Everybody knows that a person who regularly follows a healthy diet goes through each day with less physical, mental and emotional stress. A healthy diet relatively differs depending on a person's daily activities and body type.

For the pregnant woman carrying a second tiny person in her tummy, diet plays a big role in determining whether the baby will be born healthy or not.

In a study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood (Fetal and Neonatal Edition), researchers found that a healthy diet before and during pregnancy is linked with a lower rate of congenital heart problems.

Even if they are common in only about one percent of newborn babies in the United States, heart defects at birth are costly and may lead to more serious problems during child development, and throughout the years that follow.

"This is an interesting study which highlights the importance of diet right from the start of life," said British Heart Foundation senior dietitian Victoria Taylor.

To show the direct link between diet before and during pregnancy and the risk of congenital heart ailments, the researchers studied data gathered from approximately 19,000 women who took part in the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, half of them gave birth to healthy babies, and the other half had babies born with major abnormalities in the heart. These women were quizzed on both the quantity and quantity of their diet before and during pregnancy from 1997 to 2009.

Two scoring systems were used to assess diet quality - The Mediterranean Diet Score and the Diet Quality Index for Pregnancy (DQI-P)

The researchers used the Mediterranean Diet Score system for their study to assess how close an expectant mother's diet was aligned with the Mediterranean diet found to be linked with lower rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease. The DQI-P, on the other hand, measured eight components in an expectant mother's diet which included amounts of grains, fruits, vegetables, calcium, folate, iron, calories derived from fat and patterns of meal and snack intake

Moms who fulfilled all or most of the eight category components required by DQI-P made up the group that scored in the top 25 percent of diet quality. They were found to have a lower risk of giving birth to a baby with a congenital heart defect, compared to those who scored in the bottom 25 percent.

The study also noted that a healthier diet before and during pregnancy lowers the risk of tetralogy of Fallot which involves very low levels of oxygen in the blood, by 37 percent, and atrial septal defects which divide the upper heart chambers because of holes in the wall of the septum by 23 percent.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, moms carrying their babies in their bellies would have to consume 200 to 300 calories more from nutrient-dense sources of food. Whole grain products, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean meat make up a healthy diet for two.

To add to this, the American Pregnancy Association suggests that mothers should take in at least 70 mg of vitamin C every day. Much of vitamin C is found in oranges, kiwi, grapefruit, tomatoes and broccoli. Energy and carbohydrates are found in whole grain and enriched products which also provide fiber, vitamin B folic acid. Depending on an expectant mother's weight, six to 11 servings of grains are in a day are just right.

A pregnant mother may require more energy with her baby growing inside her tummy, but it's always good to know what the right kinds of food you should take and in which amounts, to help prevent heart problems that might cause your baby greater problems in the future.

Photo: Robert Couse-Baker | Flickr

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