Pregnancy is a wonderful time in any woman’s life. A bit of a roller coaster, yes, but it’s full of new feelings and new learning. Unlike many previous generations, first time mothers now have a clearer picture of what they need to know about nutrition when they’re “eating for two”. Eating for two these days is about quality, not quantity, and new research is turning up all sorts of interesting information on some of the critical nutrients first time mothers, indeed all mums, should ensure form part of their dietary intake.
The most important nutrients to support pregnancy can be summarised as follows:
Let’s take a quick look at choline. Choline is clearly important but it appears most pregnant women don’t ingest the recommended daily dose.
Choline is a chemical similar to the B-vitamins, and is often lumped in with them, although it is not (yet) an “official” B-vitamin. Although its entire mechanism of action, particularly how it interacts with other nutrients, is not completely understood, it seems too often work in concert with folate and an amino acid called methionine. Although the human body can make some choline it is generally recognised that it is important to get dietary choline as well.
So what does choline do? It’s long been understood that choline helps in the development of the neural tube. In the developing baby, the neural tube is the embryo’s very early central nervous system that comprises the brain and spinal cord. This really is early development because by four and a half weeks portions of the brain are already forming!
Choline also has some other very important protective roles. It seems it helps in the prevention of miscarriage and stillbirth. It has been found that mothers in the bottom 25% for choline intake have a four times greater risks of having a child with neural tube defects compared with women in the highest 25% of intake.
Along with choline’s brain development function it can also impact on your child’s lifelong learning and memory capacity. But now we’re finding out it does even more.
Researchers at Cornell University, USA, found that increased choline intake during pregnancy could reduce stress levels in the child and lower the chances of it developing hypertension and diabetes later in life. Although adults may take choline, the amount of choline that one is exposed to while still in the womb has a stronger effect over time.
What can you do?
Australian dietary guidelines recommend a minimum intake of 440mg/day of choline. Many women just don’t get that much. Choline can be found in foods like eggs, beef liver and, you won’t be surprised, breast milk!
For comparison 1 large whole egg contains about 112mg, a nice 100g serving of pan-fried calf’s liver can deliver 418mg. 100gm of tofu will give about 28mg and a serve of cauliflower about twice that.
Of course, you can take a good supplement designed for pregnant women, but be careful here. The Bellamy’s team did a little checking and there is at least one very well known brand out there selling a pregnancy supplement that does not contain any choline! In fact, the only prenatal supplement we could find that contains choline is Zycia Natal Nutrients, available from pharmacies.
Use Mindful Eating here, too, and don’t take too much. You only need what’s required. More won’t help.
The Cornell paper on reducing stress levels can be found at: