January 15, 2008 / 12:05 AM / 12 years ago

Mediterranean diet wards off asthma

LONDON (Reuters) - Children of women who eat a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits and vegetables while pregnant are far less likely to develop asthma or allergies later in life, Greek researchers said on Tuesday.

And eating vegetables more than eight times a week, fish more than three times a week and legumes more than once a week seems to boost the protection, the researchers said in the journal Thorax.

The combination of healthy foods containing a number of known antioxidants and nutrients likely made the difference but more study is needed to show exactly how, they added.

“Further studies are needed to better understand the mechanisms of this protective effect and the most relevant window of exposure,” Leda Chatzi, a researcher at the University of Crete, and colleagues wrote.

The findings add further evidence to the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet that emphasises vegetables, fish and healthy fats such as olive and canola oil over red meat.

The researchers based their findings on 468 pregnant women tracked for 6-1/2-years after giving birth using questionnaires on diet.

Parents provided details on respiratory and allergic symptoms of their children, who were also tested for persistent wheezing and allergies.

Children of mothers who followed a high-quality Mediterranean diet were 80 percent less likely to have persistent wheezing, the most common symptom of childhood asthma, the study found. They were also 45 percent less likely to develop allergies.

At the same time, children of women who consumed more red meat seemed to be at higher risk of developing these problems while the children’s diet when young did not seem to matter, the researchers said.

Reporting by Michael Kahn; editing by Maggie Fox and Sami Aboudi

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