| 10.6°C Dublin

Older mums are more likely to have healthy diets, but don't leave it too late to have babies

MUM and baby nutrition expert Annabel Karmel has urged Irish women to step up their vitamin D intake because of our lack of sunshine.

The leading food writer visited Dublin to talk about the best nutritional options for pregnant women and new mums.

Many Irish women are putting off having children until at least their 30s but Annabel said that recent figures from the CSO were not all bad news.

"The figures are very interesting," she told the Herald. "I don't think it is a bad thing at all."

"It is good to have a child when you are older because they do take over your life. Having a baby slightly later in life means that you are more grounded.

"There is so much pressure on women to have babies early. But women who are older have a slightly better diet than very young people. They eat less junk food and they are more used to cooking.

"But if you can, have babies before you are 35 because the instances of problems increase after this age."

Annabel (50) heads up a €65m empire of cookery books and supermarket meals for toddlers and purees. And she said that key nutrition starts during pregnancy.

The best-selling author said that women are constantly bombarded with messages about what to eat, but urged them to keep up to date with the latest research.

"Irish women should take more vitamin D, it does help with fertility and we don't get a lot, unsurprisingly, since the weather is so bad," she said.

"Also folic acid is important. It doesn't exactly help with conception but it is a good idea to take it when pregnant, but it must be in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

"When pregnant it is important to have enough iron and essential fatty acids, which is not just important for the formation of the baby's brain, it also helps them to be more intelligent."

"Women should be eating oily fish about two times a week.

"And women can have peanuts and peanut butter, they are now encouraging women to have it, there is no evidence that it causes peanut allergies.

"You've got to look at the latest research, even though that changes day by day."

Annabel said that maintaining a healthy weight was vital for fertility levels and a smooth pregnancy.

"The issue of eating for two is long gone. It is normal to put on one-and-a-half or two stone but four stone is difficult to lose. It can cause all sorts of problems such as preeclampsia toxaemia or gestational diabetes.

And she said that Health Minister Dr James Reilly was leading the way in urging restaurants to put calories on menus.

"I think it is a really important idea," said Annabel. "When you go to supermarkets, you have to have the ingredients listed with nutritional information.

"But when you go to restaurants, you have no idea about the level. A recent survey in England found that a lot of the children's food in restaurants had as much as 5.8g of fat which is much more than their daily allowance. This is a big problem and there has been no legislation so far."

The mum-of-three said that women need to stay firm on their commitments to healthy eating for their children.

"We all start off with good intentions and Irish mothers are the same. But if they get fussy and only eat two or three things, the worst thing you could do is give into them," she said.

"Don't fall into that trap. When baby is hungry, we are all too frightened to say no.

"But it is not that you are starving them. When they come home from school, there is a window of opportunity to give them a healthy snack.

"Catch them when they're hungry -- they're not so fussy then."

The Eating For Two author said that the best gift a mother could give her child would be to teach them the skills they need in the kitchen

"Get your children cooking. Children who cook tend to eat better," she revealed.

"One thing that I do is that every Friday, from when my children were five, six or seven, I would let them cook what they wanted.

"This is giving them a vital life skill that's not even taught in schools."