New study shows that Mediterranean diet can help pregnant women

22 Jul 2019

Researchers at Barts Research Centre for Women’s Health (BARC) have found that pregnant women can reduce their risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) by 35% by adopting a Mediterranean-style diet.

What is gestational diabetes?

East London has one of the highest rates of gestational diabetes in the country, with as many as 10-15% of mothers developing the condition. It can cause problems including premature birth and increased likelihood of needing a caesarean section. 

How did the study work?

BARC was established in 2017 with our £2m funding and studies issues which have an impact on mothers and babies, from IVF treatments to bleeding following childbirth.

The largest of its kind globally, their ESTEEM trial was designed to discover whether a Mediterranean diet could reduce the risk of gestational diabetes. 

1,252 women with metabolic risk factors were involved in the trial, with one group receiving routine antenatal care, and others adopting a Mediterranean diet in addition to their antenatal care.

This diet included a high intake of nuts and extra virgin olive oil (both were provided by researchers to ensure that the cost wasn’t a barrier to adopting the diet) and fruit and vegetables, and advised participants to avoid sugary drinks, fast food, and food rich in animal fat.

Working with a local community team, the BARC researchers (pictured, right) made the diet culturally sensitive to our multi-ethnic inner-city Barts Health population by providing a bespoke recipe book which includes substitutions like extra virgin olive oil instead of ghee. Participants also received personalised dietary advice at three points throughout their pregnancy.

What did the researchers find?

The results, published in the journal PLOS Medicine show that adopting a Mediterranean-style diet led to a 35% lower risk of developing diabetes in pregnancy, and on average 1.25kg less pregnancy weight, compared to those who received routine antenatal care.

The participants in the Mediterranean-style diet group also reported better overall quality of life than those in the control group and reduced bloatedness in pregnancy

Yetunde Awodeyi, a mother who took part in the study (pictured, main image), said: “The trial introduced me to new types of food, like different types of nuts and new recipes. I stuck with the diet after Irewamiri was born — I feel healthy, I feel good, I feel so happy.”

What the researchers are saying

Professor Shakila Thangaratinam from Queen Mary University of London says: “This is the first large study to evaluate the value of a Mediterranean-style diet in pregnancy, and it shows that high-risk mothers can benefit from a Mediterranean-style diet to reduce their weight gain and risk of gestational diabetes.

“Implementing this diet seems to be effective, cheap and acceptable to women. The fact that we managed to alter eating habits in a highly diverse East London population suggests that our approach could be successful in other settings.

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