Following the Mediterranean Diet Could Support a Healthier Pregnancy, According to New Research
Pictured recipe: Goddess Veggie Bowls with Chicken
It's no secret that the Mediterranean diet—an eating pattern that prioritizes lean protein, healthy fats, whole grains and plenty of fruits and veggies—comes with some pretty impressive health benefits. Research consistently reports its effectiveness at protecting our heart and brain as we age, decreasing our risk for diabetes and helping to make maintaining a healthy weight easier. Now, new research indicates that pregnant folks who eat a Mediterranean diet may have a lower risk for preeclampsia, a condition that usually involves high blood pressure or kidney or liver damage in pregnant people.
Those with preeclampsia have a higher risk of preterm delivery, and their children may be at a greater risk for high blood pressure and heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
"The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries, and preeclampsia contributes to it," the lead author of the study, Anum S. Minhas, M.D., M.H.S., said in a media release. "Given these health hazards to both mothers and their children, it is important to identify modifiable factors to prevent the development of preeclampsia, especially among Black women who are at the highest risk of this serious pregnancy complication."
Research suggests it may be a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors (including stress levels) that contribute to the increased levels of preeclampsia in Black individuals.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, focused on a racially diverse group of 8,500 expecting parents who had a high risk of developing preeclampsia. The participants answered questionnaires and sat down for interviews about how often they were eating certain foods, so researchers could assign them a score based on how closely they followed the Mediterranean diet.
Researchers found that Black pregnant people, who made up 47% of the participant pool, experienced the greatest reduction in preeclampsia risk when they followed the Mediterranean diet. On the other hand, Black folks whose eating habits were furthest away from a Mediterranean-style eating pattern had a 72% higher risk for preeclampsia compared to non-Black participants who followed the Mediterranean diet. Overall, those who followed the Mediterranean diet were 20% less likely to develop preeclampsia than those who didn't.
"This is remarkable because there are very few interventions during pregnancy that are found to produce any meaningful benefit, and medical treatments during pregnancy must be approached cautiously to ensure the benefits outweigh the potential risks to the mother and the unborn child," Minhas said in the release.
The best part of this news might be that eating the Mediterranean diet can be a pretty delicious endeavor, and the priorities of the Mediterranean diet mesh well with the dietary concerns most pregnant folks have, from getting enough folate and calcium to avoiding certain fish and cheeses. You'll be able to find something that works for you—or the pregnant person in your life—whether that means a light and fresh Chickpea Salad Sandwich or a satisfying Salmon Rice Bowl.
If you want to add more Mediterranean-diet-appropriate meals to your routine, flip through some of our healthy pregnancy recipes, which are a good source of calcium, iron or folic acid. Choose recipes that feature some of your favorite veggies, whole grains, lean protein sources and healthy fats—foods that are foundational elements of the Mediterranean diet.
Just keep in mind that you should enjoy the food you eat, especially when dealing with pregnancy-related symptoms, such as nausea. And that's what's so great about the Mediterranean diet—all foods can fit into this healthy eating pattern, which is great news for whatever cravings you may have. Plus, since pantry staples like whole-wheat pasta, canned veggies and beans are Mediterranean-diet-friendly, you can even eat the Mediterranean diet on a budget.
A new study in the Journal of American Heart Association found that pregnant folks who follow the Mediterranean diet were 20% less likely to develop preeclampsia than those who didn't. The improvement was especially pronounced in Black pregnant people, who are generally at a higher risk for developing preeclampsia. We at EatingWell love the Mediterranean diet because it's not restrictive—that means you can adapt it to include your favorite foods and all the nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy. Try recipes like our Quinoa Power Salad or Spring Veggie Wraps the next time you're in the mood for a healthy, delicious meal.