Pregnant Women Should Eat Their Fruits and Veggies

6/12/2012 10:51 AM


Guest Blog by Drs. Richard Reiss and John DeSesso, Exponent:

  Maternal nutrition during pregnancy has long been known to be important for fetal growth and healthy offspring.  In contrast, lower birth weights are associated with higher neonatal mortality, risks for cognitive or neurological impairments, and risks for chronic diseases later in life.  Fortunately, simply improving one’s diet during pregnancy can improve birth weights and is associated with reduced risk for numerous negative health effects.

Several large studies have found significant associations between maternal fruit and/or vegetable consumption and healthy birth weights and other infant measures such as increased birth length and head circumference (Mikkelsen et al. 2006, Ramón et al. 2009, Timmermans et al. 2012).  The largest study by Mikkelson et al. (2006) included 43,585 pregnant women in Denmark.  The women who ate the most fruit and vegetables had babies that were, on average, 51 grams heavier at birth, compared to the group with the least fruit and vegetable consumption.

The good news doesn’t stop with healthy birth weights.  Numerous studies have also associated fruit and/or vegetable consumption during pregnancy with other positive outcomes, including reduced incidences in offspring for germ cell tumors (Musselman et al. 2010), leukemia (Kwan et al. 2009; Spector et al., 2005), eczema (Miyake et al., 2010), familial retinoblastoma (Orjuela et al. 2005), brain tumors (Bunin et al. 1998; Bunin et al., 2005), gastroschsis (Torfs et al., 1998), spontaneous abortion (Di Cintio et al., 2001), and orofacial cleft (Krapels et al., 2004).

Additionally, a Mediterranean diet or generally health conscious diet during pregnancy, both of which include significant fruit and vegetable consumption, has been associated with reduced risk for high blood pressure during pregnancy (Timmermans et al., 2011), reduced incidence of postpartum depression (Chatzi et al., 2011), and a reduced risk in offspring for spina bifida (Vujkovic et al., 2009).

You may have heard about some recent epidemiologic studies that associate lower birth weights and other outcomes with exposure to a certain type of pesticides (organophosphates).  Of course, for conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables, there may be some pesticide residue.  However, it is important to remember that the residue levels on fruits and vegetables are very small.  In contrast to the nutritional epidemiology studies, the pesticide epidemiologic studies have far fewer participants, and have other substantial methodological limitations.  Furthermore, the epidemiologic studies include exposures from other pathways, including home and garden use of pesticides

By far, the balance of the evidence shows that eating a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables during pregnancy will lead to a healthier baby.


References Cited

Bunin GR. 1998. Maternal diet during pregnancy and risk of brain tumors in children. Int J Cancer Suppl. 11:23-25.

Bunin GR, Kushi LH, Gallagher PR, Rorke-Adams LB, McBride ML, Cnaan A. 2005. Maternal diet during pregnancy and its association with medulloblastoma in children: a children’s oncology group study (United States). Cancer Causes Control. 16:877-891.

Chatzi L, Melaki V, Sarri K, Apostolaki I, Roumeliotaki T, Georgiou V, Vassilaki M, Koutis, A, Bitsios P, Kogevinas M. 2011. Dietary patterns during pregnancy and the risk of postpartum depression: the mother-child ‘Rhea’ cohort in Crete, Greece. Public Health Nutr. 14:1633-1670.

Di Cintio E, Parazzini F, Chatenoud L, Surace M, Benzi G, Zanconato G, La Vecchia C. 2001. Dietary factors and risk of spontaneous abortion. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 95:132-136.

Krapels IP, van Rooij IA, Ocke MC, West CE, van der Horst CM, Steegers-Theunissen RP. 2004. Maternal nutritional status and the risk of orofacial cleft offspring in humans. J Nutr. 134:3106-3113.

Kwan ML, Jensen CD, Block G, Hudes ML, Chu LW, Buffler PA. 2009. Maternal diet and risk of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Public Health Rep. 124:503-514.

Mikkelsen TB, Osler M, Orozova-Bekkevold I, Knudsen VK, Olsen SF. 2006. Association between fruit and vegetable consumption and birth weight: a prospective study among 43,585 Danish women. Scand J Public Health 34:616-622.

Miyake Y, Sasaki S, Tanaka K, Hirota Y. 2010. Consumption of vegetables, fruit, and antioxidants during pregnancy and wheeze and eczema in infants. Allergy. 65:758-765.

Musselman JR, Jurek AM, Johnson KJ, Linabery AM, Robinson LL, Shu XO, Ross, JA. 2011. Maternal dietary patterns during early pregnancy and the odds of childhood germ cell tumors: A Children’s Oncology Group study. Am J Epidemiol 173:282-291.

Orjuela MA, Titievsky L, Liu X, Ramirez-Ortiz M, Ponce-Castaneda V, Lecona E, et al. 2005. Fruit and vegetable intake during pregnancy and risk for development of sporadic retinoblastoma. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 14(6):1433-1440.

Ramón R, Ballester F, Iniguez C, Rebagliato M, Murcia M, Esplugues A, et al. 2009. Vegetable but not fruit intake during pregnancy is associated with newborn anthropometric measures. J Nutr 139(3):561-567.

Timmermans S, Steegers-Theunissen RP, Vujkovic M, den Breeijen H, Russcher H, Lindemans J, et al. 2012. The Mediterranean diet and fetal size parameters: the Generation R study. Br J Nutr. doi:10.1017/S000711451100691X; [Online 21 February 2012].

Timmermans S, Steegers-Theunissen RP, Vujkovic M, Bakker R, den Breeijen H, Raat H, Russcher H, Lindemans J, Hofman A, Jaddoe VW, Steegers EA. 2011. Major dietary patterns and blood pressure patterns during pregnancy: the Generation R study. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 205:337.e1-2.

Torfs CP, Lam PK, Schaffer DM, Brand RJ. 1998. Association between mothers’ nutrient intake and their offspring’s risk of gastroschisis. Teratology. 58:241-250.

Vujkovic M, Steegers EA, Looman CW, Ocke MC, van der Spek PJ, Steegers-Theunissen RP. 2009. The maternal Mediterranean dietary pattern is associated with a reduced risk of spina bifida in the offspring. BJOG. 116:408-415.



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