The importance of consuming healthy food during pregnancy has been well documented, and this study further highlights the critical importance of a nutritious pre-natal diet.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet consists of the traditional eating lifestyle of people living in regions that surrounds the Mediterranean Sea. The basic principle of the Mediterranean Diet is a diet rich in olive oil, wholegrain cereals, legumes, nuts, vegetables, seeds and fruits. Low to moderate amounts of dairy products such as feta cheese, eggs and yogurt are eaten. Fish is consumed on a more regular basis than red meat, which should only be eaten in minor amounts. Wine, especially red, is allowed in smaller amounts, as long as a doctor approves alcohol consumption.
The Mediterranean Diet is rich in carbohydrates, antioxidants and fibers. While the diet is low in saturated fatty acids (unlike the typical Western diet of oils and fats), it is high in monounsaturated fats found in olive oil and fishes.
Researchers suspect that the high levels of antioxidants contained in the Mediterranean cuisine may be a crucial component in protecting the unborn child from childhood asthma.
The Mediterranean Diet Study
This particular study was conducted by the University of Crete and involved 507 pregnant women from the Spanish island of Menorca, starting back in 1997. Researchers monitored these women and their 468 children (some children were excluded for a variety of reasons) for the next 6 1/2 years. The children were monitored annually for obvious signs of asthma and also underwent skin prick tests for the more common air borne allergens.
Parents filled out questionnaires concerning their children’s health and also the quality of their own and their children’s food consumption. Points were allocated for various Mediterranean foods. The questionnaires examined quality, quantity and also the inclusion of Western foods such as fast-food and Western-type sweets.
A high quality and healthy Mediterranean Diet was determined to have a minimum of legumes more than once weekly, fish at least 3 times per week and vegetables at least 8 times weekly. High levels of olive oil, nuts, and grains were also consumed.
Researchers found that pregnant mothers who follow the high quality Mediterranean Diet gave birth to children with much lower incidences of childhood asthma and allergies. Interestingly, the diet of the children to the age of 6 1/2 years did not seem to play as important a role in the prevention of asthma and allergies as the diet of their pregnant mothers. In addition, pregnant mothers who consumed more than 8 servings of vegetables weekly had children with much lower incidences of allergies.
One interesting fact to note is that the mothers cosnuming red meat more than 3 or 4 times weekly gave birth to children with increased risks for both asthma and allergies.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), asthma is the most common chronic childhood disease, affecting more than 300 millio n pe ople worldwide. Consuming the Mediterranean Diet when pregnant would appear to be a simple method to protect children from birth onwards against both asthma and allergies.
Researchers suspect that the fatty acids contained in fish assist in decreasing potential inflammation, along with the increased levels of antioxidants which aid in tissue health.