Mediterranean diet during pregnancy linked to lower risk of preeclampsia, especially in Black women

Pregnant woman eats a heart-healthy meal while sitting on a bed.

Following a Mediterranean-style diet is linked to a lower risk of preeclampsia, a dangerously high level of blood pressure in pregnant women, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.  The study, which could lead to improved dietary strategies for fighting the condition, was funded in part by the NHLBI. 

Preeclampsia is a significant cause of maternal death, which is increasing in the United States compared to other developed countries. It can also result in potentially fatal complications for the baby. While the condition affects about 2%-6% of U.S. women, it occurs twice as often in Black women compared to other racial groups. 
In the study, researchers examined data on a racially diverse group of more than 8,000 women enrolled in the Boston Birth Cohort study between 1999 and 2014. A total of 10% of the surveyed women developed preeclampsia.  Those who self-reported eating a Mediterranean-style diet—which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, and fish—had a 20% or greater reduced risk of developing preeclampsia overall, the researchers found.   

Black women who followed the Mediterranean-style diet showed a 26% reduced risk of preeclampsia. Women with preexisting diabetes and obesity had twice the risk of preeclampsia compared with women without these conditions, the researchers said.  

“Results of this observational study suggest that a heart-healthy diet is associated with reduced blood pressure in pregnant women at high risk for preeclampsia,” said Sharon Smith, Ph.D., an epidemiologist and program officer in the NHLBI’s Division of Cardiovascular Sciences.  

“The findings in Black women are particularly encouraging because of their higher rates of preeclampsia and adverse outcomes compared with other groups,” Smith said. “We look forward to future dietary studies that confirm these findings in an effort to reduce maternal mortality and health disparities associated with it.”