Mom’s diet during pregnancy significantly affects a baby’s brain health and cognitive development according to recent scientific research. Researchers have found conclusively that diets with more fruits and vegetables significantly boost the baby’s future IQ and cognitive development.
Diet affects baby brain health
Researchers from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo, Norway analyzed the results of research on nearly 64,000 children in 18 studies. The researchers analyzed the research for accuracy and bias, and removed those studies that indicated weaknesses in these areas.
The remaining 18 studies were analyzed for clarity with their results. The researchers found a clear correlation between diets and the cognitive functioning of the child. Diets that promoted positive outcomes in the cognitive area included diets with fruits and vegetables and lower saturated fat. Also diets with better omega-3 levels were found to boost cognitive development. And diets with more fish intake and less red meat were also beneficial.
The researchers also found that the effects of less breastfeeding (which also affects cognition) were more minimal when the mother ate better during pregnancy.
The researchers also found that the child’s behavior is improved with a better diet during pregnancy. In other words, terrible two’s might not be so terrible with a better maternal diet.
Eating fruit during pregnancy helps baby’s cognitive development
A 2016 study from University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry in Canada studied children in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Study. This nationwide study of infants included more than 3,500 Canadian infants and their families.
The study, published in the journal EbioMedicine, followed over 800 children from Edmonton, Canada. In the final analysis, 688 children were tracked and followed through one year of age. Location along with other controls helped the scientists rule out other factors that affect a child’s cognitive development. This includes family income, parent’s education, gestational age and so on.
The study utilized a food frequency questionnaire developed by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. This was modified for ethnic foods. The mothers completed the 175-item questionnaire at the beginning of the study. The pregnant mothers were asked for portion size and frequency of each food type eaten during their pregnancy.
Total fruit intake utilized servings of fruit. A serving of fruit was measured as either a three-quarters cup of 100% fruit juice, half a cup of fresh fruit, or a quarter cup of dried fruit.
The researchers measured cognitive development using the Bayley Scale of Infant Development (BSID-III). This is validated system of measuring cognitive development for infants between one and 42 months of age. The BSID-III scale has 91 items, and includes visual preference, attention, memory, exploration, manipulation, and concept formation. It also uses a 241-item behavior questionnaire that measures communication, behavior and other situations.
The researchers found the children of the fruit-eating mothers had a 2.38 point increase in cognitive development during the one-year period.
Translating this to a traditional IQ scale, the scientists found that children of pregnant mothers who ate an average of six or seven servings of fruit or fruit juice per day had between six and seven IQ points higher at the end of their first year.
Senior researcher of the study and professor of pediatrics, Dr. Piush Mandhane, found the correlation. “It’s quite a substantial difference—that’s half of a standard deviation. We know that the longer a child is in the womb, the further they develop—and having one more serving of fruit per day in a mother’s diet provides her baby with the same benefit as being born a whole week later,” said Dr. Mandhane.
The average IQ is 100, and the standard deviation is 15. This means that two-thirds of the population will have an IQ of between 85 and 115. So six or seven points greater IQ on average is a significant difference. Especially just for eating more (delicious) fruit.
The effect of eating fruit during pregnancy was translated to a 30 percent increase in cognitive development when the researchers applied the results to a laboratory model. They utilized using fruit flies, which have similar brain development to humans.
Blueberry boosts memory in 8-10 year-olds
A study from the UK’s University of Reading tested 14 children between 8 and 10 years of age. The researchers gave half the children a drink spiked with blueberry and flavonoids. (Fruit contains lots of flavonoids). The other half received a placebo drink with similar flavoring.
Two hours after drinking the drink, the researchers gave the children a battery of cognition tests. These included tests for memory, attention, moods, and responsiveness.
The children drinking the blueberry drink had significantly increased scores in the delayed recall of a list of previously learned words.
Why fruit diet boosts IQ
Fruit isn’t typically linked with cognition and intelligence, but this may change. A baby’s cognitive development is directly linked not only to intelligence, but to avoiding neurological issues such as autism and intellectual disability (once called mental retardation.)
The reality is, fruit has some very important nutrients and phytochemicals. These functionally perform as brain foods during the developing fetus and infant years.
There are many different types of fruits. But they have something in common: Plants work hard to protect their fruit. They want to protect their fruits because they contain their own offspring.
Fruit is basically an encasement of seeds. These seeds are the plant’s offspring. So they create these gorgeous fruits with complex layers of peels and various phytochemicals in order to protect their seeds from the damaging effects of the sun or any number of invaders. These include bacteria, fungus and so many others.
But the fruit that plants produce are not intended to protect the seeds from being picked and eaten by humans or animals. In fact, their colors even attract us to eat them. Why?
Because when humans and animals eat fruits, they will not digest the seeds. The seeds are wrapped in a hard shell that will either be spit out or be ejected through the feces. This means, of course, that humans and animals that eat fruit are actually working for the plants – to spread their seeds far and wide, along with the fertilizer to nourish their early growth.
This is just one of those beautiful harmonies of nature. But it is also one of intelligence. Plants are very intelligent. They know what is happening to their seeds. They also know how to protect their seeds. Take a look at practically any tree or bush that produces fruit. Each tree produces a tough combination of peel and phytocompounds that protect their seeds from invasion.
These very same phytocompounds are also protective for those who ingest the fruits. Fruits provide numerous important nutrients for humans and other critters. These range from many vitamins and minerals to phenolic acids such as gallic acid and many others.
These functional compounds help nourish our bodies but also our brains. And as new research has confirmed, when a pregnant mother eats more fruit, this boosts her baby’s cognitive development.
This adds to the consideration that a mom’s exposure to pesticides during pregnancy increase the risk of autism for the child. So a diet with organic fruit and vegetables would definitely be more beneficial according to the research.
Caution on fruit juice
We should note that the study included fruit juices. Other research has illustrated – as we’ve reported in this publication – that fruit juice does not have the same health benefit as consuming raw fruits.
One of the reasons for this is that fruit juices are typically pasteurized. Many of the nutrients and phytocompounds in fruits are heat sensitive. Thus, they will disappear or be substantially decreased in fruit juice.
And because fruit juice producers typically filter out most of the pulp and fibers from the fruit, those phytochemicals found in the inner peels and fibers of the fruit are typically absent or minimized in fruit juice.
Because of this lack of fiber, fruit juices can spike blood sugar levels significantly. This can have a negative effect upon a baby’s development.
My suggestion is to therefore eat raw fruit. If a beverage is desired, putting the raw fruit into a blender – to make a fruit smoothie. Fruit smoothies can also be spiked with green foods and flaxseeds, and even probiotics yogurt. All of these will assist in boosting cognitive development of mother and baby.
Borge TC, Aase H, Brantsæter AL, Biele G. The importance of maternal diet quality during pregnancy on cognitive and behavioural outcomes in children: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open. 2017 Sep 24;7(9):e016777. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-016777.
Bolduc FV, Lau A, Rosenfelt CS, Langer S, Wang N, Smithson L, Lefebvre D, Alexander RT, Dickson CT, Li L, Becker AB, Subbarao P, Turvey SE, Pei J, Sears MR, Mandhane PJ. Cognitive Enhancement in Infants Associated with Increased Maternal Fruit Intake During Pregnancy: Results from a Birth Cohort Study with Validation in an Animal Model. EBioMedicine, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2016.04.025
Dotinga A, Neitz R. An apple a day… University of Alberta News. May 2016
Whyte AR, Williams CM. Effects of a single dose of a flavonoid-rich blueberry drink on memory in 8 to 10 y old children. Nutrition. 2015 Mar;31(3):531-4. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2014.09.013.
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.