Fact/Fiction: Could eating crisps while pregnant harm your baby?

Old news, truthfully retold. This week we ask if you have to pack it in when it comes to snacking on foods containing lineolic acid when expecting

How it was told

Tabloids warning expectant mothers what to steer clear of is nothing new.

In fact, the NHS’s own list of no-no foods is pretty comprehensive, encompassing everything from soft cheeses with white rinds and raw meats down to liquorice and pâté.

You won’t find crisps on there though.

But you would have found that warning in some of the papers on May 25.

Take The Sun’s print warning of “Crisps ‘a baby risk’” that opened with the claim that “eating too many crisps could harm unborn babies”. Or their online version that opted for “CRISP RISK: Pregnant women warned ‘eating too many crisps could affect unborn baby’s growth’”, taking a step back from the claim made in the physical edition.

Mirror Online went for “Mums-to-be ‘should avoid eating crisps to protect their unborn child’” while Mail Online widened the warning. Their article looked at other foods in “Mothers-to-be should avoid eating snacks fried in vegetable oil such as pizza and chips ‘because they could harm babies in the womb’”.

Away from the papers, Heart Radio also got in on the act with the altogether vaguer “Pregnant women urged not to eat CRISPS as they could affect the baby” while the story received extensive coverage globally.

All reports stemmed from the same Australian study that looked at diets with high omega 6 – specifically linoleic acid – content to assess their impact on pregnant mothers and their unborn children.

As well as reporting harm, many of the articles reported that there would be fewer male babies as a result of scoffing crisps, while babies’ growth would be affected.

But should pregnant women pack it in when it comes to crisps?

Facts. Checked

Yes and no.

The suggestion doing the rounds that eating crisps while pregnant could cause “harm” to your unborn child is a sensational claim.

Take this quote from Dr Deanne Skelly, a senior lecturer in Griffith University’s school of environment and science, who led the research that was published in the Journal of Physiology.

“Our findings suggest that it’s probably a good recommendation for women who are thinking of getting pregnant to reduce the content of omega 6 in their diet,” Dr Skelly said.

“But we don’t know at this point if it is going to cause deleterious effects long-term.”

That is a pretty clear indication that the researchers behind the study are still to prove that there is harm to the baby.

However, the researchers did find that there were fewer male babies born from rats that ate a high linoleic-acid diet during tests as reported by the news stories.

They also found that their liver had altered concentrations of inflammatory proteins and levels of prostaglandin E were increased, while leptin was decreased.

The former is a protein that can cause contraction of the uterus during pregnancy while the latter is a hormone that can regulate growth and development. Both areas are covered in the stories.

But while ‘harm’ of a high linoleic-acid diet to your baby may not yet be proven, there are other reasons to cut down on the crisps.

Crisps are also high in salt – with a packet of 32.5g Walkers Cheese and Onion, for example, containing 0.4g of salt, or seven per cent of the recommended daily 6g intake. Overdoing it with the salt does pose a confirmed risk, with the NHS warning that it causes high blood pressure that can lead to a stroke or heart disease.

It is worth noting that this study only changed the levels of linoleic acid between the human and animal model groups rather than fat, sugar or salt.

But the latter trio should be kept in check as part of a healthy diet, whether you’re pregnant or not.

Images: Miles Cole