Pregnancy brings about an array of changes to the physical health of a woman’s body, but it can also bring about anxiety and stress, both of which can impact sleep.
A new study* has looked at the effects of a Mediterranean Diet (MD) during pregnancy on maternal stress, well-being and sleep quality through gestation.
In this study 1221 high-risk pregnant women (high risk for small-for-gestational-age newborns) were randomly allocated into 3 groups at 19-23 weeks gestation:
- A MD diet intervention;
- A mindfulness-based stress reduction program; and
- Control – usual care.
For group 1, Participants were encouraged to increase their intake of whole-grain cereals (?5 servings/d); vegetables and dairy products (?3 servings/d); fresh fruit (?2 servings/d); and legumes, nuts, fish, and white meat (?3 servings/week), as well as increasing their olive oil use for cooking and dressings.
The study ended when women reached 34-36 weeks gestation and results showed that women in group 1, the MD diet intervention, had significantly lower perceived stress and anxiety scores and better sleep compared to group 3 – usual care.
What we know about diet when it comes to mental health is that research has strongly linked a diet high in processed foods, saturated fats and refined sugar with an increased risk of mental health conditions.
On the flip, the MD is rich in plant-based foods, fibre, veggies, fruit and antioxidants, whilst being naturally lower in foods link to mental health conditions. Research has suggested that this dietary pattern may have had an impact on inflammation, oxidative stress, brain plasticity as well as the gut microbiome, all suggested to play a role in mental health conditions.
What this study tells us is, if a pregnant woman is experiencing increased stress, anxiety and poor sleep, shifting their diet towards more of a MD pattern may be of benefit.
As a starting point, here are some quick MD meal ideas which are simple and quick to put together.
Quick Mediterranean Diet Meal Ideas for Pregnant Women
- Smoothie using plant-based milk/cow, fruit of choice, handful rolled oats, handful of hemp seeds/LSA and spoonful of yoghurt.
- Wholegrain toast spread with hummus, tomato, avocado and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.
- 2 x eggs scrambled (well booked) with red kidney beans, tomato, spinach, herbs and hemp seeds.
- Oats and 1 tbsp. chia seeds, soaked overnight in milk/water – in the morning add yoghurt, prunes, fruit and LSA.
- Wholegrain wrap spread with hummus or avocado, with 1-2 crumbled falafels and salad of choice.
- Chickpeas or cannellini beans tossed with extra virgin olive oil, cumin, salt, pepper, grated carrot and sultanas + optional protein such as feta, boiled eggs, haloumi, tuna/salmon or chicken.
- Mash a can of tuna/salmon with avocado and serve on wholegrain crackers with tomato and cucumber.
- Fish fillet (low mercury) topped with sliced tomato, herbs, lemon, garlic and extra virgin olive oil baked in the oven and served with steamed potatoes tossed with cooked peas, herbs, parmesan and extra virgin olive oil.
- Fry off chopped tomatoes, onion, garlic, finely diced eggplant to make a sauce, add in cooked pasta, shredded cooked chicken/tuna or legumes, spinach, herbs and finish with parmesan cheese (or hemp seeds) as a simple pasta dish.
- Pre-roast whole sweet potatoes, warm in the oven, cut in half and top with chickpeas mixed with diced avocado, diced tomato, hemp seeds and herbs.
Casas, I.; Nakaki, A.; Pascal, R.; Castro-Barquero, S.; Youssef, L.; Genero, M.; Benitez, L.; Larroya, M.; Boutet, M.L.; Casu, G.; et al. Effects of a Mediterranean Diet Intervention on Maternal Stress, Well-Being, and Sleep Quality throughout Gestation—The IMPACT-BCN Trial. Nutrients 2023, 15, 2362. https://doi.org/10.3390/ nu15102362