Eating This Food During Pregnancy May Lower Your Risk for Preeclampsia, Researchers Say

It’s the superfood of pregnancy.
ByStephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
Jul 2019
pregnant woman sitting in the kitchen with her partner
Photo: Dead Mitchell / Getty Images

We already know all about how a diet rich in fiber is super-important during pregnancy, and new research from the University of Sydney gives expectant moms even more of a reason to incorporate it into their daily intake.

Wondering what’s with all the fiber fuss? Fiber keeps everything moving through the large intestine and fights against that all-too-common pregnancy symptom, constipation. Plus, fiber-rich foods are usually nutrient-dense, meaning they fill you up without adding tons of calories. Now, the new study suggests eating fiber during pregnancy may be even more important than originally thought. Researchers found that in humans, reduced levels of acetate, which is mainly produced by fiber fermentation in the gut, is associated with the common and serious pregnancy-related condition preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia occurs in up to 10 percent of pregnancies and is characterized by high blood pressure, protein in the urine and severe swelling in the mother. It also interferes with the child’s immune development in the womb, with some evidence suggesting there’s a link to higher rates of allergies and autoimmune disease later in life.

The study found that preeclampsia affected the development of an important fetal immune organ, the thymus. Fetuses in women with preeclampsia were found to have a much smaller thymus than children born from healthy pregnancies. The cells the thymus normally generates, called T cells, also remained lower in infants after preeclampsia, even four years after delivery. The effects of acetate on the developing fetal immune system were further examined in separate experiments involving mice, and showed acetate was central in driving fetal thymus and T cell development.

The takeaway? The results suggest plant-based fiber broken down in the gut by bacteria may be an effective way to maintain a healthy pregnancy, and to prevent allergies and autoimmune conditions later in life. Researchers are even going one step further to say it could partially explain the rapid increase of allergies and autoimmune conditions we’ve seen in recent years, as Western diets are increasingly dominated by highly processed foods, which are low in fiber.

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