Nuts are known to help reduce the risk of hypertension, oxidative stress; diabetes and they may exercise a protective effect against cognitive decline in older age. To this list of beneficial health effects; they can now add new evidence from a study led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal); an institute supported by “la Caixa”. The study, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, found links between a maternal diet rich in nuts during the first trimester of pregnancy and improved neurodevelopment in the child.
“This is the first study to explore the possible benefits of eating nuts during pregnancy for the child’s neurodevelopment; 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 fetal brain development and can have long-term effects; explains Florence Gignac, ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study.
Frontal areas of the brain
“The nuts we took into account in this study walnut, almonds, peanuts, pine nuts, and hazelnuts. They think that the beneficial effects observed might 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 this 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 (SENC: Guía de la alimentación saludable); which is between three and seven servings per week.
Mothers’ nut consumption
The study also analyzed the mothers’ nut consumption during the third trimester of their pregnancy; but in this case, either no associations observed with the neuropsychological outcomes or the associations found weaker. “This is not the first time we have observed more marked effects when exposure occurs at a specific stage of the pregnancy.
While our study does not explain the causes of the difference between the first and third trimesters; the scientific literature speculates that the rhythm of fetal development varies throughout the pregnancy and that there are periods when development is particularly sensitive to maternal diet. “as this is the first study to explore this effect, they must treat the findings with caution and work on reproducing them in the future with more cohort studies as well as randomized controlled trials.