The Mediterranean Diet during Pregnancy

It is not so long ago that pregnant women were regularly told to “eat for two”. Fortunately, we now know that this idea of doubling your food intake is not only a myth, it is also bad for the health of you and your baby.

However, this of course does not mean that you should not gain weight during pregnancy, only that this weight gain should mostly be attributable to the combined effect of the following:

  • The weight of the baby
  • The weight of the placenta
  • The weight of the amniotic fluid
  • The weight of additional water in the body
  • Breast growth

As convenient as it would be to put a precise figure on the amount of weight gain brought about by these changes, the truth is that every woman is different, and the amount of weight gain she will experience will depend on her genes, her body-type, the circumstances of her pregnancy, her diet and the number of calories she is burning.

However, as a general rule, the NHS recommends the following as a guide to weight gain:

  • Underweight before pregnancy: 12.4kg to 17.9kg (1st 13lb to 2st 11lb)
  • Normal weight before pregnancy: 11.5kg to 15.8kg (1st 11lb to 2st 6lb)
  • Overweight before pregnancy: 7kg to 11.5kg (1st 1lb to 1st 11lb)
  • Obese before pregnancy: 5kg to 9kg (11lb to 20lb)

Should pregnant women aim for the Mediterranean diet?

A 2019 study by Queen Mary University of London and the University of Warwick found that pregnant women who ate a Mediterranean-style diet that is rich in extra virgin olive oil, nuts and fresh fruit and vegetables together with lots of fish had a 36 percent lower risk of developing gestational diabetes. The diet also resulted in an average of 1.25kg less weight gain than the control group.

“This is the first study to show that pregnant women at high risk of complications may benefit from a Mediterranean-style diet to reduce their weight gain and risk of gestational diabetes,” commented Professor Shakila Thangaratinam, one of the researchers from Queen Mary University of London.

She added, “Implementing this diet seems to be effective and acceptable to women. Current national dietary guidelines do not include the key components of the Mediterranean-style diet in their recommendations.

It is important to note that the study showed no link between a Mediterranean diet and improved outcomes for newborn children. However, the effect of excessive weight gain during pregnancy is well-documented and is known to increase blood pressure and the risk of both gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia.

It is also worth noting that gaining too little weight also causes problems, including premature birth or low birth weight.

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