Southampton University: The wrong fat in pregnancy diet ‘may make kids fatter’

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More great work from Southampton. I have been to a number of presentations where researchers have detailed results of work around The Southampton Women’s Survey, which I believe is the largest cohort of young women anywhere involved in measurements and assessments of lifestyle and diet.

The results of work done there are always impressive but in relation to fats, they often do not quite get it – or maybe one more question needs to be asked, the question of balance and how the modern diet impacts the balance of fats in our bodies.

The fact that the health service is about to be overrun by obesity and diabetes is reason to welcome this kind of research, but from my point of view it could do so much more.

Let’s ask that question, let’s stand up to the industrial food empires. It is our right to have food that nurtures us and to understand what that is.

Many other studies of breast milk lipids and other transference mechanisms during pregnancy flag up inconsistencies and imbalances but they do not go that final mile and relate it directly to fats in the diet.

When pregnant, a mother is doing the most amazing job of making new cells, therefore the raw material for this enterprise has to be supplied by the host. Nature is not much interested in the host but more in the new life.

So, what makes up these new cells? Well, the mitochondria is protected by the cell wall. The cell walls are made from the fats, a balance of them. If essential fats are not in the diet in the correct proportions, especially omega 3, the mother's own body is depleted this can often lead to postnatal depression and childhood eczema. It would be good to use the Southampton cohort to look at this.

Omega 6 is a fat so abundant in the food chain that it could classified as the substance that does more harm to human life than any other material. This is where the issue of balance comes in.

Although an essential fat, omega 6 is only needed in the Stone Age ratio of one to one with omega 3. Levels up to maybe five times more omega 6 may not be too harmful but this is not certain. Levels of omega 6 in the general population is often in the order of 15/20 times more than needed. The evidence for this lies in the vast increase in inflammatory disease.

It should not be a great surprise that pregnant women eating a western-style diet and even women eating a so-called healthy diet show the wrong balance of fats in the blood. There is little real information out there about fats and what there is, is skewed and unintelligible. Food labels show only mono or poly unsaturated fat contents, which is useless if you are keen to eat a diet balanced in the essential fats. These same labels do not give information about how the oils have been treated and where they have come from. This is why even the healthy eaters can be fooled.

The role of the essential fats, among other things, is to produce anti and inflammatory hormones; they are the raw materials of the prostaglandins. Omega 3 produces the anti-inflammatory, omega 6 the pro-inflammatory ones. Now, the reason becomes clear why it is so important to get this balance correct.

It is also clear that cheap oils rich in the omega 6 fats are also often changed by heat and hydrogenation and solvent extraction – and even in the home by roasting or frying with them. This changed fat is not recognised by the body, so what is the body going to do with these Frankenstein fats? It does not want them in its system but has no real way of disposing of them – and so they build up a store of trouble.

The most reliable message that ought to be taken from this survey is of the importance of the right balance of fats for creating new life and keeping us free from not only inflammatory disease but disease of all kinds, which includes obesity.

My advice would be for the NHS to change its attitude to fats and the quicker the better. Dietary advice to pregnant mothers also needs changing as a matter of urgency; it is complacency in the extreme not to do this.

Here is a link to background papers that can be read in association with this one.

Durwin Banks

Durwin Banks
The Linseed Farm