If you knew that what you ate would impact not only your health and the health of your children, but also the health of your GRANDchildren, would you be more careful with how you fuel your body?

A lot of us don’t think past the moment we’re in. We want that donut/bagel/bag of chips and we want it now, and we conveniently choose not to think about how it will effect us in the long-term, because, hey, that’s all in the long-term. Right now, right this second, we want to be happy! Also, ONE cinnamon bun isn’t really going to hurt, is it? Unfortunately, we tell ourselves the same thing each and every time we’re faced with the choice and, before we know it, we’ve eaten thousands of the things and we’re suffering the resulting health consequences. But, because those consequences didn’t occur the second we ate each one, we can STILL conveniently shift the blame onto something else (bad genes, bad luck, a virus maybe), and the real cause gets away scot free. And even if, deep down, we do know the cause – we ignore it because, hey it’s OUR body and we can do what we like with it, right? And to some extent this is true.

But only if you have decided never to have children.

We all know that what our mothers ate around the time of conception and during her pregnancy affects our health throughout our lives – and pretty profoundly. That’s kind of obvious. And so most of us would agree that eating well during these times, as a woman, is pretty important.

Having said that, I have heard so many people say “well So-and-so ate a [insert sub-optimal diet] when she was pregnant and her kids turned out just fine!”. And yes, MANY seemingly healthy children are born to women eating all kinds of crap diets. But being born with 10 toes, a functioning brain and no obvious defects does not equate to optimal life-time health. Those same children may well grow up to develop all those diseases so prevalently accepted as normal these days – auto-immune conditions, heart-disease, cancer, Alzheimers etc. All of which can be linked, in some way, to nutrition.
Giving your kids the greatest chance for a life-time of health, intelligence and even physical beauty, requires vigilant care when it comes to nutrition at the time of conception and during pregnancy.

But what about all the years before we decide to have children? What about our own diets earlier on in our lives – as children? And for all those men out there – what about your contribution to the future generation? How does your diet up until conception eventually affect your grandchildren?

A 2001 study carried out in Sweden shows how in a village where, in the early 20th century, men experienced either feast or famine late in their childhoods, those same men went on to have grandchildren with health issues that were either positively or negatively affected by what they experienced during this time in terms of nutrition. In case you missed that, what they ate (or didn’t eat) affected the health and longevity of their GRANDKIDS. And these were boys in their late childhoods, NOT men about to father children.

How on earth is that possible?

You can read some detailed sciencey stuff here, but here’s a more simple explanation:

How does the way your mother and your grandmother ate affect YOU?

Firstly let’s take the most obvious one – your mom. She carried you in her womb and spent 9 months nourishing you with what she ate. Anything she did or ate (nutrition, stress levels, sleep, and overall health) will have a profound effect on your health throughout your life. This should be pretty obvious.

But what about her mom (your grandma)? Well, when a woman is pregnant, she is not only housing the fetus, but also the fetus’ reproductive system, so when your grandma carried your mom in her womb, her diet would have affected your mom’s reproductive system (her eggs), which eventually made YOU. Any changes to the gene expression of these reproductive cells during their development in the fetus, would thus impact the health of you.

Epigenetics1

How about what your father and grandfather ate?

Fathers transfer epigenetic traits through changes to the sperm. Depending on the epigenetic input during his time in the womb, your father’s sperm could have been either positively or negatively affected by his mother’s nutrition/life-style, etc. These epigenetic changes would also have occurred as he was developing as a child (as seen in the case of the Swedish study) so, nutrition throughout a man’s life, up until conception, is crucial to maintaining healthy sperm and thus healthy progeny further down the line.

So what is the lesson here?

If you are not willing to eat a healthy diet for your own longterm vitality, maybe it will help to think of your future generations, should you choose to have children. Surely that ought to be enough of an incentive?

And if you already have kids, it’s still not too late. You can still affect future generational health by nourishing your kids in the most healthy way possible to ensure that they end up expressing healthy genes, and not “turning on” those less desirable ones in terms of their health.