cravings

Your New Eating-for-Two Rules

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