A healthy fertility diet is one of the first things I mention when couples ask about what they can do to help achieve pregnancy. For that reason, I was interested in an article USA Today published last week discussing the fertility diet. It’s a plan based on research from the Nurses’ Health Study, one of the largest and most comprehensive studies on women’s health.
For years, I have been telling my patients to follow a diet high in protein, vegetables, fruits and iron, and low in fat and carbs. The fertility diet goes into more detail, which I certainly do not disagree with.
The study detailed steps for improving fertility through changes in diet, weight and activity for women with ovulation-induced infertility.
Here is a list of the top 10 recommendations from the fertility diet:
- Avoid trans fats. Eating trans fat raises the level of your LDL (bad) cholesterol, according to the Food and Drug Administration. It’s one of the reasons the FDA has ordered food manufacturers to phase them out.Trans fats are found in fried foods (like french fries) and in baked good (like cookies and cakes).
- Consume more unsaturated vegetable oils. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated may help improve your blood cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association. Add more olive oil and canola oil to your diet, and try to consume healthy fats from foods like fish and avocados.
- Get more protein from vegetables. Instead of a serving of steak, consider a serving of lentils.
- Eat slow carbs. Choose whole grains, oatmeal and vegetables, which are not highly refined, over carbs like white bread and pasta, which can increase ovulatory infertility (meaning irregular ovulation or lack of ovulation).
- Make it whole milk. If you’re trying to get pregnant, a fertility diet consisting of whole-fat diary is the best choice. Opt for whole milk over skim, and enjoy a small dish of ice cream or full fat yogurt each day.
- Take a multivitamin. Folic acid (400 mcg) and vitamin B are essential. The CDC says folic acid helps prevent birth defects.
- Don’t neglect iron intake. Get plenty of iron, but not from red meat. During your fertility diet, eat vegetables high in iron, like spinach, and consider taking an iron supplement.
- Drink water. Skip the soda. Everything else (coffee, alcohol) in moderation.
- Get to a “fertility zone” weight. Being in the “fertility zone” means achieving a BMI of 20 to 24. Weighing too much or too little can affect your menstrual cycle.
- Be active. If you don’t exercise regularly, starting a workout plan could help your fertility. If you’re already active, be careful not to overdo it. According to Resolve, low body fat can affect ovulation and fertility.
The number one recommendation listed is for the use of trans fat to be drastically reduced and I must stress how important that is. I become especially concerned with a diet of excess fat and carbs when women have a hormonal imbalance related to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
I am somewhat surprised, however, with the recommendation of whole milk in the fertility diet, given the increased fat content. While it probably does not impact the normal female attempting fertility, it could have a negative effect on patients with PCOS. Dairy may even have a negative effect on endometriosis.
The PCOS patient may not only be impacted by the high fat in dairy but also by the sugar content as well. Women with PCOS have hyperinsulinemia (thus metformin is helpful). The high sugars can cause exaggeration of insulin output and long term, which can lead to weight gain. Glucose levels fall and have an impact on the menstrual cycle and egg quality.
Below is a list of foods to avoid in the fertility diet, because they can increase inflammation and may negatively impact endometriosis and subsequent fertility.
- Processed and packaged foods
- Gluten, white bread, and wheat
- Dairy products
- Meat (especially red and processed meats)
- Fried foods
While this suggested fertility diet may not be the magic bullet couples are seeking, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Of course, every woman if different, so it is very important to talk to your physician regarding your diet.
In Good Health,
Dr. Chuck Miller