According to new research published in the September 2013 issue of The FASEB Journal , not only is dieting before getting pregnant not enough to prevent diabetes risks, but it could actually present new risks as well. Knowing how maternal health and behavior affect how genes express themselves in offspring should help health care providers and public health officials develop more precise prenatal strategies to maximize the health of newborn children. “The findings of our study highlight that the nutritional health of the mother in the lead-up to and around conception can result in poor metabolic consequences for the offspring that will persist into later life,” said Caroline McMillen, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Sansom Institute for Health Research at the University of South Australia. “We hope that the findings of the present study will lead to a focus on how to help obese women lose weight in order to improve their fertility in a manner which does not impact negatively on the health outcomes of their offspring.” To make this discovery, McMillen and colleagues examined the embryos conceived in four groups of female sheep. The first group of sheep was overnourished from four months before conception, until one week exercise after conception. The second group of sheep was overnourished for three months and then placed on a diet for one month before and one week after conception. The third group of sheep was placed on a normal or control diet from four months before conception, until one week after conception. The fourth group was fed a control diet for three months and then these normal weight sheep were placed on a diet for one month before conception, until one week after conception. One week after conception, embryos from all of these sheep were transferred to normal weight, normally nourished sheep for the remainder of pregnancy. Liver samples were taken from the lambs born to these ewes at four months of age to examine their genes and proteins.
Fasting versus nibbling
In fact, those who had skipped breakfast took in 408 fewer calories over the course of the day than those who ate breakfast. Ad Feedback Study author David Levitsky, a professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell, says his work adds to a growing body of evidence that overturns a long-held belief: that people will compensate for missed calories. Rather, skipping a meal is “one small weapon” people can use to fight the battle of weight, he says. “If you skip two to three meals per week, you can decrease” your caloric intake, he says. A more extreme version of this is the alternate-day fasting diet, a technique popularized health by such books as “The Fast Diet” and “5:2.” Such diets advocate drastically limiting calories on certain days; on other days, a person can eat as he or she pleases. The approach is thought to address diet fatigue – the constant strain of counting calories and skipping dessert that can occur with dieting – by limiting willpower work to a few days per week. Studies have shown mixed results with alternate-day fasting. A 2010 study showed the technique effective among a group of obese patients. The 16 participants ate only one meal – lunch – every other day. Caloric intake on these fasting days was limited to about 500 calories, or roughly 25 percent of their own usual daily intake. On the intervening days, they could eat whatever they wanted.