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New study suggests that Mediterranean diet during pregnancy improves 2-year-olds’ cognitive, social abilities

Mothers who consumed the Mediterranean diet during pregnancy increased their children’s cognitive, social and emotional development at 2 years old, as compared to children whose mothers did not follow the diet, according to a new randomised clinical trial.

Similarly, children of mothers who took stress-reduction classes during pregnancy scored higher in social and emotional well-being as toddlers compared to children whose mothers did not receive the training, said the study published in JAMA Network Open.

The study followed children born to 1,221 high-risk mothers who were part of The Improving Mothers for a Better Prenatal Care Trial in Barcelona, conducted between February 2017 to March 2020.

While one group of women was told to follow the Mediterranean diet, the other group was assigned to pregnancy yoga, meditation and mindfulness group sessions, which were focused on the relationship between the mother and foetus.

Approximately two years after the women gave birth, researchers found that there was a positive difference between children whose mothers ate a Mediterranean diet compared to those who did not. Stress-reduction training also increased scores of social and emotional development, but the Mediterranean diet intervention was more prominent.

What is a Mediterranean diet?

According to Richa Anand, Chief Dietician, Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital, Powai, Mumbai, the Mediterranean diet includes fresh juicy fruits, crispy veggies, whole grains, olive oil, lean meats like fish, herbs and spices.

Further, Neelima Bisht, Chief Clinical Nutrition, Dietetics department, Paras Health, Gurugram pointed out that red meat, processed meat and food, alcohol, sweets, sugary drinks and butter are strictly avoided in the Mediterranean diet.

“As the name suggests, this diet pattern is inspired by the traditional eating habits of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea such as Greece, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Egypt and Lebanon. This nutritious diet helps in managing weight, protects the heart, prevents diabetes and other chronic diseases,” she said.

Experts weigh in on the study

mediterranean diet The Mediterranean diet includes freshy juicy fruits, crispy veggies, whole grains, olive oil, lean meats like fish, herbs and spices. (Source: Freepik)

Concurring with the findings of the study, Dr Aparna Jha, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Apollo Cradle & Children’s Hospital, Marathahalli, Bangalore noted that chances of mothers developing gestational hypertension or diabetes are lesser if pregnant women follow the Mediterranean diet. If these health complications are lesser, it will in turn lead to fewer pre-term deliveries and more neurologically mature babies.

“A diet which includes nuts, olive oil, and fish is naturally rich in antioxidants, monounsaturated fatty acids, and omega-3 fatty acids, which has a positive impact on the neurological or cognitive function of babies. Additionally, a Mediterranean diet is a great source of B group vitamins, which prevent neurological defects in the early trimesters,” she added.

Explaining the mechanism behind this, Prachi Jain, Chief Clinical Nutritionist & HOD (Nutrition & Dietetics), CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram said that during pregnancy, a woman experiences a lot of physical, hormonal and emotional changes, thus her nutritional needs also increase for the proper growth and development of the foetus, so whatever a woman eats during her pregnancy directly affects the baby’s health.

Agreeing with the above, Dr Milloni Gadoya, Gynecologist, Apollo Spectra, Mumbai said that embracing a Mediterranean-inspired lifestyle during pregnancy not only benefits the expectant mother but also sets her child on a path towards lifelong health. With its emphasis on whole foods rather than processed options, this dietary approach encourages nutrient-rich meals that provide essential vitamins and minerals for both mother and baby.

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However, she added that it is essential to consult an expert who will guide you after taking your complete history and conducting an examination.

ALSO READ | How to eat right to ensure a healthy mother and baby

“Making informed dietary choices not only benefits pregnant women personally but also sets a solid foundation for their little one’s future health journey,” Dr Gadoya concluded.

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