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Pregnancy can play tricks on your taste buds, leaving you craving anything from pickles to petrol. When my wife Sharon was pregnant she had an insatiable desire for bacon sandwiches and new research suggests that her body may have been naturally craving chemicals that could have helped the development of our daughter Poppy. A study published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology showed that mothers who enjoy a full English breakfast in pregnancy could boost their baby’s intelligence.

A question of choline

The study looked at expectant mums in the last trimester of pregnancy and found that the babies of women who consumed more of the essential nutrient choline, found in both eggs and bacon, performed better in tests.

We already know that choline is vital for the healthy development of the brain and spinal cord. Like folate, choline is important for the prevention of neural tube defects like spina bifida. Previous research has also shown that increased dietary choline can result in an increased IQ in mice, so it is interesting to have confirmation that there may also be a link in humans. In the recent trial, women were given differing levels of choline. Half the women had 480mg, just over the minimum recommended level and the other half had 930mg daily, more than double the adequate intake.

After the birth, the researchers tested the babies’ responses every three months from four to thirteen months of age. Using a computer, they timed how long the babies took to look at an image on the screen. There were significantly sharper responses in the high-choline group. Commenting on the study, lead researcher Professor Marie Caudill, from Cornell Professor Caudill emphasised the importance of choline, saying “this single nutrient has lifelong benefits”. She added:

In animal models using rodents, there’s widespread agreement that supplementing the maternal diet with additional amounts of this single nutrient has lifelong benefits on offspring cognitive function. Our study provides some evidence that a similar result is found in humans.

Eating for two?

Choline is often deficient in the average diet, so if you want to get the choline and all the other nutrients your baby needs, it’s important to eat a healthy balanced diet in pregnancy. However, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, NICE, suggests that women don’t need any extra calories for the first six months of pregnancy and even in the last trimester they only need a measly 200 extra calories a day, so you need to eat better not more.

The good news is that protein based breakfasts can help satisfy your hunger and keep your blood sugar stable, so you’re less likely to snack on junk. For your breakfast, tuck into eggs (with the lion mark) and grilled bacon and stay away from fried bread and hash browns, so you don’t ramp up the calories.

If you’re feeling sick and bloated and the idea of a fry-up makes you queasy, then boost your choline levels with plenty of broccoli and spinach, fish, lean red meat and poultry, dairy, pulses and nuts.

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