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Their study included almost 4,000 women. All of the women had a history of pregnancy-related (gestational) diabetes. That's a known risk factor for high blood pressure later in life, the researchers said.
Women who maintained a healthy diet were 20 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who did not. The study authors said increased body fat was 20 percent to 30 percent responsible for the link between poorer eating habits and increased risk of high blood pressure.
A healthy diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish. Red meat, processed meats and salt are limited in a healthy diet, the researchers noted.
The study was published April 18 in the journal Hypertension.
"Our earlier research showed that diabetes in pregnancy increased a woman's risk of developing hypertension [high blood pressure], even 16 years after giving birth," said study senior author Dr. Cuilin Zhang, senior investigator at the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
"Our current study shows that a healthy diet, which has been proven to reduce high blood pressure risk in the general population, appears to be equally effective in reducing the risk in this group of high-risk women," Zhang said in a journal news release.
Doctors and other health care workers should encourage women with pregnancy-related diabetes to follow a healthy diet and get regular exercise before and after delivery, the researchers said.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, April 18, 2016