July 29, 2013

Are Mediterranean Diets Good for Pregnant Women?

The Mediterranean diet most certainly has been implicated in improved heart health. But, are Mediterranean diets good for pregnant women, too? Some of the longest life-expectancies come from the Mediterranean Sea regions. Additionally, countries such as those of Scandanavia (culinary cultures rich in seafood) have some of the lowest prematurity rates in the world (2-6%). Women in these countries who do not consume fish-rich diets (<2 servings weekly) have premature birth rates that are comparable to fish-deficient countries.

For example, investigators compared Norweigan women with high and low fish-consumption rates. Those women who ate fish at least twice weekly had lower prematurity rates. Similar findings were reported in a study amongst Danish women. In this study, women who consumed fish as well as a healthful diet rich in olive or grape seed oil and 5 or more fruits and vegetables daily, had lower rates of both preterm and early preterm births.

Fish oil is rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acid, in particular. Could it be as easy as supplementing seafood-deficient diets with omega-3? There is clearly benefit from this source in our diet, regardless of pregnancy. However, for pregnant women, it does not seem to be as simple. The fish oil supplements consistently have not been linked to a reduction in preterm birth rates. This finding suggests that it is the consumption of the fish itself that provides fetal benefit.

The pendulum has swung and the published concerns for the consumption of mercury-tainted fish has driven a concerned public to avoiding seafood consumption. Rates of seafood consumption amongst pregnant women continues to diminish with a minimal of one seafood portion monthly being reported. Perhaps, it is time to follow the EPA recommendations and promote two mercury-poor seafood meals weekly. For more details, check out the FDA published guide to assist in making informed decisions.

Danielle Vitiello, Ph.D., M.D.

Danielle Vitiello, Ph.D., M.D. Board-Certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology, Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility