Born Smart

Reporter: Lynda Kinkade

It's the age old debate nature versus nuture. 11-year-old Karisma Palmer blitzed the TV quiz show "It's Academic", propelling her team from Sydney's Pymble Ladies College into grand final success. But is there any truth behind the notion that a mother's food intake during pregnancy determines a child's intelligence? Karisma's Mum Dr. Anshu Palmer thinks so. "Nutrition and diet is extremely important in pregnancy, it does affect the foetus", Anshu said.

And she's not alone in her thinking. "Soon after conception, as cells divide and multiply, a baby starts to switch genes on and off in different cells and everything a pregnant mother eats, drinks, breathes or touches influences this process -- this is nothing random", author Jeanette Bolvary. Every time you put food into you mouth, you alter the hormonal balance in your body", she added.

At 34, Jeannette's first pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage -- she blames age, and her diet. Less than a year later, after a complete nutritional overhaul, Jeannette successfully conceived and gave birth to Ethan, then two years later, daughter Kelcey. Not only were they healthy, she claims they were walking and talking earlier than the average. "As a couple we had all the cards stacked against us and my son walked at nine months and I mean he was walking without holding on", Jeanette said.

So what should mothers-to-be eat? "Fruit and vegetables will help you repair DNA; your ryes and wholegrain also helps repair DNA and the glucose, the carbohydrates. Now everybody cannot afford to buy fresh salmon all the time so I have included some sardines", Jeanette said. And you can still have the sweet things. "Any low fat ice cream will do but just one bowl -- so stick to the full cream milk but go for the low fat ice cream because low fat ice cream is low glycemic and the full cream ice creams are not", Jeanette said.

Monash Medical Centre's Beverley Vollenhoven say there's little evidence to prove that certain foods are linked with a baby's brain development. But if there's one toxin - pregnant women should avoid - it is cigarette smoke. "We do know women who smoke or are associated with partners who smoke, may take longer to get pregnant, are more likely to miscarry and they are more likely to have serious detrimental affects in pregnancy, such as they can give birth to babies who are small. There can be issues with babies IQ or have a placental abruption -- which is where placenta comes off wall of womb and the baby dies in the womb", Professor Wollenhoven said. The Associate Professor says a good balanced diet with exercise is essential.

Food Checklist For Pregnant Women

# Leafy Green vegetables

# Fish like Bream, Snapper, Salmon, Whiting

# Avoid Tuna

# Avoid Junk Food

# Avoid soft cheese

"The important foods to increase during pregnancy are foods that increase folic acid -- so green leafy vegetables -- which have a high amount of folic acid, that's important. Fish is also good to eat but deep sea fish should be avoided in large amounts -- like tuna etc. because there's an increase in mercury. An avoidance of junk food is very important", she said. What you put on your skin may also affect your unborn baby's health. "Toss the cosmetics, go natural soaps, use a chemical free soap. Some people even say you shouldn't be using a deodorant, but that's where I draw the line", Professor Wollenhoven said.Do all this and you may not have the recipe for the next Einstein, but you've given your child the best start to life.

For further information visit Jeanette's Bolvary's website at:

"Born Smart -- Unlock the Potential in Your Baby's Genes", by Jeanette Bolvary is available at all good bookstores.