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enior diet and pregnant woman

Of food and men

The perinatal period: elucidating the long-term effects of pre- and post-natal nutrition

Elucidating the long-term effects of pre- and post-natal nutrition and their impacts on the development of bodily organs and functions. This research is also considering the factors determining dietary behaviours during childhood. 

Updated on 02/13/2019
Published on 12/04/2018

Pregnant woman eating foods high in folic acid. © INRA, N. Mansion
© INRA, N. Mansion

Qualiment is a network of research laboratories that has obtained accreditation as a Carnot Institute. It thus constitutes a portal of entry into public research. This article looks at the advances achieved by laboratories working on perinatal nutrition.

A good diet starts before birth

The nutrients supplied to an embryo by the mother ensure real nutritional programming whose effects may continue throughout the rest of the individual’s life. In the long term, research studies could enable the optimisation, or even personalisation, of the guidelines and nutritional supplements designed for pregnant women.
Furthermore, although everything is not set in stone by the end of infancy, the first two years of life are of considerable importance to the development of dietary behaviours in children, a crucial moment being the start of diversification.

These are some of the innovative ideas being developed within the Qualiment network:

Optimising the diet of pregnant and breastfeeding women (perinatal “footprint”)

  • Mouse pups whose mothers received a low-protein diet in adulthood were thinner than control pups and presented with metabolic disorders. The scientists demonstrated a link between this observation and demethylation of the leptin gene. This epigenetic modification (i.e. influenced by the environment, in this case the maternal diet) was specific because global methylation of the genome was not affected. Leptin is a substance that is crucial to the energy balance of the body, being the hormone that regulates fat reserves. This example illustrates the effects of maternal nutrition during the perinatal period (gestation then lactation) on epigenetic modifications of the genome, and the need for pregnant women to adapt their diet.
  • Other studies conducted in rodents have established that excessive protein consumption by a mother during gestation, combined with high lipid levels in progeny, caused increased sensitivity to glucose intolerance and obesity in future adults. Secondly, it was shown that foetuses subjected to this excess of proteins in their mothers’ diet spontaneously selected an inappropriate diet that induced metabolic dysfunctions. These different effects were enhanced when the mother consumed proteins of poor nutritional quality.  

Optimising the composition and structure of foods for neonates (premature and full-term)

  • Breast milk remains an essential food for premature infants. Studies have demonstrated that the homogenisation of pasteurised breast milk can improve its quality by increasing the surface area presented by lipids, thus favouring their absorption.
  • During another study, two in vitro models, one static and one dynamic (a DIDGI digester mimicking the digestive immaturity of an infant) were developed. Using them, it was possible to optimise infant formulas by comparing their rates of digestion with those of breast milk.
  • In addition, a project is under way on the design of an infant formula that preserves the native structure of milk components thanks to the use of gentle treatments such as filtration, while at the same time guaranteeing the microbiological quality of the finished product (Nativif project, 2018-2020, funded by Qualiment).

Studying the evolution of food preferences during childhood

  • Unlike taste, the factors that govern the acceptability to young children of the texture of foods at diversification are little understood. Research is under way to understand the acceptability of fat and the first pieces of food to young children, linked to the development of their oral physiology and food experiences. Initial data suggest that there is no innate preference for fats added to the first puréed foods, whatever a child’s dietary history (breast milk versus formula). This project has also enabled the development of innovative methods to characterise the oral physiology and dietary behaviour of young children, together with communication tools that could  help parents adapt the texture of foods for their children (PATATE project: Oral Physiology and Acceptability of Food Texture in Young Children (Physiologie orale et Acceptabilité de la Texture de l'AlimenT chez le jeune Enfant): 2015-2018, funded by Qualiment) postcard on food texture

For more information on these examples, and to ask any other questions about Qualiment, contact Pauline Souvignier, business manager for Qualiment.

business manager for Qualiment:
Pauline SOUVIGNIER (01 42 75 93 31)

The Qualiment network, accredited as a Carnot Institute

The aim of the Qualiment Carnot Institute is to facilitate and promote partnership research and provide industry with access to scientific excellence. Each year, it funds several upstream (or in-house) research projects that are designed to generate results that are transferable to industry.
Qualiment can offer private sector actors – whether they are SME or major industrial groups – a range of transversal skills in the food and nutrition field: nutrition, sensory parameters, processes and food structure.

Accreditation as a Carnot Institute is awarded to public research structures to certify their scientific excellence and professionalism in their partnership relations. Carnot funds innovative internal projects in the form of annual calls for projects that are selected using criteria of excellence and transferability. The Institute also has ISO 9001 certification regarding the implementation of good contractual and intellectual property practices with its industrial partners.