This is one of the first Med diet studies to highlight its impact on children.
Credit: Greg DuPree

Fad diets come and go, but the Mediterranean Diet has remained popular in the US for almost 30 years, and studies continue to show the various benefits of following its principles. This mostly plant-based diet is linked to decreased rates of mortality and a lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, certain cancers, and other chronic diseases. While extensive research has been dedicated to the diet’s impact on adults, few studies have emphasized its impacts on children.

This study, conducted by Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and published in The Journal of Pediatrics, analyzed 2,700 pregnant women and their children from birth to age four. The women completed dietary intake questionnaires during their first and third trimesters of pregnancy. The weight and height of each child was measured from birth to four years and other tests, such as blood analysis and blood pressure, were performed at age four.

The results of the study showed mothers who ate a Mediterranean diet during pregnancy had a 32 percent lower risk of having children with an accelerated growth pattern, compared to the offspring of women who didn’t follow the diet. An accelerated growth pattern means the children are born with a high birth weight and experience accelerated weight gain in childhood, leading to higher risks of obesity throughout their life.

Dora Romaguera, researcher at ISGlobal and CIBEROBN, said the results of this study supported the hypothesis that eating a healthy diet during pregnancy positively impacts the child development.

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Sílvia Fernández, ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study, noted that “mothers with lower adherence to the Mediterranean diet were younger, consumed more calories, and had higher probability of smoking and a lower education and social level,” as compared to those women who followed the diet guidelines.

While the study did not find a correlation between following the Mediterranean Diet during pregnancy and a reduction in risk for blood pressure or cholesterol in early infancy, Fernández believes these cardiometabolic effects could appear later in childhood.

If you are pregnant, or are hoping to become pregnant, it’s crucial to make sure you’re obtaining vital nutrients through a healthy diet. Nutrients play various roles in fetal development, and not having enough stored in your body can potentially lead to defects and developmental issues. Following the Mediterranean Diet, even just a few days a week, can be a stress-free way to guarantee you are eating a well-rounded, balanced diet. But, as always, talk to your doctor first to find out which type of diet will work best for you and your baby.