When you’re ‘eating for two’ it’s easy to start piling on too many pounds and after your baby is born finding yourself a few sizes larger than you were pre-pregnancy. It may be more serious than you think – too much weight gain in pregnancy can put you and your baby at risk of a multitude of potential complications.
But now a study from China suggests that eating a variety of foods including fish, beans, nuts and yogurt is associated with maintaining a healthy weight gain during pregnancy and this may help protect you and your baby.
A healthy weight gain is vital for a good pregnancy outcome
When you’re pregnant, you need to put on just the right amount of weight. Too little weight gain and the baby may not grow properly in the womb, and there’s a greater risk of premature birth. To much weight gain and you’re vulnerable to a raft of complications in pregnancy, including gestational diabetes, raised blood pressure, and blood clots, as well as increasing the chances of needing a caesarean delivery, and long-term effects on the health of the infant.
That’s why it’s important to get your diet right during pregnancy. In Western populations, unhealthy diets – too much fast food or too few vegetables – have been linked to excessive weight gain during pregnancy.
Which diets achieve the healthiest weight gain in pregnancy?
The latest study looked at whether similar relationships occur between dietary patterns and weight gain during pregnancy among women in China, where dietary habits tend to differ from those of Western populations.
The authors examined data from 5,733 pregnant women taking part in a study in Guangzhou in southern China. Here the typical diet is largely based on rice and soup and this diet was used as the reference diet against which other dietary patterns were compared.
The authors identified six such dietary patterns based on how often the participants ate certain foods, as shown by their food frequency questionnaires:
- ‘richer in cereals’ – the reference group
- ‘richer in vegetables’
- ‘richer in meats’
- ‘richer in fruits’
- ‘richer in fish, beans, nuts, and yogurt’
- ‘richer in milk and milk powder.’
A fruit-rich diet was associated with greater weight gain
‘Consuming a variety of foods and frequent consumption of fruits during pregnancy contributes to a more rapid increase in GWG [gestational weight gain] among pregnant women in China. Findings may be useful in pregnancy weight monitoring.’ – Wei X et al, 2019.
Compared with the reference group, those women who followed the ‘richer in fruits’ dietary pattern put on more weight during pregnancy, and at a faster rate.
As fruits are packed full of vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants, a diet rich in fruit can be expected to offer health benefits to both mother and baby. But the study also revealed a small association of the fruit-rich diet with excessive weight gain during pregnancy – a finding that isn’t in line with previous studies.
The explanation might lie in the fact that certain fruits such as dried dates and watermelon contain large amounts of simple sugars – glucose, fructose, sucrose – which are related to overweight or obesity. It could be that low-sugar fruits are more suitable during pregnancy, and this possibility warrants further study, say the authors.
A varied diet including yogurt was associated with healthy weight gain
The diet containing a variety of foods – ‘richer in fish, beans, nuts and yogurt’ – was associated with a faster weight gain in the second trimester of pregnancy. It was also associated with a reduced risk of inadequate weigh gain, but not excessive weigh gain in this study.
This positive effect could be because women following this kind of diet are likely to lead healthy lifestyles that contribute to a healthy weight gain in pregnancy, explain the authors. Frequently eating a variety of foods provides a flow of essential nutrients and further contributes to healthy weight gain, they add.
‘The richer in fish, beans, nuts and yogurt pattern was related to a reduced risk for inadequate GWG but not excessive GWG, among Chinese pregnant women.’ – Wei X et al, 2019.
Vegetable- and meat-rich diets were not linked to weight gain in pregnancy
The other dietary patterns – those richer in vegetables, meats or milk and milk powder – were not independently associated with weight gain or rate of weight gain in pregnant women in this study.
The authors conclude that eating a varied diet should be promoted and recommended in dietary guideline in China for managing weight during pregnancy.