Being pregnant could be a joyful and amazing time, but it could also be a distressful period with lots of discomforts for some expectant mothers. However, one of the little crumbs of comfort of playing host to a tiny human parasite is that they can eat whatever they like for nine months.

In spite of the near worldwide acceptance that pregnancy is a time for gluttony, a new study from Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, has found that consuming too much of this favourite snacks may lead to pregnancy complications and poor development of babies.

The research suggests that linoleic acid, a derivative of omega-6 found in vegetable oil, can negatively affect children in the womb. Unfortunately, foods high in linoleic acid include popular nibbles such as potato crisps.

According to the study, vegetable oil, often used to cook pizzas, potato-based snacks and bread, is one of the biggest sources of linoleic acid.

This study urged pregnant women to steer clear of fatty foods such as pizza and chips, because they contain linoleic acid.

Experts at Harvard University define linoleic acid as the predominant polyunsaturated fatty acid in the western diet. The American Heart Association (AHA) says adults should consume between 100 and 200 calories from linoleic acid each day.

To comprehend the analogy, Dr Deanne Skelly and colleagues gave rats a diet high in linoleic acid for 10 weeks. They ate the equivalent of three times more than they should; they forced the rodents to mate and investigated the dangers of the diet on their offspring.

They searched for changes inside the mothers and their babies, and examined levels of cholesterol and levels of inflammatory proteins which cause dangerous swelling inside the body.

Results showed rats that fed lots of linoleic acid gave birth to offspring with lower levels of hormones that regulate growth, suggesting they could have developmental problems.

However, there were no recorded differences in size when the young rats were killed after 20 days. The rats also had more inflammatory proteins in the liver, according to the results published in the Journal of Physiology.

In a press release, the team said “these changes may result in an increased risk of pregnancy complications and poor development of the babies”.

Explaining more on the research, Skelly said it is important for pregnant women to consider their diet. Adding that the study is yet another example of consuming too much of a certain type of nutrient can have a negative impact on the growing baby.

Further trials are still needed to confirm the effects, the researchers said. And they pointed out that when humans eat diets rich in linoleic acid, they also tend to be high in fat, sugar and salt.

Writing in the journal, the researchers said: “Dietary intakes of linoleic acid have increased dramatically in Western populations, including women of reproductive age. However, in the study, the only change in the diet was higher linoleic acid, but no changes in fat, sugar or salt.

It was previously thought that polyunsaturated fats such as vegetable oil were a healthy alternative to cooking agents rich in saturated fat, such as beef tallow.

In fact, this health concern was a key factor in fast food businesses that switch from frying in animal fats to vegetable oil. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that vegetable oils are actually far more damaging than we initially thought.

Studies such as this suggested that their impact may be even more dangerous than we believed possible. Further trials are still needed to confirm the effects, the researchers said.

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