Pregnant women on Mediterranean diet had kids with higher cognitive scores: Study

Denise Dador Image
Tuesday, August 29, 2023
This diet during pregnancy improves kids' cognitive skills: Study
The results of the study showed that women on a Mediterranean diet and those who practiced yoga had kids with improved cognitive and social abilities.

The phrase "you are what you eat" is so true, and new findings show it holds even more meaning for women of child bearing age. Scientists say pregnancy is not an excuse to eat anything you want.

When Mai Villanos Kenst of Calabasas was pregnant for the first time, she didn't have strange cravings. Rather, she wanted to avoid certain foods.

"I just had an aversion to salad and cheese. I just could not take it in." she said.

She is now pregnant with her second child, and things are different.

"I'm okay with salads this time, which is a good thing," said Villanos Kenst.

This is fortunate for her, because leafy greens are a big part of a Mediterranean diet. A new study from Spain published Tuesday in JAMA Network Open finds moms who followed this eating plan while pregnant significantly improved their toddler's cognitive, social and emotional development compared to mothers who did not follow this style of eating.

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"The average age of mothers were 37 and 38 across the board," said Dr. Ira Wardono, chief of pediatrics at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center.

She said 1,200 high risk moms were part of a study on how to improve prenatal care. One group participated in mindfulness activities such as yoga and meditation. The second group followed a Mediterranean diet, and the third group received standard prenatal care. The kids of moms who were given free olive oil, walnuts and nutritional advice fared the best.

"They found that their child have not only better social, emotional well being, but also cognitive function at 2 years of age," said Wardono.

At age 2, Wardono said children's brains are reaping some of the benefits received in utero, such as those from a Mediterranean diet.

"It's been known to support the development of the brain. They have good fat, and good fat is needing in brain development," she said.

Now for the rest of her pregnancy, Villanos Kent plans to eat more nuts, fruits, veggies, whole grains and healthy proteins and fats.

"If I need to change for a handful of months for my kid to be better, why not? So I think I have time," she said.

The moms in the meditation and mindfulness segment of the study also had kids with improved cognitive and social development. So doctors say it's important to reduce stress and eat well.

While prenatal supplements contain beneficial omega 3s, Wardono says eating whole, fresh foods is always the better way to go.