There is evidence that an unbalanced maternal diet, combining a high ratio of protein to carbohydrate with low intakes of folate and green vegetables imposes a metabolic stress on the mother and fetus leading to fetal growth retardation. Because recent studies have shown that high protein maternal diets are associated with raised offspring blood pressure, we have assessed whether this form of unbalanced maternal nutrition is also associated with glucose intolerance.
We carried out oral glucose tolerance tests on 276 men and women born in Motherwell, Scotland, during 1967-68, whose mothers had been advised to eat one pound (0.45 kg) of red meat per day during pregnancy and to avoid carbohydrate-rich foods. Levels of consumption of 10 key foods during late pregnancy were recorded. Ethical approval and written informed consent were obtained.
Mothers of low social class and who had low BMI prior to pregnancy had offspring with raised 2-hour plasma glucose concentrations (p=0.04 and p=0.03 respectively, after adjustment for gender and BMI). Between early and late pregnancy, meat consumption almost doubled, while carbohydrate intake fell to a third. Offspring of mothers who reported eating more fish and meat and below average consumption of green vegetables also had raised 2-hour plasma glucose concentrations (p=0.04).
In summary, these findings add to increasing evidence that adverse maternal factors programme lifelong effects in the offspring. Although the specific advice given to mothers in this study precludes direct application to other populations, this is the first evidence that an unbalanced high protein maternal diet during late pregnancy may influence glucose tolerance in the offspring.