A healthy eating style may prevent common pregnancy-associated problems. In fact, the Mediterranean diet prevents gestational diabetes and excess weight gain.
Numerous studies have documented the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, including lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes and potentially even preventing cognitive decline as we age. For women, eating the Mediterranean way can lower the odds of cardiovascular disease by 25 percent and more, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
Gestational diabetes can be serious
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that occurs only during pregnancy. The condition, marked by high blood glucose (blood sugar) often has no symptoms, or only mild ones, such as having to urinate more often or feeling thirsty all the time. If you develop gestational diabetes, it’s important to work with your doctor to keep blood sugar under control and even take insulin if needed.
You are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes after your pregnancy if you develop gestational diabetes, too. The condition also raises the risk your baby will be born too early and be unusually large, making delivery difficult, and the infant may be born with low blood sugar requiring treatment, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Obviously, preventing gestational diabetes is far better than developing it in the first place. Genes and being overweight can play a role in whether a woman develops the condition ― keeping weight under control and getting regular physical activity (if approved by your obstetrician) may help lower the risk. And now research shows the Mediterranean diet prevents gestational diabetes.
How the Mediterranean diet can help pregnant women
Researchers at Queen Mary University of London and the University of Warwick studied 1,252 women of different ethnic groups who were already at increased risk for gestational diabetes due to pre-existing factors, including chronic high blood pressure and obesity. All received standard medical care, but half of the women were given standard dietary recommendations for pregnant women while the rest of the expectant mothers in the study were placed on a Mediterranean-style meal plan.
The Mediterranean diet was rich in nuts, extra virgin olive oil, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. The diet also included fish, small-to-moderate servings of poultry and dairy products, a small amount of red meat, and little-to-no processed meat. Sugary drinks, fast food, and food heavy with animal fat were avoided.
The results of the study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, found the pregnant women sticking to the Mediterranean diet had a 35 percent lower risk of developing gestational diabetes compared to the pregnant women on the standard prenatal diet.
Finding the Mediterranean diet prevents diabetes in a significant number of women at high risk for the condition was especially important. What’s more, the expectant moms eating the Mediterranean way gained less weight (about three pounds less) than the pregnant women on routine diets. They also reported feeling less bloated and experienced a better overall quality of life than those in the control group.
"This is the first study to show that pregnant women at high risk of complications may benefit from a Mediterranean-style diet to reduce their weight gain and risk of gestational diabetes,” said Shakila Thangaratinam, PhD, professor in maternal and perinatal health at Queen Mary, University of London.
“Women who are at risk of gestational diabetes should be encouraged to take action early on in pregnancy, by consuming more nuts, olive oil, fruit, and unrefined grains, while reducing their intake of animal fats and sugar."
Bottom line? The Mediterranean diet can benefit pregnant women
The explanation for how the Mediterranean diet prevents gestational diabetes may be explained by previous studies documenting benefits of the Mediterranean eating style on women’s heart health.
A study by a research team from Harvard and Uppsala University, published in JAMA (the Journal of the American Heart Association), for example, found women who stick to a Mediterranean diet have less inflammation, better glucose metabolism, less insulin resistance, and a healthier body mass index, orBMI, a measurement of body fat. While these are all factors linked to less heart disease risk, they also lower the odds of type 2 diabetes[DE5] and gestational diabetes.
There’s no guarantee, of course, the Mediterranean diet prevents gestational diabetes in all pregnant women, but it is a healthy way for expectant moms to eat, and it can keep weight in a healthy range, too.
If you are expecting, or hoping to become pregnant, talk to your doctor about the best diet plan for you.
May 17, 2021
Janet O’Dell RN