Have you ever wondered why some people gain weight the minute they look at a piece of chocolate cake, whilst others seem to be able to eat anything they like and never gain an inch? Or why some people can remember things that you told them a decade ago, whilst others struggle to remember what they read yesterday? Well, I’ve discovered that one of the biggest influences on our lives is our genetic programming. Our genetic programming is different to our genetics. Our genetics is the code that we get from our parents. Genetic programming is how that code is programmed. Our nutrition during the first thousand days of life is one of the most important factors for programming our baby’s genes… and this starts with the genes in our eggs and sperm before our baby is even conceived. So, what is the first thousand days? What nutrition is important? And, what difference can it make? Well, stay tuned and I’ll explain!
Nutrition for the first 1000 days
So, before we get into answering your question, I want to tell you that I’m particularly excited about this video. You see, the research I’ve read about the impact of nutrition in the first thousand days is one of the key reasons that I decided to specialise in this area of dietetics.
One of my earlier jobs as a dietitian was working in a hospital clinic to assist people with weight problems. My average client in that clinic was 200 kilograms (or 440 pounds for my American viewers). I was often baffled that clients could gain weight even though some would eat less calories than I did. As I delved into the research, I found that people with weight problems often had different hormonal profiles than “skinny” people had. The more I researched, the more passionate I became! A landmark study conducted in 2008 on mice found that what the diet that pregnant mice were given impacted the genetic programming of their pups to determine whether the pups would struggle with obesity or not. To think… that what we eat in the lead up to conception, during pregnancy and what we feed our little ones in their first years can impact their genetic programming to determine whether or not they will struggle with their weight is amazing!!
And, it’s not just weight, more recent research shows that the nutrition that your baby receives during their ‘first thousand days’ will influence your baby’s brain development, their immune system, their risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, their food preferences, their risk of food allergies and much, much more.
So, what is the ‘first thousand days’?
It’s the time from pre-conception until your baby turns two when the majority of genetic programming occurs. Academics are still debating about when the first thousand days starts and whether it’s the day or conception or earlier, but personally I believe that it’s about three months prior to conception. We need to remember that our eggs and sperm contain the genetic material for our future baby, and we know that sperm and egg health can be significantly impacted in the three months prior to conception so that’s why I choose this date.
So, let me give you two quick examples of nutrition for the first thousand days and the impact it can make:
Number 1: Food preferences
There’s lots of studies which show that what mummas eat during pregnancy and breastfeeding will impact the taste preferences of our baby. But one of my favourite studies was an experiment undertaken in 2001. The researchers asked some mummas to drink a glass of carrot juice at least four days per week during pregnancy and breastfeeding and the other mummas they asked to drink a glass of water. When solids were introduced to their babies, they were offered carrot-flavoured porridge. Essentially, the babies whose mummas had consumed the carrot juice during pregnancy and breastfeeding liked the carrot-flavoured porridge, but those whose mothers drank the water didn’t. Our babies taste buds are developed at around five months gestation, so what you eat during pregnancy and breastfeeding will influence the foods that your baby will like in the future.
Example number 2: Allergies
Research tells us that if you or your partner has a food allergy, your baby has around a thirty percent risk of having a food allergy, and if you both have food allergies, the risk increases to around sixty per cent….that’s because the risk of food allergies is genetic. BUT, genetic programming also has a role… check out my video on allergy prevention during pregnancy, but in brief, nutrition in the first thousand days has a significant impact on genetic programming and can influence whether or not your baby will have a food allergy or not.
So, what should you do to optimise your baby’s nutrition for their first thousand days?
Well, start with these steps:
- Get a blood test to check your nutritional status before conceiving
- Get any existing health conditions, such as diabetes or Coeliac Disease under control
- Optimise your weight
- Enhance your gut microbiota with prebiotic foods
- Breastfeed as long as you’re able to
- And, most importantly, have a personally tailored consultation with a dietitian as soon as you decide that you’re going to start trying to conceive or as soon as you know that you’re pregnant.
Nutrition for the first thousand days is so important! It’s a tough time to eat well… between managing your emotions when you’re trying to conceive, dealing with the pressure of friends and family, dealing with morning sickness, exhaustion and reflux when you’re pregnant, not to mention the sleepless nights when you have a newborn… but get the help you need and do the best that you can. As someone who has personally seen the differences that nutrition for the first thousand days can make, I can assure you that the effort that you put in now will reap rewards for you and your little one down the track.
One last thing before you go, I’d recommend downloading my free fertility meal plan to help get your started. Just go to www.melaniemcgrice.com/fertility.
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