May 29, 2024

New Study Urges Pregnant Women to Avoid Ultraprocessed and Fast Foods

A recent study published in the journal Environmental International warns pregnant women about the potential risks of consuming ultraprocessed and fast foods. Interestingly, the focus of the study is not on the food itself, but rather on the chemicals that can be transferred to the food through packaging and handling.

The study highlights the presence of phthalates, a class of chemicals commonly found in plastics, in fast food packaging and plastic gloves worn by food handlers. These chemicals can then leach into the food and when consumed by pregnant women, can enter the bloodstream, cross the placenta, and reach the fetal bloodstream.

Researchers have found that exposure to phthalates during pregnancy can lead to oxidative stress and inflammation in the fetus. Previous studies have also linked phthalate exposure to increased risks of low birth weight, preterm birth, and mental health disorders in children, such as autism and ADHD.

This specific study is the first to demonstrate a direct link between diets high in ultraprocessed foods and increased phthalate exposure in pregnant women. The research was conducted using data from the Conditions Affecting Neurocognitive Development and Learning in Early Childhood (CANDLE) research cohort, which included 1,031 pregnant individuals in Memphis, Tennessee.

The study found that ultraprocessed foods accounted for 10% to 60% of the participants’ diets, with an average of 38.6%. For every 10% increase in the proportion of ultraprocessed food in the diet, there was a 13% increase in the concentration of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, one of the most common and harmful phthalates, in the urine samples collected from the pregnant women.

Ultraprocessed foods are defined as foods that have undergone extensive processing and have been heavily modified with additives and preservatives to enhance their appearance and prolong their shelf life. These foods often contain substances extracted from original foods, such as oils, sugar, and starch, but are unrecognizable in their original form. Examples of ultraprocessed foods include packaged cake mixes, french fries, hamburger buns, and soft drinks.

The study also highlights the potential sources of exposure to phthalates in fast food establishments. The gloves worn by employees and the storage, preparation, and serving equipment can all contribute to phthalate contamination. This applies to both frozen and fresh ingredients used in fast food.

Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, a UW Medicine pediatrician and researcher at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, explains that when pregnant women are exposed to phthalates, the chemicals can cross the placenta and enter the fetal circulation, posing potential risks to the developing baby.

Based on these findings, the researchers recommend that pregnant women should limit their consumption of ultraprocessed and fast foods to reduce their exposure to phthalates. Instead, they should prioritize a diet rich in fresh, unprocessed foods to promote a healthy pregnancy and fetal development.

This study serves as a reminder of the importance of considering not only the nutritional content of the food we consume but also the potential chemical exposures associated with its packaging and handling. Pregnant women should take extra precautions to ensure they are making healthy food choices to support the well-being of themselves and their unborn child.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it