Could following a Mediterranean diet during pregnancy help head off gestational diabetes and excess weight gain?
A British study says the answer is yes.
But the researchers added that the eating regimen -- which is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and olive oil -- does not reduce the overall risk of complications for mother and baby.
The new study included over 1,200 pregnant women at five maternity units in London and Birmingham, England.
Women who ate a Mediterranean-style diet -- including 30 grams of mixed nuts per day and extra-virgin olive oil -- had a 35% lower risk for developing diabetes in pregnancy ("gestational diabetes") and gained 2.75 pounds less, on average, than others.
The findings suggest that a Mediterranean-style diet could benefit women who are obese, or who have high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol (lipid) levels before conceiving, according to the authors. The study was published July 23 in the journal PLOS Medicine.
"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 study author Shakila Thangaratinam. She is a professor of maternal and perinatal health at Queen Mary University of London.
Thangaratinam said in a university news release that women who are at risk of gestational diabetes should be encouraged to adopt a healthier diet early in pregnancy. Specifically, they should eat more nuts, olive oil, fruit and unrefined grains, she said, while limiting animal fats and sugar.
Study co-author Dr. Bassel Wattar said it had been unclear how a Mediterranean-style diet would affect high-risk pregnant women and whether it could be adapted for an ethnically diverse population. He's a lecturer in obstetrics and gynecology at Queen Mary and the University of Warwick.
"Now we know that pregnant women from an inner city, high-risk, multi-ethnic population are able to adapt their diet to a Mediterranean-style, and that this can bring them important benefits including a reduction in weight gain and a lower risk of developing gestational diabetes," Wattar said in the news release.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has more on pregnancy and nutrition.