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Mediterranean Cuisine May Benefit Pregnant Women

According to new research, a Mediterranean diet may be the key to reducing postpartum health issues.

November 1, 2019
Jenalee Janes

There are an abundance of potential rewards to pregnancy, the most important of which is your unborn child, but that does not mean that it’s without its detriments. For many women, the promise of gaining at least a few pounds is on the horizon, and for some a few pounds is the least of their concern. Luckily, a new study reports that there may be a way to combat weight gain during pregnancy--as well as the development of more serious conditions.

The Study

Between 2014 and 2016, Queen Mary University of London conducted a clinical trial on 1,252 randomly selected multi-ethnic inner-city women in maternity units throughout London and Birmingham. Each of the women had metabolic risk factors such as obesity, chronic high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease prior to their pregnancies. Out of these women, 612 did not change their diets in any way, while 593 were placed on Mediterranean diets.

Mixed nuts are a simple, yet effective component of the Mediterranean diet.

Components of a Mediterranean Diet

Rich in unsaturated fatty acids, the Mediterranean diet has already been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease among the general population. The women in the test group for this study took the following dietary measures to adhere to the Mediterranean:

  • A higher intake of mixed nuts, extra virgin olive oil, fruit, and vegetables than those in the control group;
  • An increased consumption of fish, poultry, beans, lentils, and peas;
  • A smaller intake of red and processed meat, butter, margarine, and cream;
  • And little to no consumption of sugary drinks, fast food, and foods rich in animal fat.
The study reports that women who kept a Mediterranean diet while pregnant gained around 1.25Kg less than women in the control group.

What We Learned

Findings from the study reported that women who consumed a Mediterranean diet while pregnant were 35% less likely to develop gestational diabetes than the women in the control group. They also gained less weight overall (around 1.25Kg) over the course of their pregnancies. Other than these two benefits, however, the findings show that a Mediterranean diet doesn’t do much else to alter the effects of pregnancy. Other complications that sometimes arise from pregnancy, such as high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure developed by women who have never had high blood pressure before), stillbirth, babies born small for their gestational ages, and admission to the neonatal care unit, remained unaffected by the Mediterrranean diet.

In addition to measuring the women’s weight gain and determining whether they developed diabetes while pregnant through reports given by the participants, the study also had the participants report on their feelings throughout their pregnancies. The women in the test group said they felt they had an overall better quality of life and less feelings of bloatedness over the course of their pregnancies. There was no effect, however, on other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or indigestion.

What’s the significance?

Pre-existing obesity, chronic hypertension, and elevated lipid levels--all of which may contribute to gestational weight gain and the development of gestational diabetes--is present for one out of every four mothers entering pregnancy. There is also a long-term risk of diabetes and other cardiovascular complications for these mothers and their babies.

The results of this study are the first of their kind. According to Professor Shakila Thangaratinam from Queen Mary University of London, this is the first study to show that a Mediterranean diet might benefit women who have a high risk for complications during pregnancy. Her colleague, Dr. Bassel Wattar points out that a Mediterranean diet has previously shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular complications among the general population. This study, however, is the first to show that these results may also carry over into pregnancy.

The study was also conducted in a way that was culturally sensitive to all of its multi-ethnic participants. Each individual was given a recipe book, as well as help from local teams within their communities, that helped them to incorporate the elements of this Mediterranean diet into their local and cultural cuisines. This shows that it is possible for women to incorporate elements of a diet that may benefit them into their everyday lives without diminishing the cultures they’re already well-accustomed to. 

Pregnancy can be particularly difficult for ethnically diverse women who live in the inner-city, but a Mediterranean diet may be the silver lining that many women need. This study has shown that adverse effects of pregnancy in women who are predisposed to obesity may be curbed by a simple change in diet. While it doesn’t do anything to lessen the risk of high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia, a reduced risk of developing gestational diabetes is great news for women everywhere. It wouldn’t hurt to talk to your doctor about using this diet during pregnancy.


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