‘Nuts can boost baby brain development in the womb’
Children’s brains can be boosted by their mother eating nuts during early pregnancy, a new study claims.
Attention span, working memory and cognitive function were found to be higher in children whose mothers ate more nuts during the first trimester of pregnancy, researchers found.
Analysis was carried out on more than 2,200 pregnant mothers and their children in Spain, finding links between a maternal diet rich in nuts and improved neuro-development in the child.
The children’s neuropsychological development was assessed using several internationally validated standard tests at 18 months, five years, and eight years after birth.
Florence Gignac, researcher and author of the study by the Barcelona Institute of Global Health (ISGlobal), said: “This is the first study to explore the possible benefits of eating nuts during pregnancy for the child’s neuro-development in the long term.
“The brain undergoes a series of complex processes during gestation and this means that maternal nutrition is a determining factor in foetal brain development and can have long-term effects.
“The nuts we took into account in this study were walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pine nuts and hazelnuts.
“We think that the beneficial effects observed might be due to the fact that the nuts provided high levels of folic acid and, in particular, essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6.
“These components tend to accumulate in neural tissue, particularly in the frontal areas of the brain, which influence memory and executive functions.”
The benefits described in the study were observed in the group of mothers who reported the highest consumption of nuts – a weekly average of just under three 30g servings.
This is slightly lower than the average weekly consumption recommended in the healthy eating guide published by the Spanish Society of Community Nutrition, which is between three and seven servings per week.
Estimated nut consumption in Spain is more than double the European average.
The study also analysed the mothers’ nut consumption during the third trimester of their pregnancy, but in this case either no link or a weaker link with improved neuropsychological development were found.
Researchers said they think this could be because the rhythm of foetal development varies throughout the pregnancy and there are periods when development is particularly sensitive to maternal diet.
But they added that, as this is the first study to explore this effect, the results must be treated with caution until more studies are carried out.
The study was led by ISGlobal and the report, titled Maternal Nut Intake In Pregnancy And Child Neuropsychological Development Up To 8 Years Old: A Population-based Cohort Study In Spain, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology