Olive oil plays a key role in foetal development during pregnancy and a shortage may have pernicious effects on the baby's subsequent development.
It has been demonstrated that the post-natal development of babies of mothers who consumed olive oil when pregnant is better in terms of height, weight, behaviour and psychomotor reflexes.
The foetus needs vitamin E to grow. The newborn baby also needs a store of vitamin E to fight against the oxidative stress caused on entering an oxygen atmosphere. Although not very abundant in olive oil, it is present in sufficient quantity thanks to the resistance of olive oil to oxidation.
So, both the amount and the type of food consumed in the diet during pregnancy play a key part in the metabolic adaptations that occur in the mother and in her functional relationship with the foetus.
Olive oil and breast feeding
Vitamin E is also recommended for premature and new-born infants with kidney or pancreas failure because of the favourable effect it has on the hepato-biliary system.
But olive oil not only provides enough essential fatty acids for the development of the new-born child; its ratio of linoleic acid to linolenic acid (essential fatty acids) is similar to that of breast milk.
The beneficial effect of oleic acid lasts beyond pregnancy. Besides its documented effectiveness in preventing hypercholesterolaemia and atherosclerosis, which is a process that can begin in childhood, oleic acid also appears to exert a positive influence on growth and bone mineralisation and development during infancy.
During pregnancy and breast feeding it is advisable to consume more fat, primarily monounsaturated fat, while reducing saturated fat and cholesterol as far as possible. General dietary guidelines should be followed and calorie intake should be controlled to avoid excessive weight gain.
Under-three-year-olds have different dietary requirements to children over this age. Forty per cent of the energy they consume comes from fat, whether it be in breast milk or any other kind of milk. It is recommended to maintain this dietary pattern and to ensure that energy and nutritional intake cover the developmental requirements of the child.