The Mediterranean diet has been touted to have quite a few health benefits for those who follow it. Interestingly, a team of researchers has found another one: It may lower the risks of complications during pregnancy.
For their study, published in JAMA Network Open, researchers looked at the diet data from 7,798 “racially, ethnically, and geographically diverse women” who were expecting. The participants, who were all having their first babies, completed a questionnaire about their diets during the first trimester of their pregnancy, according to HealthDay.
The idea was to look at whether going on the Mediterranean diet “around the time of conception” is actually associated with a lower risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes (APOs), which include events like preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, gestational diabetes, preterm birth, stillbirth and the delivery of an infant that’s small for their gestational age.
The Mediterranean diet is one that focuses on plant-based foods and healthy fats. Someone who is on this diet will generally eat more foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and beans while eating little to no meat. It also features moderate amounts of fish, cheese and yogurt, with extra virgin olive oil being the main source of fat.
The diet has been touted for its many possible health benefits. This year, it took the top spot in the ranking of Best Diets for the fifth year in a row, while an even greener version of it was found to possibly be beneficial for reducing potentially harmful visceral fat.
“Greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet pattern has been associated with a lower risk for multiple chronic diseases and mortality; we hypothesized that it was associated with a reduced risk of APOs,” the researchers wrote.
Indeed, the researchers found that adhering to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a 21% overall lower risk of APOs.
The benefits were most pronounced when it came to preeclampsia or eclampsia and gestational diabetes, the researchers said. Those following the diet saw 28% lower odds of preeclampsia or eclampsia and 37% lower odds for gestational diabetes.
Furthermore, the benefits against pregnancy complications were said to be stronger among women aged 35 and older, one of the study authors, Natalie Bello of the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, noted, as per HealthDay.
“In general, women over the age of 35 have a much higher risk of developing preeclampsia. If anything, I would say it’s encouraging,” Bello said.
“Taken together, our findings demonstrate that in U.S. women, adoption of a Mediterranean diet pattern may represent an important lifestyle approach for the prevention of APOs, particularly in women with advanced maternal age among whom risk for APOs is elevated,” the researchers wrote.
The study simply shows that adherence to the diet is related to the reduced risks, not that it caused them, Bello clarified.
But it does add to the growing literature about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. For instance, it has so far been seen as a heart-healthy diet and may also have benefits in supporting healthy body weight.
As always, however, it’s best to consult one’s health care provider before getting started on any diet or eating plan.