Mothers-to-be who follow a Mediterranean diet 'may be less likely to have a baby born too small'


Pregnant women who follow a Mediterranean diet may be less likely to have a baby born too small, a study suggests.

Spanish scientists followed 1,200 mothers-to-be, tracking them through the second half of their pregnancies. They were considered at-risk of having a baby born with a low birthweight.

Babies who are born small — meaning their birth weight is in the lowest 10 percentile— are more likely to suffer brain and heart development problems as they get older.

Results showed the women who had a Mediterranean diet, which consists of plenty of vegetables, fruits and olive oil, were 42 per cent less likely to have a baby born too small.

Mindfulness was also thought to help, according to the same study.

The trendy form of meditation, practiced by celebrities including Prince Harry and Beyoncé, cut the risk by 34 per cent.

The 1,200 women were split into three groups to allow the researchers to compare the differences.

A third followed a Mediterranean diet, a third practiced stress-reduction techniques, while the remaining women received normal care.

But academics noted the study should be considered as preliminary evidence, and be replicated before the treatments are recommended to patients.

It is unclear what causes babies to be born small, but risk factors include the mother being over-40, smoking and being obese.

There is currently no scientifically proven way to prevent a baby being born smaller than they should be.

The graph shows the birth weight and gestational age of the newborns whose mothers participated in the trial, in relation to whether they ate a Mediterranean diet (top), engaged in stress reduction courses (middle) or received usual care (bottom). Each dot shows how much the baby weighed and which week it was born at, with the middle line in the horizontal and vertical box plots showing the average for each group. Among the control group, 88 newborns (21.9 per cent) were considered small, compared to just 55 in the Mediterranean diet group (14 per cent) and 61 (15.6 per cent) in the stress reduction group

The graph shows the birth weight and gestational age of the newborns whose mothers participated in the trial, in relation to whether they ate a Mediterranean diet (top), engaged in stress reduction courses (middle) or received usual care (bottom). Each dot shows how much the baby weighed and which week it was born at, with the middle line in the horizontal and vertical box plots showing the average for each group. Among the control group, 88 newborns (21.9 per cent) were considered small, compared to just 55 in the Mediterranean diet group (14 per cent) and 61 (15.6 per cent) in the stress reduction group 

Women asked to follow the Mediterranean diet received two-hours of monthly individual and group education sessions, personalised advice and recipes. They were also given two litres of extra-virgin olive oil and 450g walnuts per month for free. The group was encouraged to eat at least five servings of whole grains, three of vegetables and dairy products, as well as two of fresh fruit each day. They were also asked to have three servings a week of legumes, nuts, fish and white meat

Women asked to follow the Mediterranean diet received two-hours of monthly individual and group education sessions, personalised advice and recipes. They were also given two litres of extra-virgin olive oil and 450g walnuts per month for free. The group was encouraged to eat at least five servings of whole grains, three of vegetables and dairy products, as well as two of fresh fruit each day. They were also asked to have three servings a week of legumes, nuts, fish and white meat

The women in the stress reduction group participated in an eight-week course that included weekly 2.5-hour sessions and one full-day session. They were also asked to follow daily 45-minute meditation sessions which focused on mindfulness, mindful yoga, body awareness and group discussion

The women in the stress reduction group participated in an eight-week course that included weekly 2.5-hour sessions and one full-day session. They were also asked to follow daily 45-minute meditation sessions which focused on mindfulness, mindful yoga, body awareness and group discussion

The researchers said lifestyle factors including poor nutrition and high levels of stress may also be associated with a higher risk of a baby being born too small.

They may also be behind other pregnancy complications because they are linked with inflammation of the placenta.

The team recruited 1,221 women at a hospital in Barcelona between February 2017 and October 2019 who were 19 to 23 weeks pregnant and at a high risk of having a baby that is small.

Women asked to follow the diet received two-hours of monthly individual and group education sessions, personalised advice and recipes.

They were also given two litres of extra-virgin olive oil and 450g walnuts per month for free.

What is a Mediterranean diet? 

A Mediterranean diet incorporates the traditional healthy living habits of people from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Greece, Italy and Spain.

The Mediterranean diet varies by country and region, so it has a range of definitions.

But in general, it’s high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods.

The Mediterranean diet has been linked with good health, including a healthier heart.

You can make your diet more Mediterranean-style by: 

  • eating plenty of starchy foods, such as bread and pasta 
  • eating plenty of fruit and vegetables 
  • including fish in your diet 
  • eating less meat 
  • choosing products made from vegetable and plant oils, such as olive oil 

Source: NHS 

The group was encouraged to eat at least five servings of whole grains, three of vegetables and dairy products, as well as two of fresh fruit each day.

They were also asked to have three servings a week of legumes, nuts, fish and white meat.

The women in the stress reduction group participated in an eight-week course that included weekly 2.5-hour sessions and one full-day session.

They were also asked to follow daily 45-minute meditation sessions which focused on mindfulness, mindful yoga, body awareness and group discussion.

And the remaining third of participants received routine care and check-ups during their pregnancy.

Among the control group, 88 newborns (21.9 per cent) were small, according to results published in JAMA.

This was compared to just 55 in the Mediterranean diet group (14 per cent) and 61 (15.6 per cent) in the stress reduction group.

The researchers also monitored rates of other adverse outcomes, including preterm birth, preeclampsia and newborn mortality.

Among the standard care group, 105 newborns (26.2 per cent) suffered one of these events, compared to 73 (18.6 per cent) in the group that changed their diet and 76 (19.5 per cent) in the group that managed their stress.

The researchers, led by Professor Eduard Gratacós, an expert in foetal medicine, said having a baby that is small for its gestational age is associated with increased placental inflammation, oxidative stress and aging.

Mediterranean diets have been linked with antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties, so the study results ‘might be biologically related to the effects of the Mediterranean diet’, they said.

Meanwhile, maternal stress levels have been associated with increased rates of newborns being small and higher levels of the hormone cortisol and cells that promote inflammation.

‘The stress reduction program was associated with improvements in anxiety and well-being scales and with increased estimated activity of a cortisol-deactivating enzyme compared with the other study groups,’ according to the study. 

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