Researchers have discovered that a diet rich in vegetables, legumes, and fish – staples of the so-called Mediterranean diet – is associated with a lower risk of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. This link was stronger for those pregnant over the age of 35.
The study looked at the diet of 7,798 women enrolled between 2010 and 2013 across the United States. They were asked to complete a questionnaire about their eating habits in their first trimester, ahead of their first study visit. The diet was valued on the intake of nine components – vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fish, monounsaturated-to-saturated fat ratio, red and processed meats, and alcohol —and compared to the expectations of the Mediterranean diet.
Twenty percent of the people enrolled in the study had obesity at the beginning of their participation. When it comes to racial and ethnic background, 68 percent of the enrollees were white, 17 percent Hispanic, 11 percent were non-Hispanic Black, and four percent were Asian. One in ten of these women was aged 35 or older.
The enrollees with a high Mediterranean diet score were associated with a 21 percent lower risk of having any adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as preterm birth, delivery of a small-for-gestational-age infant, and stillbirth. In particular, there was a reduction in the risk of gestational diabetes of 37 percent, and a 28 percent lower risk of having preeclampsia/eclampsia. These are serious blood pressure conditions that can put a major strain on the heart.
“This multicenter, population-based study validates that a healthier eating pattern is associated with a lower risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, the most exciting being a 28% lower risk for preeclampsia,” Dr Natalie Bello, senior and corresponding author of the study and director of Hypertension Research in the Smidt Heart Institute, said in a statement. “Importantly, this connection between the Mediterranean diet and lower risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes was seen in a geographically, racially and ethnically diverse population.”
The association between the diet and the reduction in risk was even more prominent in the women in the study that were over 35 years of age.
“These findings add to the growing body of evidence demonstrating that the Mediterranean-style diet may play an important role in preserving the health of women across the lifespan, including during pregnancy,” added Dr Christine Albert, chair of the Department of Cardiology at the Smidt Heart Institute, who was not involved in the study.
The work was published in JAMA Network Open.