Eating processed foods in pregnancy linked to risk for preeclampsia

Thanks to everyone who commented and shared on social media about this recent Research Roundup article. Our organization recognizes that talking about certain factors in the cause of preeclampsia, like diet, can be emotionally triggering for our preeclampsia and HELLP community. You did not cause your preeclampsia - research suggests that the cause of preeclampsia has multiple potential reasons, including genetic, physical, and environmental factors. (See our "Cause of Preeclampsia" article)
It's important that our community feels heard, especially when sharing concerns about the quality of research that we share.
We'd also like to share a bit about the Research Roundup process. Our volunteer review team collects peer-reviewed research articles that were published in the last three months on a variety of preeclampsia-related topics. The team then determines 4-5 articles across a few different categories that are likely to be of interest to the community and provides an easy-to-understand summary of the research findings and what they suggest. Sometimes, these summaries come with a brief tutorial of an important concept or research processes. In the case of this article, we explain below that it is a meta-analysis, which is a study that combines data from other studies. This means that the study looks at a large number of cases, but also comes with some limitations on how the data can be interpreted as a whole. Our team chose to share it as one of many studies looking at the complex relationship between maternal diet and pregnancy health. Read more below.

Maternal Consumption of Ultra-Processed Foods-Rich Diet and Perinatal Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Lay Summary: A healthy diet during pregnancy is important for supporting fetal development and growth. Several studies have found a link between a diet of ultra-processed foods and poor health in non-pregnant patients. (Foods like hamburgers, French fries, cakes, ice cream, pizza, sausages, and soft drinks.) Researchers wanted to know if the same thing was true for pregnant patients. So, they combined data from 61 different studies (known as a meta-analysis). This allowed them to look at the pregnancies of around 700,000 individuals. They found that pregnant women eating an ultra-processed foods diet were 28% more likely to develop preeclampsia than patients who did not. These same women were 48% more likely to develop gestational diabetes as well.

Take home message: While there are many reasons a patient may develop complications like preeclampsia, what someone eats in pregnancy can affect risk for pregnancy outcomes. This study suggests that eating ultra-processed foods can increase risk for preeclampsia. More research is needed to better understand this association. Women should focus on a heart-healthy diet of lean, unprocessed meats, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains before, during, and after pregnancy.


Citation: Paula WO, Patriota ESO, Gonçalves VSS, Pizato N. Maternal Consumption of Ultra-Processed Foods-Rich Diet and Perinatal Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2022 Aug 8;14(15):3242. doi: 10.3390/nu14153242. PMID: 35956418; PMCID: PMC9370797.

About Research Roundup

Each quarter, our team of researchers reviews the most current studies related to hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and selects those studies they feel will be of greatest interest to our community to summarize.

Special thanks to our volunteer research team, who under the leadership of Dr. Elizabeth Sutton, make Research Roundup possible: Alisse Hauspurg, MD Felicia LeMoine, and MD Jenny Sones, PhD, DVM.

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