You already know that a fast food-filled diet can wreak havoc on your waistline and your health, putting you at risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and more. New research shows the trouble doesn’t end there. Consuming a high-fat diet can alter your DNA in harmful ways, which can then be passed onto your offspring, reports a study in the Nutrition Journal.
Researchers fed mice a high-fat diet. They found that offspring of these mice had a higher susceptibility to certain infections, autoimmune diseases, and a higher risk of food allergies than mice with parents that ate a normal diet. “The mice that had this increased risk of illness never ate the harmful food, only their parents ate the high-fat meals,” says study author Ian Myles, M.D. In the study, mice fed the high-fat diet didn’t overeat either. “Sadly, this means there’s no such thing as eating a healthy number of calories if all of your calories are consumed as junk,” Myles says.
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So what, exactly, does this mean for your unborn progeny? “What we eat turns some genes up and some genes down and this, for better or worse, can be passed onto our children,” Myles says. These changes could put your children at risk for autoimmunity, allergies, and an abnormal infection response. “You could pass along harmful DNA in that critical window of development and even if things are mended later with a healthy diet they’re never fully repaired,” he adds.
So what can you do? “I don’t think we need to live in fear, but see your role as the protector of your own health and of your kids' health, which actually begins even before a child is conceived,” Myles says. Since additional research shows that not only saturated fat, but sugar, refined carbohydrates, and excess calories can harm your health, make simple swaps: Choose fruit over fruit juice or fruit snacks, water over soda, fish over fish sticks, and chicken over chicken nuggets, he says.