The simple diet swap for mums-to-be that could make their babies brainier | The Sun

MUMS can make their babies brainier by making some simple diet swaps while pregnant, according to new research.

A Mediterranean diet that’s rich in foods like olive oil and walnuts could be an easy way to boost little ones’ noggins, scientists say.

The study, based on 626 babies and their mums in Spain, was described as “interesting”.

But experts cautioned there are a number of caveats, and it's important for mothers-to-be to eat healthily regardless. 

Participants were divided into three groups – they were either assigned 'usual care', told to follow a Mediterranean diet, or to go to mindfulness-based stress reduction classes. 

Those on the Mediterranean diet, often hailed as the “healthiest in the world”, were given free extra virgin olive oil and walnuts.


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As well as healthy fats, the diet focuses on fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and a low amount of dairy and red meat.

When babies were born and when they were two years old, researchers used a test that measures five domains of development in infants: cognitive, language, motor, adaptive, and social-emotional development. 

The findings, published today in the journal JAMA Network, show that mums who followed the Mediterranean diet had kids with “significantly higher scores” in two areas – cognitive and social-emotional wellbeing – compared to those receiving usual care.

Doing well on cognitive tests in early infancy is linked to higher future IQs, according to the researchers. 

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Developing social and emotional skills helps children in a number of ways, including to resolve conflict, manage their feelings and behaviours, and build self-esteem.

Scientists therorised that several parts of the Mediterranean diet “may mediate changes in inflammatory status interfering with brain development in utero”.

Those who were assigned to the mindfulness classes had infants who were more likely to have better social-emotional well-being compared to infants receiving usual care. 

The mums practising mindfulness reported less anxiety and stress compared to the other study groups.

And the researchers suggested this may reduce inflammatory proteins and hormones, such as cortisol, which may impact foetal brain development. 

Dr Duane Mellor, registered dietitian and senior lecturer at Aston Medical School in Birmingham, said: “This is an interesting study which builds on a study previously done in a smaller group in Spain.

“The findings of this need to be treated with caution as over half of those women who enrolled onto the study did not complete the study, many because they declined to complete the study or moved away and cannot be contacted. 

“It is unknown if the infants from these pregnancies would have demonstrated the same outcomes. 

“It is also not known if the change in diet or mindfulness directly led to the changes observed or as the study was not blinded and participants knew what was happening, that they might have become more motivated and this led to other beneficial lifestyle changes which continued after childbirth and could explain the outcomes.”

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Dr Mellor added: “It is important that during pregnancy that women and their families look after their health, including eating healthily and looking after their mental health and wellbeing. 

“A Mediterranean style diet is one way of doing that, but it is important to eat healthy foods that you enjoy and not add to potential stress you feel by worrying about what you eat too much.”


The core principles of the Mediterranean diet are:

  • Piling your plate high with plant-based foods, including vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains
  • Replacing butter and other fats with healthy alternatives – think olive oil and canola oil
  • Limiting the amount of red meat you eat on a weekly basis
  • Including helpings of fish and poultry at least twice a week
  • Rather than using salt to flavour your food, using spices and herbs
  • Drinking red wine in moderation
  • Getting plenty of exercise

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