Scientists suggest pregnant mums should stop eating snacks made with vegetable oil to protect unborn children

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Being pregnant is, by all accounts, pretty rubbish. It’s awkward, uncomfortable and often a literal pain in the arse. For many mums to be, one of the small crumbs of comfort of playing host to a tiny human parasite is that you can basically eat whatever you like for nine months. It definitely doesn’t make up for morning sickness, but you have to take small victories wherever you can.

However, despite the near universal acceptance that pregnancy is a time for overindulgence, a distressing study from Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, suggests that some of our favourite snacks may need to be removed from the menu due to the damaging effects that they can have on an unborn foetus. The research suggests that linoleic acid, a derivative of omega-6 found in vegetable oil, can negatively affect children in the womb. Unfortunately, foods high in linoleic acid include popular nibbles such as potato crisps.

The study in question exposed pregnant rats to high quantities of linoleic acid and monitored their physiological response after 20 days, with some surprising results. Not only did scientists find that “Maternal lipids and leptin were altered due to” ingesting three times the daily recommended allowance of linoleic acid, but the study also claimed that “Male offspring numbers were reduced due to elevated linoleic acid consumption.” Their results were published in the Journal of Physiology.

As part of the study’s “Key points”, the scientists stressed that “Linoleic acid consumption is increasing” amongst the population, highlighting the need for more research to be conducted into the area. Speaking to the media after the publication of the report, senior study author Dr Deanne Skelly said, “It is important for pregnant women to consider their diet, and our research is yet another example that potentially consuming too much of a certain type of nutrient can have a negative impact on the growing baby.”

It was previously thought that polyunsaturated fats such as vegetable oil were a healthy alternative to cooking agents rich in saturated fat, such as beef tallow. In fact, this health concern was a key factor in fast food businesses like McDonald’s switching from frying in animal fats to vegetable oil. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that vegetable oils are actually far more damaging than we initially thought. Studies such as this suggest that their impact may be even more insidious than we believed possible. That it also means mums might not be able to eat potato chips any more is just the cherry on top of an already massive cake of bad news.