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Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Pregnancy and Diet

Why choosing a Mediterranean diet is smart for you and your baby.

The key elements of a Mediterranean diet are simple:

  • fish
  • greens
  • legumes
  • olive oil
  • fresh spices
  • whole grains

By choosing to eat this way, you can eat well, lose weight, and reduce your risk for heart attack, stroke, and cancer. Now, new research from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study suggests that when adhered to during pregnancy, a Mediterranean diet may also reduce the risk for birth defects, including serious neurological problems such as spina bifida, and cleft palate.

Dr. Susan Carmichael and associates conducted interviews with thousands of moms whose babies were born with and without these types of birth defects, and asked questions about their dietary patterns. Overall, those who chose a Mediterranean diet were substantially less likely to give birth to babies with these serious health problems.

Related Research

This was not the first study to show such a correlation. A Dutch study of just over 100 mothers evaluated cases of spina bifida and also found the Mediterranean diet to be protective. Others have shown a link between a high glycemic diet (one with lots of sugar and simple starchy, processed foods) and poor health of the newborn. And maternal obesity and diabetes are associated with higher birth weight infants and a greater likelihood of childhood obesity.

Pregnancy & The Mediterranean Diet

If you’re pregnant, check with your doctor before making any major changes to your diet. For example, fish is an important part of the Mediterranean diet, but during pregnancy it should be limited to just six to twelve ounces weekly, due to concerns about high mercury levels, which can be harmful to the developing brain. Your obstetrician may suggest fish oil capsules as an alternative. Alcohol is also a traditional aspect of the Mediterranean diet, but it should be avoided during pregnancy.

The Mediterranean diet may be a little different from the food you were raised with, but it’s never too soon or too late to learn healthy habits that will protect and sustain you and your child throughout all the stages of life.

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Tags: Diet and Heart Health , Women and Heart Health

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About the Author


Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.