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Mediterranean Diet and the Risk of Pre-eclampsia

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5 min read


Pregnant women who follow a Mediterranean-style diet have decreased risk of pre-eclampsia. Read the article to learn more about it below.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop

Published At February 10, 2023
Reviewed AtJuly 24, 2023


Pre-eclampsia is a condition in pregnant women characterized by high blood pressure levels, high protein release in the urine (proteinuria), and swelling in the feet, legs, and hands. It is one of the leading causes of maternal death in the United States. Pre-eclampsia is sometimes referred to as toxemia. In the United States, it is the cause of about 16 percent of premature deliveries (before 37 weeks of pregnancy). Studies suggest that a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia in pregnant women.

What Are the Causes and Symptoms of Preeclampsia?

The following are the causes of pre-eclampsia-

  • The condition is characterized by elevated blood pressure midway through pregnancy, usually after 20 weeks. It may also occur earlier but most commonly occurs in late pregnancy. Women with normal blood pressure experience a sudden spike in blood pressure when they are 20 weeks or more than 20 weeks pregnant. Women with diabetes or obesity are at higher risk of developing pre-eclampsia. In the United States, African-Americans are at higher risk of developing this condition than Caucasian women. It also affects the lower socio-economic populations more.

  • The diagnostic criteria for pre-eclampsia are proteinuria, edema, and hypertension.

  • Pregnant women experience elevated blood pressure (equal to or more than 140/90 mmHg (millimeters of mercury)).

  • It can occur regardless of the previous history of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia.

  • Premature babies are at risk for complications like low birth weight and respiratory problems. High blood pressure decreases the blood supply to the baby, which may cause less oxygen and nutrients. It affects the placenta, impairs liver function, and causes fluid accumulation in the lungs.

  • The comparatively milder form of this condition is gestational hypertension, which may develop into pre-eclampsia.

  • The symptoms of eclampsia last for 6 to 12 weeks after delivery and resolve independently.

  • In mild pre-eclampsia, the diastolic blood pressure is above 90 millimeters of mercury, but less than 110 millimeters of mercury, and the systolic blood pressure is 140 millimeters of mercury. The mean arterial blood pressure exceeds 150 millimeters of mercury.

  • In severe pre-eclampsia, the systolic BP is more than 160 millimeters of mercury, and diastolic BP is more than 110 millimeters of mercury.

  • Proteinuria (protein in urine) exceeds 5 grams/24 hours.

Eclampsia: Pre-eclampsia can also become a serious condition, affecting the patient’s brain function and causing seizures or coma. In this condition, the blood pressure exceeds 160/110 millimeters of mercury.

The protein in the urine is because of portal hypertension (high pressure in the kidney blood vessels) or sometimes kidney failure.

Pre-eclampsia can also affect other organs of the body.

The risk factors of pre-eclampsia include-

  • Genetic factors.

  • Obesity.

  • Pre-existing vascular disease.

  • Environmental factors.

  • Nutritional deficiency.

  • Hormonal imbalance disorder.

  • Maternal immune system and autoimmune disorders.

  • Insufficient blood flow to the placenta due to placental abnormalities.

The symptoms include-

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Shoulder pain.

  • Severe vomiting and nausea.

  • The confused state of mind.

  • Dizziness and tiredness.

  • Blurry vision (dark spots appear in the vision).

  • Severe headache.

  • Upper right abdominal pain.

  • Swelling in the face, hands, and ankles (edema).

  • Decreased frequency of urination.

  • Rapid pulse.

  • Abnormal weight gain.

  • Epigastric pain (pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen area).

In severe cases, the symptoms include-

  • Low platelet count (thrombocytopenia).

  • Decreased urine production.

  • Fluid in the lungs.

  • Decreased kidney or liver function.

Postpartum Preeclampsia: This condition usually develops after the baby is delivered, within 48 hours to 12 weeks.

What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet follows the traditional food habits of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Spain, Greece, and Italy. Diet varies in these regions within each country because of diversity in cultures, religions, economies, geography, and agriculture. No standard Mediterranean diet exists because 16 countries border the Mediterranean Sea.

  • A Mediterranean diet includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, potatoes, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, heart-healthy fats, spices, and extra virgin olive oil.

  • Olive oil is the primary source of fat and, in addition, low-fat, fat-free dairy products, cheese, yogurt, and eggs.

  • The diet includes more fish. Fatty fish are good in omega-3 fatty acids that help prevent inflammation.

  • It focuses on plant-based foods and avoids processed food. Regular healthy food habits, including vegetables, fruits, and legumes, are very important for women during pregnancy. Health during pregnancy impacts the baby’s cardiovascular health and the baby’s physical health overall.

  • Red wine is included in moderate amounts with the main food.

  • The diet limits or avoids refined sugars, sugary beverages, sodium, severely processed foods, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, sugar in soda, candies, refined grains, refined oils, ice cream, white bread, pasta, and chips. Soda and sweet tea are very high in refined sugar.

  • It avoids processed meat such as sausages and hot dogs.

  • Water is considered the go-to beverage in the Mediterranean diet.

  • Its diet includes poultry instead of red meat.

  • This diet limits fried food and processed food that contains trans fats, which have no nutrition.

What Is the Diet to Reduce Pre-eclampsia During Pregnancy?

The objectives of the Mediterranean diet include:

  • To prevent hypertension and pre-eclampsia.

  • Delivering a healthy baby in optimal time.

  • Restoration of the mother’s health in Puerperium (six weeks after delivering the baby).

The benefits of the Mediterranean diet are-

  • The occurrence of heart disease was less in Mediterranean countries than in the United States. Since the diet avoids processed food completely, it is very good for preventing heart disease and stroke.

  • Olive oil is an important source of fat in the diet because it provides mono-unsaturated fat, which lowers total cholesterol and LDL (low-density lipoprotein), considered the bad cholesterol in the blood. Nuts and seeds also contain mono-unsaturated fat.

  • The diet limits saturated fat and trans fat. Saturated fats can raise high LDL, which is responsible for plaque (fat and cholesterol build up in the blood vessels) formation, also called atherosclerosis in the blood vessels. Both saturated and trans fats cause inflammation of blood vessels. Trans fat has no nutrition.

  • The diet emphasizes healthy unsaturated fats, including omega-3 fatty acids. Healthy unsaturated fats fight high blood glucose levels, support brain health, and maintain cholesterol levels in the body.

  • The diet avoids or limits sodium because sodium increases blood pressure.

  • It includes a diet rich in fiber and antioxidants. Antioxidants protect the body from free radicals, and a fiber-rich diet removes all the waste from the large intestine.

What Are the Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet in Pregnant Women?

  • Multiple studies have shown the Mediterranean diet reduces the risks of cardiovascular disease, preterm birth, and low-birth-weight risk in the pregnant population.

  • Research shows that the results of a Mediterranean diet are associated with a 22 percent lower risk of developing pre-eclampsia because there are no preventive therapies for pre-eclampsia except aspirin.

  • A report from the American Heart Association found that pregnant women who followed a Mediterranean diet had a 20 percent decreased rate of pre-eclampsia.

  • African-American women who did not follow the Mediterranean diet had a 70 percent higher risk of pre-eclampsia than non-African women.

  • The Mediterranean diet improves endothelial cell function.

  • Improves placental vascular function.

  • Plant-based food is anti-inflammatory and decreases oxidative stress.

  • Promotes lower insulin levels with improved glucose control.


There are only a few methods to prevent pre-eclampsia once it occurs. Healthcare professionals believe following a healthy diet can help women from developing risks of cardiovascular complications and lead a happy maternal life. If the treatment is started early, it will keep both the mother and baby safe. If there is a pre-existing hypertension condition before pregnancy, it is better to approach the physician and follow the advice before planning.

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Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop
Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop



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