New app-roach to carbs for pregnant women

Jun 28 2017

Hannah Brown

A new nutrition study at the University of Newcastle (UON) is aiming to help pregnant women beat confusion related to how much carbohydrate they should eat.

Getting the right serving sizes of carbohydrate is important because it gets converted to blood sugar. Previous research has found that high blood sugar levels can adversely affect both mother and baby, even among women who don’t have gestational diabetes.

Knowing about portion and serve sizes therefore plays an important role in maintaining overall health, PhD candidate and dietitian Hannah Brown says.

“Many people are aware of gestational diabetes but knowing the right serve size of carbohydrate foods is not so well recognised. We’re focusing on carbohydrate knowledge, food label use and food intake to develop new ways to support women and help improve nutrition in pregnancy.

“Technically they’re not eating for two during pregnancy, despite popular belief. For example, national dietary guidelines for grain and cereal foods, which are rich sources of carbohydrate in the diet, only allow a slight increase during pregnancy – eight serves a day is the recommendation, where six is the norm for women in this age group.”

The first phase of the study involves an online survey containing a web ‘food buffet’ with photographs of carbohydrate foods – such as pasta, rice and sugary snacks – in various portions. From this, women can estimate their usual portion that they would eat.

Participants will also be asked to report on their food and nutrient intake. Pregnant women Australia-wide can participate in the web-based component.

An optional stage of the study involves attending a food-lab session at the UON Callaghan campus. A unique smartphone app will be provided – using augmented reality (AR), it superimposes an image of a standard serve onto a plate.

“Simply knowing about carbohydrates won’t help if people are confused about how much to eat. The AR app visually show women what a standard serve, according to the Dietary Guidelines, looks like.” Ms Brown adds.

“Conversely, some pregnant women are concerned that carbohydrates make them put on too much weight. There needs to be a happy medium and we hope the app give them lots of good information that helps them eat healthily in pregnancy.”

The study is open to women over 18 years of age and from 12 to 22 weeks’ gestation, with no previous diagnosis of type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Hannah Brown can be contacted on 4985 4255 or The survey is available at

This research is being done as part of Miss Brown’s PhD studies, supervised by Professor Clare Collins, Dr Megan Rollo and Dr Tamara Bucher from the UON Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition and HMRI’s Cardiovascular Research Program. HMRI works in partnership with the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.