Eating nuts in pregnancy linked to smarter babies

Pregnant eating almond

Craving the crunch of cashews or wanting to munch on macadamias while pregnant? The experts are telling us to go nuts – because eating nutty goodness in the first trimester is being linked to smarter babies.

A study involving 2,200 women has found that expectant mums who ate nuts in pregnancy gave birth to children with better cognitive function, attention capacity and working memory. The research, led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) was the first to explore the possible benefits of eating nuts in pregnancy for a child’s long-term neurodevelopment.

Eating nuts linked to smarter babies

Pregnant women holding nuts

The mums involved in the study listed their eating habits, including their nut intake during the first and last trimesters. Their children’s neuropsychological development was then tested at 18 months, 5 years, and 8 years after birth. What researchers discovered is that the children of mums who ate more nuts during the first trimester had the best results in all the tests measuring cognitive function, attention capacity and working memory.

“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, explained Florence Gignac, ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study. “The nuts we took into account in this study were walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pine nuts and hazelnuts. We think that the beneficial effects observed might be 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 mums who ate the most nuts – a weekly average of just under three 30g servings, were found to have the most benefits.

Interestingly, the study didn’t find any of the same benefits for the mums who ate nuts in the third trimester.

“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” explained Jordi Júlvez, ISGlobal researcher and last author of the study.

“In any case,” adds Júlvez, “as this is the first study to explore this effect, we must treat the findings with caution and work on reproducing them in the future with more cohort studies as well as randomised controlled trials.”

How many nuts is 30g?

Nuts in pregnancy linked to smarter babies

Better Health says that research suggests the recommended intake is a 30g handful of a variety of nuts daily, however, this doesn’t specifically relate to pregnancy.

30g of nuts equals approximately:

  • 30 almonds
  • 10 Brazil nuts
  • 15 cashews
  • 4 chestnuts
  • 20 hazelnuts
  • 15 macadamias
  • 15 pecans
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 30 pistachio kernels out of shell
  • 10 whole walnuts or 20 walnut halves
  • a handful of mixed nuts
  • about two of each nut type not including chestnuts

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Eating nuts in pregnancy could make smarter babies