In highly developed countries the risk of inadequate micronutrient consumption during pregnancy remains very high, criticize health professionals.
At the 5th Hohenheim Nutrition Conference in Germany experts reported that the menus of pregnant women did not include enough of those foods with especially positive health effects (1). One example of these is oily marine fish, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, pointed out Prof. Dr. Berthold Koletzko of Munich University Hospital. Regular meals which include fish would reduce the risk of premature births by 30 percent or even 60 percent in the case of high-risk pregnancies. But there are also other positive effects for the child, such as better visual, motor and cognitive development – benefits which continue to be felt up to the age of 8 years. It is important to continue consumption of omega-3 fatty acids while breastfeeding. One or two portions of marine fish a week are sufficient for this purpose, as long as they include some oily fish. If this is not possible, fortified foods or food supplements offer a satisfactory alternative, said the health expert. During pregnancy, requirements of vitamins (especially vitamins A and D and the B-complex vitamins), minerals and trace elements rise by 30 to 50 percent, depending on the micronutrient.
Of the micronutrients, folic acid, along with iodine and iron, is of central importance, explained gynecologist Prof. Dr. Peter Bung. Although large-scale and international studies highlight its importance, in many industrialized nations advice on folic acid intake is not followed correctly. In Germany, for instance, only around 15 percent of pregnant women consume sufficient folic acid. The consequence is a high risk of neuronal defects, which can occur very early in a pregnancy. In order to avoid such consequences the gynecologist recommended not only better health education but also targeted fortification of foods with folic acid. In some countries it has proved possible to lower the number of neural tube defects by as much as over 70 percent through folic acid fortification. Professor Koletzko pointed out that according to currently available data the general health of the population could also benefit from this kind of measure, because in countries already practicing fortification, the incidence of cancer and cardiovascular disease were reduced as well as cases of neural tube defects. He dismissed as unconfirmed concerns that folic acid could increase the rate of cancer.