Eating a Mediterranean diet during pregnancy may cut odds of getting pre-eclampsia by 20%

Pregnant women who follow a Mediterranean diet are a fifth less likely to suffer from high blood pressure condition pre-eclampsia, a study shows.

US researchers studied the self-reported eating habits of more than 8,500 expectant mothers over two decades.

Those who closely followed the high fruit, vegetable and whole grain diet were 22 per cent less likely to develop pre-eclampsia, they found.  

Kim Kardashian and Beyonce both suffered from the condition, which affects one in 17 pregnancies in the UK and around one in 25 in the US.

It causes expectant mothers to suffer high blood pressure during pregnancy which can put them and their baby at risk. 

Dr Anum Minhas, chief cardiology fellow at Johns Hopkins University who led the study, said the findings are ‘remarkable’ because ‘very few’ interventions during pregnancy produce ‘any meaningful benefit’.

A Mediterranean diet involves eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, bread and other grains, as well as beans, nuts and seeds. 

Olive oil should be the main source of fat, while dairy products, eggs, fish and meat should only be eaten in small or moderate amounts. 

Previous studies have credited the diet with reducing the risk of suffering from heart disease, heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. 

It has also been linked with lowering the risk of developing some cancers and dementia, as well as helping with weight loss and reducing blood pressure.

Kim Kardashian and Beyonce (pictured) both suffered from the condition, which affects one in 17 pregnancies in the UK and around one in 25 in the US

Kim Kardashian (left) and Beyonce (right) both suffered from the condition, which affects one in 17 pregnancies in the UK and around one in 25 in the US


Pre-eclampsia affects around six per cent of pregnancies in the UK.

It causes expectant mothers to have high blood pressure and protein in their urine, which should be picked up during routine appointments.

Some pregnant women may also suffer severe headaches, vision problems, pain below the ribs, vomiting or sudden swelling to their face, hands or feet. 

Most cases are mild but it is severe in one to two per cent of pregnancies and can lead to serious complications for mothers and babies.

Women who have diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, autoimmune conditions, a family history of pre-eclampsia or are over 40 are at higher risk from the condition.

It is unclear what causes the condition but it is thought to be a problem with the placenta – the organ that links the baby’s blood supply to the mother’s.

The only way to treat pre-eclampsia is to deliver the baby, so sufferers are usually monitored regularly until it is possible to give birth.

This is usually around 37 to 38 weeks of pregnancy but expectant mothers may be induced or given a C-section earlier in the most severe cases.

Sufferers are at risk of having a convulsion or fit called eclampsia, which most women fully recover from but some suffer permanent disability or brain damage if the fits are severe.

Women may also suffer from liver and blood clotting, strokes and organ problems.

Their babies may grow more slowly in the womb and, if delivered early, may suffer from problems such as breathing difficulties.

Source: NHS

Researchers examined data on 8,507 expectant mothers who gave birth at the Boston Medical Center, which treats mainly low-income and minority ethnic populations, between 1998 and 2016.

Nearly half of the participants (47 per cent) were black, while 28 per cent were Hispanic and the remaining were white or other race.

The women, who were 25-years-old on average, completed a questionnaire one to three days after giving birth on what they ate during their pregnancy.

The researchers then gave the women a score based on how closely their eating habits were aligned with a Mediterranean-style diet.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, show 848 (10 per cent) of the women developed pre-eclampsia.

But those who followed a Mediterranean-style diet when pregnant were 22 per cent less likely to suffer from the condition.

Black women had the lowest Mediterranean diet score and were 78 per cent more at-risk of preeclampsia, compared to all other non-black women who more closely stuck to the diet.

But black women who followed the diet were 26 per cent reduced risk from the condition.

The researchers also noted that obese and diabetic women were twice as likely to suffer from the high blood pressure condition.

The team said their findings suggest pregnant women may benefit from a Mediterranean‐style diet to reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia. 

Dr Minhas said: ‘We were surprised that women who more frequently ate foods in the Mediterranean-style diet were significantly less likely to develop preeclampsia, with Black women experiencing the greatest reduction in risk.

‘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.’ 

She said women should follow a healthy lifestyle, including a nutritious diet of fruit, vegetables and legumes, as well as regular exercise, throughout their life. 

Eating healthy foods ‘is especially important’ during pregnancy because it affects their future cardiovascular health as well as impacting their baby’s health, Dr Minhas added.