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Diet choices of Chinese women feed debate on health in pregnancy

( Xinhua ) Updated: 2013-11-05 09:57:39

It's the age old question for many migrant women as they prepare to start a family in a foreign land: what's best for my unborn baby the food I know or the food available in my new home?

Some women can readily adapt to a new diet, but for Chinese women steeped in unique food and medicine culture that goes back centuries, the answers are not clear cut.

Researchers in New Zealand are hoping to find some answers about what expectant mothers are eating in the country's burgeoning Chinese community and how it affects the health of mother and child compared with women and children from established New Zealand families.

Massey University researcher Jingjing Ma said Monday she was studying the eating habits of about 150 Chinese immigrant women who are either pregnant or have given birth in New Zealand in the last five years.

Little was known about the effects of dietary habits and changes of pregnant Chinese migrant woman and what effect these had on the health of mother and baby, Ma told Xinhua in a phone interview.

"We're trying to discover whether things like attitude can influence their eating habits and how their acculturation can influence their thinking," said Ma, who studied traditional Chinese medicine in her hometown of Taiyuan, north China's Shanxi Province.

Changes in attitude could see Chinese women adapt a Western diet that was calcium or foliate-rich, as recommended in Western medicine for pregnant women.

"However, traditional Chinese medicine teaches us to ask 'Can this food activate my supply?' or 'Can I block my yin food or my yang food to balance my body?'," said Ma.

The gradual introduction of Western foods into China meant many Chinese immigrants were already partly accustomed to a new diet, but studies showed Chinese immigrants generally gained weight once they settled in Western culture, she said.

"However, there's a lack of evidence about Chinese women's health status in New Zealand and around the world. We're hoping the results of the study can inform a discussion on the best choices for women when they're pregnant," said Ma.

Massey University College of Health senior lecturer in food and nutrition Dr Janet Weber told Xinhua that there were indications of "some positive outcomes and some negative outcomes" for the health of mother and child with the different diets.

The study could inform understanding of health issues such as gestational diabetes, which seemed to have a higher incidence among Chinese women, Weber said in a phone interview.

The researchers hope to complete the study later this year or early next year.

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