Eating (Well) For Two

Written by Clare Carrick ANutr (BHSc)

Scientifically reviewed by Dr Fathalla Ali, PHD Paediatrics

26/03/2022

When you first visit the GP after discovering those two lines on the pregnancy test, you will most likely be given a long list of what NOT to eat or drink during pregnancy…No more soft cheese, wine, sashimi or pate for you, just to name a few! Whilst the dangers of listeria, alcohol, and too much mercury during pregnancy are well-founded and rightly highlighted for pregnant women, the focus shouldn’t rest solely on what we shouldn’t be eating during pregnancy! The evidence is becoming increasingly clear that our overall dietary pattern during pregnancy can have a big impact on not only our own health, but also the health of our babies (1). 

A mum’s diet during pregnancy is just one of many environmental factors that influence baby’s growth and development, but it’s a significant one (1). Significant, not just because diet is one of the most modifiable factors, but also because pregnancy represents a time in a woman’s life where they’re often more motivated and willing to make healthy dietary changes (2). Unfortunately, there’s a lot of conflicting and confusing information out there on social media and Dr Google, so let’s examine what the scientific evidence suggests is the best pregnancy diet to support the health and wellbeing of both mum and bub.

What Does the Science Say?

It turns out, there is a very well-researched dietary pattern that has been shown to help with numerous aspects of health for both the baby and the mum, and it’s known as the Mediterranean Diet (1). Far from being a ‘restrictive’ diet, the Med Diet is characterised by high intakes of fruit, vegetables, legumes, fish, and whole grains, low to moderate intakes of dairy, and limited amounts of red meat and red wine, although in Australia current guidelines recommend no alcohol at all during pregnancy (1, 3). Low in saturated fats, the Med Diet provides mostly poly- and mono-unsaturated fatty acids from things like extra virgin olive oil and oily fish, and it is also high in fibre and antioxidants (1). 

Is there Anything the Mediterranean Diet Can’t Do?

A recent really big paper, called a meta-analysis, gathered together all the existing evidence on what eating a Mediterranean Diet during pregnancy can do for the health of both mum and bub (1). As you can see, the findings are really quite incredible! 

Here is a list of the potential benefits of a Mum’s high adherence to a Mediterranean Diet during pregnancy:

  • Reduces risk of developing asthma, eczema and allergy (atopy) for baby (4). 
  • Improves baby’s growth in uterus, and reduces risk of premature birth-related complications (5).
  • Decreases Mum’s risk of high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia (5).
  • Lowers risk of future cardiometabolic issues for the child, i.e. less risk of becoming overweight or having high blood pressure (6). 
  • Reduces risk of spina bifida in baby (7).
  • Lowers risk of gestational diabetes in mum, and improves outcomes for both mum and bub (Results from a study that specified a Mediterranean diet supplemented with pistachios and olive oil) (8).
  • Promotes emotional wellbeing and behaviours in early childhood (9). 
  • Reduced prevalence of depression, anxiety, aggression or inattention in early childhood (9, 10).


To Sum it Up…

The Mediterranean Diet really does have a pretty admirable checklist of ‘positives’ when it comes to the health of mum and bub. Focusing on eating whole foods, especially vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and seafood, during pregnancy is one way that you can start supporting your future baby’s physical and mental health, even before you’ve had the chance to actually hold them in your arms!

References

  1. Amati F, Hassounah S, Swaka A. The impact of mediterranean dietary patterns during pregnancy on maternal and offspring health. Nutrients. 2019 May;11(5):1098.
  2. Forbes LE, Graham JE, Berglund C, Bell RC. Dietary change during pregnancy and women’s reasons for change. Nutrients. 2018 Aug;10(8):1032.
  3. Department of Health. Alcohol during pregnancy and breastfeeding. [internet]. 2020 [cited 2022 Mar 23]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/alcohol/alcohol-throughout-life/alcohol-during-pregnancy-and-breastfeeding#resources
  4. Chatzi L, Torrent M, Romieu I, Garcia-Esteban R, Ferrer C, Vioque J, Kogevinas M, Sunyer J. Mediterranean diet in pregnancy is protective for wheeze and atopy in childhood. Thorax. 2008 Jun 1;63(6):507-13.
  5. Parlapani E, Agakidis C, Karagiozoglou-Lampoudi T, Sarafidis K, Agakidou E, Athanasiadis A, Diamanti E. The Mediterranean diet adherence by pregnant women delivering prematurely: association with size at birth and complications of prematurity. The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine. 2019 Apr 3;32(7):1084-91.
  6. Chatzi L, Rifas‐Shiman SL, Georgiou V, Joung KE, Koinaki S, Chalkiadaki G, Margioris A, Sarri K, Vassilaki M, Vafeiadi M, Kogevinas M. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet during pregnancy and offspring adiposity and cardiometabolic traits in childhood. Pediatric obesity. 2017 Aug;12:47-56.
  7. Vujkovic M, Steegers EA, Looman CW, Ocké MC, van der Spek PJ, Steegers‐Theunissen RP. The maternal Mediterranean dietary pattern is associated with a reduced risk of spina bifida in the offspring. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. 2009 Feb;116(3):408-15.
  8. Assaf-Balut C, García de la Torre N, Durán A, Fuentes M, Bordiú E, Del Valle L, Familiar C, Ortolá A, Jiménez I, Herraiz MA, Izquierdo N. A Mediterranean diet with additional extra virgin olive oil and pistachios reduces the incidence of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM): A randomized controlled trial: The St. Carlos GDM prevention study. PLoS One. 2017 Oct 19;12(10):e0185873.
  9. House JS, Mendez M, Maguire RL, Gonzalez-Nahm S, Huang Z, Daniels J, Murphy SK, Fuemmeler BF, Wright FA, Hoyo C. Periconceptional maternal mediterranean diet is associated with favorable offspring behaviors and altered CpG methylation of imprinted genes. Frontiers in cell and developmental biology. 2018:107.
  10. Steenweg-de Graaff J, Tiemeier H, Steegers-Theunissen RP, Hofman A, Jaddoe VW, Verhulst FC, Roza SJ. Maternal dietary patterns during pregnancy and child internalising and externalising problems. The Generation R Study. Clinical nutrition. 2014 Feb 1;33(1):115-21.
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