03/06/2014 12:16 EST

Best Pregancy Foods: Specific Diet Can Help Prevent Preterm Delivery

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A new study published in the British Medical Journal found women who consume a "prudent" diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains have a lower risk of preterm delivery.

Preterm delivery is defined as one between 22 and 37 weeks of pregnancy and is associated with adverse health effects.

Building on previous evidence concerning maternal diet and unborn children, researchers in Norway, Iceland and Sweden used data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study to analyze preterm births among 66,000 women between 2002 and 2008. Participants who successfully delivered one baby, were diabetes-free and completed a validated food frequency questionnaire on dietary habits from the first four to five months of pregnancy were included in the study.

Factors believed to affect results include mother's age, education and history of preterm births. Researchers identified three distinct dietary patterns: "prudent," "Western" and "traditional." The "prudent" diet consisted of vegetables, fruits, oils, whole grain cereals, fiber-rich bread, poultry and water. "Western" included sweet and salty snacks, desserts, white bread and processed meat products, while "traditional" featured cooked vegetables, low fat milk, potatoes, fish and gravy.

Out of the 66,000 women, 3,505, or 5.3 percent, had preterm deliveries. The research team found the "prudent" diet linked to lowered risk of preterm delivery, particularly among women having their first baby. A reduced risk was linked to the "traditional" diet as well.

Researchers note pregnant women should increase their intake of "prudent" diet foods, saying this is more important than a total exclusion of processed food, fast food, snacks and junk food.

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