University of Illinois Chicago Over the past few years, the American diet has shifted to include many high-energy, high-fat, cafeteria-type, and fast foods. A new research commenced by the University of Illinois claims that pregnant women following a high-fat diet increase the threat of diabetes in their children. Apparently, exposure to a high-fat diet before birth modifies gene expression in the livers of offspring so they are more likely to overproduce glucose, which can cause early insulin resistance and diabetes.

While conducting the research, obesity-resistant rats were fed a high-fat or a control diet from the first day of gestation. Since the animals were not obese before the study began, the scientists were able to determine that diet alone had produced these effects. At birth, offspring in the high-fat group probably had blood sugar levels that were twice as high as those in the control group, even though their mothers had normal levels. The high-fat offspring also registered epigenetic modifications to genes that govern over glucose metabolism.

“Obstetrics patients rarely see a dietitian unless they’re having medical problems like gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. Doctors now tend to focus on how much weight a woman should gain in a healthy pregnancy. Although healthy weight gain is extremely important, nutritional guidance could be invaluable for all pregnant women and their babies,” said Yuan-Xiang Pan, a U of I professor of nutrition.

One of these modifications, the acetylation of histones, may act by loosening the DNA, making it easier for the gene to be transcribed. These epigenetic marks would probably not be erased easily. Scientists suggest that women should consume a balanced diet low in saturated fats, which are usually found in fattier cuts of meat, fast foods, pastries, and desserts. They can also eat appropriate amounts of healthy fats, including good sources of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, which are important for their baby’s brain and neuron development.

The research is published in the Journal of Physiology.