Fries and chips during pregnancy can cause lower birth weights: study

Jordana Divon
Shine OnOctober 23, 2012

If you consider pregnancy a time to throw all caution to the wind and indulge in everything you want to eat, a new study is encouraging women to, at the very least, put down the french fries.

Led by Europe's Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology, the study claims that women who consumed higher levels of acrylamide — a chemical found in processed starches, like fries, breads and chips— resulted in lower birth weight babies.

Babies were an average of 132 g lighter than their chemical-free counterparts, and their heads measured up to 0.33 cm smaller.

In fact, researchers say the effects can be compared to lower birth weights caused by mothers who smoke throughout their pregnancies.

Also see: Elephant dung in the world's most expensive cup of joe

"The potential public-health implications of our findings are substantial," the study's authors say.

"Reduced birth weight is a risk factor for numerous adverse health effects early in life, and has been associated with multiple adverse outcomes later in life such as reduced stature, increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and osteoporosis."

A baby's head size has also been associated with "delayed neurodevelopment."

As the Telegraph notes, acrylamide gets triggered naturally in starchy foods cooked at high temperatures, making fries one of the worst offenders. Other sources include potato chips, breads and even coffee.

To compile their data, scientists at the Barcelona-based centre followed 1,100 pregnant women and babies in five European countries. They found that babies in Bradford, England, where fries form a big part of the daily diet, had nearly twice the acrylamide levels of Danish babies.

Also see: Why Iceland is one of the world's healthiest countries

"The UK tends to have high levels of acrylamide in the diet and this is a reflection of the type of diet that we have," Prof. John Wright, from the Bradford Institute for Health Research, tells the BBC.

"We eat a lot of chips (fries) and crisps (chips) in this country - we eat something like 10 billion packets of crisps a year, that is more than the rest of Europe put together."

Researchers say they hope the study will encourage pregnant women to make healthier choices when it comes to their gestational diets, and they also encouraged more public health awareness when advising these women what to consume.

So the next time a craving for dill pickle potato chips hits, it may be wiser (if not more satisfying) to cut up a cucumber instead.

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