Their findings appear online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The research was also funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
The researchers utilized information from more than 13,000 women participating in the Nurses' Health Study II. The women were 22 to 45 years old when they enrolled in the study. Every two years they responded to questions on their general health, pregnancy status, and lifestyle habits, such as consuming alcohol or smoking. In addition, every four years they completed a comprehensive survey about the kinds of food and drink they consumed.
About 6 percent of the participants reported having been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. The researchers calculated the amount of animal fat in participants' diets as a percentage of total calories and divided participants into five groups, or quintiles, based on those percentages. Then the researchers compared the risk for developing gestational diabetes for each group. Women in the highest quintile of intake had almost double the risk for gestational diabetes compared to women in the lowest quintile.
They also observed that women in the highest quintile for cholesterol consumption were 45 percent more likely to develop gestational diabetes than were women in the lowest quintile.
"This is the largest study to date of the effects of a pre-pregnancy diet on gestational diabetes," Dr. Bowers said. "Additional research may lead to increased understanding of how a mother's diet before and during pregnancy influences her metabolism during pregnancy, which may have important implications for the baby's health at birth and later in life."
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NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development