I love to eat what many people around me call strange foods. I don’t think they’re all that strange — shrimp, spinach and coconut milk smoothies, huge salads with whatever veggies and meat I have in the fridge tossed on top. People tend to think my food choices are a bit weird when I bust out a tupperware bowl full of hunks of meat and a fork and start chowing down at lunchtime. I don’t eat much bread or cheese, so “normal” lunch foods like sandwiches are out of the question. Fast food never ever makes it into my rotation.
I hate feeling awful, and I did a little personal study — nothing scientific, mind you — and found that my energy level, mood, skin condition and the state of my stomach all deteriorated immediately after eating fast food, and all improved significantly when I started eating these. It doesn’t sound all that far-fetched: eat better and feel better. I like eating them, far better than I like that greasy, processed burger from the local fast-food chain.
However, a new study shows it might not be that easy. According to an article published recently in the “New York Times,” bad eating habits start before you’re even born:
Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit research organization in Philadelphia, have found that babies born to mothers who eat a diverse and varied diet while pregnant and breast-feeding are more open to a wide range of flavors. They’ve also found that babies who follow that diet after weaning carry those preferences into childhood and adulthood. Researchers believe that the taste preferences that develop at crucial periods in infancy have lasting effects for life. In fact, changing food preferences beyond toddlerhood appears to be extremely difficult.
In short, research is now showing that pregnant women who eat a diet high in processed foods, or who don’t vary their diet enough while pregnant, and parents who do not continue to feed their infants varied and healthy foods through their toddler years, are basically setting their unborn children up for failure when it comes to eating a variety of foods and flavor profiles throughout their lives.
Now, I’m the last one to police what pregnant women eat, but the implications of this research are huge. With around 70 percent of adults in America now overweight or obese, helping people make good choices with their food is a must, and if this process starts in utero, we need to spread the word to women who are pregnant. There are also implications for education, since nutrients like omega 3 and certain vitamins have been shown to increase brain function. Higher brain function in infants most often translates to smarter kids in school.
I was fortunate; my parents were upper-middle class in the 80s when they got pregnant with me. They wanted this pregnancy and were prepared for it. They also had good insurance and access to good prenatal care. My mother’s doctor was adamant about her intake of the proper nutrients and she, wanting to provide the best for her unborn child, complied. Not everyone is in that situation. Millions of Americans fall under the poverty line, which has wide-ranging implications in and of itself. Those who live in food deserts simply don’t have the same access to fresh fruit and vegetables.
Those who do often find that fast food is much, much cheaper than healthier options. Furthermore, for those working several jobs just to make ends meet, there is often no time to cook a meal.We also still have many people in this country who are uninsured as the full impact of the Affordable Care Act hasn’t kicked in yet. This means that they do not have access to the same level of prenatal care as someone who is insured.
Hopefully, changes in the system will help pregnant women get the care they need to empower them to make good choices for their unborn children. With the deadline to sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act looming, we won’t see hard data on this particular issue for a long time. However, until then, it’s important that we understand the connection between pregnancy and our children’s future eating habits. Bad eating really does start in the womb.
Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon
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