How The Mediterranean Diet Can Be Beneficial During Pregnancy

Knowing what to eat while pregnant can be quite a challenge. On the one hand, you want to get all the nutrients you need to feel your best and keep your baby safe. On the other hand, you must avoid or limit certain foods such as soft cheese, sushi, and organ meats. For example, certain types of fish, especially tuna, king mackerel, and shark, are high in mercury and may pose health risks for expecting mothers. White tuna, halibut, carp, and Spanish mackerel are safer but still contain some mercury and should be consumed sparingly.

Speaking of fish and healthy eating, a new study suggests that Mediterranean-style diets may benefit moms-to-be. As it turns out, this dietary pattern can prevent pregnancy complications and boost maternal health, according to JAMA Network Open. The Mediterranean diet is based on fresh fruits, veggies, grains, fish, olive oil, and other whole foods. In clinical trials, it has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and age-related disorders, notes a research paper published in Nutrition Today.

To date, most studies have focused on the relationship between the Mediterranean and cardiovascular health. But, according to the latest research, this eating pattern may also improve pregnancy outcomes. Although there are some concerns about consuming fish and seafood while pregnant, you can get your daily dose of omega-3s from other sources. 

The unexpected link between Mediterranean-style diets and pregnancy health

Last year, researchers found that Mediterranean diets may increase fertility by suppressing inflammation. More recently, another study revealed that pregnant women who follow a Mediterranean-style diet have a 21% lower risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, according to JAMA Open Network. After assessing the eating habits of nearly 7,800 expecting mothers, scientists concluded that high intakes of fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and other whole foods may protect against pregnancy complications, especially in those over the age of 35.

This dietary pattern reduced the risk of seizures and high blood pressure by 28% in women of all races and body weights. Moreover, pregnant women with the highest adherence to the Mediterranean diet were 37% less likely to develop gestational diabetes than those with lower adherence. Previous research suggests that healthy eating patterns, including the Mediterranean diet, may also lower the risk of preterm birth, reports the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

A potential drawback is that Mediterranean-style diets rely heavily on fish, which can pose problems during pregnancy. Fish is a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, but some species contain high levels of mercury. If you're pregnant, you could take fish oil supplements or substitute fish for other sources of omega-3s, such as nuts, seeds, and flaxseed oil. Plus, it's safe to eat anchovies, cod, herring, salmon, sardines, and canned light tuna twice a week, as recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration