What Mom eats during pregnancy can help protect her children from asthma and allergies, according to a study released by Thorax in January 2008. In particular, elementary school kids whose mothers had followed a Mediterranean diet during their pregnancy were less likely to develop asthma or allergies. The peers of those fortunate children were about twice as likely to have positive allergic skin tests, more than four times more likely to wheeze, and more than three times more likely to have both positive allergy tests and wheezing. What separates this study from others on the same topic is that it was a forward looking (prospective) study. The researchers put forward their hypothesis in advance, and then followed families in Spain until the children were 6.5 years old. The participants weren’t aware that this study was about the Mediterranean diet when the data were being collected, to avoid introducing bias.
So what is a Mediterranean diet? The authors of this study defined it as a diet high in plant foods (fruits, vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals, legumes, and nuts), moderate amounts of dairy products and eggs, and very little red meat. The diet is also high in olive oil and fish. Let’s consider some typical specific amounts:
Fruit or fruit juice daily Another serving of fruit daily Fresh or cooked vegetables more than once a day Legume more than once a week Fish at least two or three times a week Wholegrain as part of breakfast daily Pasta or rice at least five times a week Two dairy products (e.g., milk, cheese, yogurt) daily Nuts two or three times a week Olive oil used at home daily Fast food less than once a week Sweets and pastries less than once a day
In this study, women received one point each if they ate above the median amount of vegetables, of fruits and nuts, of whole grain cereals, of legumes, of fish, and of dairy products compared to all the women in the study. They also received one point if they ate below the average amount of red meat. The maximum possible score was 7. Those who scored at least 4 points enjoyed the dramatic benefits detailed above compared to those who scored 0 to 3.
What we eat changes our bodies, and pregnancy, nursing, and early childhood hold the greatest potential for lasting benefit.
Chatzi L, Torrent M, Romieu I, Garcia-Esteban R, Ferrer C, Vioque J, Kogevinas M, and Sunyer J. Mediterranean Diet in pregnancy protective for wheeze and atopy in childhood. Thorax Published Online First: 15 January 2008. doi:10.1136/thx.2007.081745