Peanuts for Peanut

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Peanuts for Peanut

We’ve all heard that good nutrition is especially important during pregnancy, but WHY exactly does it matter so much, and how does it influence a baby’s development? Pregnant women with poor diets still give birth to babies who grow into children and adults, so does it REALLY matter? As it turns out, a pregnant woman’s dietary and lifestyle choices not only influence the baby’s growth while in utero, but also imprint life-long effects on the baby – that’s right, many of the choices your mom made while she was pregnant with you still affect you today!

Most of these life-long health risks are determined by epigenetic changes directly influenced by prenatal exposures. And it isn’t just humans, all organisms on earth are under the influence of epigenetic changes as well. According to Biomed Central, “Early-life dietary nutrition can profoundly affect developmental fate through the altered epigenome. Female larvae can develop into queen bees or sterile worker bees in the presence or absence of royal jelly, which is the most typical example of nutrition epigenetics (1).” In case you were curious, royal jelly is a milky secretion made by worker bees and fed only to larvae and adult queens. It’s rich in carbohydrates, protein, amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.

So, what is the epigenome?

The term epigenome stems from the Greek word epi which literally means “above” the genome. The genome is the complete set of genes or genetic material present in a cell or organism. According to, “the epigenome consists of chemical compounds that modify, or mark, the genome in a way that tells it what to do, where to do it, and when to do it (2).” In the most basic terms, epigenetics is the study of how one’s environment affects and changes the way genes work. To be very clear, epigenetics doesn’t cause a change to DNA, but instead affects how a body reads DNA!

As it turns out, during the prenatal period, a person’s genome is exceptionally vulnerable to environmental influences. Maternal or surrogate diet, along with other exposures, holds a lot of influence over the genomic expression of the growing person. The National Institutes of Health recognizes that “maternal nutritional status may affect early epigenetic reprogramming processes as well as early establishment of the gut microbiome in the fetus that result in gene expression changes” (3). These changes can determine one’s susceptibility to obesity, metabolic disease, and even cancer risk in adult life.  If that doesn’t feel like a lot of responsibility, I don’t know what would.

In addition to promoting fetal development, proper prenatal nutrition is crucial for maternal health and well-being throughout pregnancy and postpartum. Pregnancy places increased demands on the pregnant woman’s body, necessitating higher energy and nutrient intake to support fetal growth and maternal physiological changes. Without adequate nutrition, pregnant women may experience fatigue, weakness, and a higher risk of complications such as anemia and gestational diabetes. But it’s not only during pregnancy that diet affects a woman – postpartum recovery is also greatly influenced by nutrition, as the body requires sufficient nutrients to heal and replenish stores, such as calcium and iron, depleted during pregnancy and childbirth.

With only 200 extra calories needed per day during pregnancy, it makes sense to put those calories to good use by focusing on eating more nutritious calories, rather than simply increasing caloric consumption. Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a more in-depth look into which nutrients are needed during pregnancy and why they are important. Stay tuned!

Source List

  1. Shizhao Li, Dr. Y. (Rose) L. & Dr. T. T. 20 M. 2019. (2019, May 20). The epigenetics diet: A barrier against environmental pollution. On Biology.
  2. Epigenome. (n.d.). 
  3. Li, Y. (2018, August 27). Epigenetic mechanisms link maternal diets and gut microbiome to obesity in the offspring. Frontiers in genetics.