The Fertility Diet: Tip the Scales in Your Favor

The Fertility Diet: Tip the Scales in Your Favor The Fertility Diet: Tip the Scales in Your Favor

If you’re trying to get pregnant, you may wonder if certain foods could boost your chances of conception. While studies are lacking on whether certain foods directly affect fertility, there are some fertility diet recommendations based on findings from Harvard researchers.

According to the findings, the majority of infertility cases due to ovulation disorders may be preventable through diet and lifestyle modifications. In fact, researchers believe that a so-called fertility diet may favorably influence conception for a number of women.

What is a fertility diet?
This fertility diet is based on findings from an 8-year Nurses’ Health Study at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts. The women in the study had no history of infertility and were trying to get pregnant.

Using a questionnaire, researchers reviewed the diets of more than 18,555 married, premenopausal women. After reviewing the data, Harvard researchers concluded that several dietary habits could be part of a healthy “fertility diet.” Here are the recommendations:

  • Eat a higher monounsaturated to trans fat ratio. Getting just 2 percent of calorie intake from trans fats rather than from omega-6 fatty acids was associated with an increase in the risk of ovulatory infertility. Trans fats, which are found in processed foods like doughnuts, pastries, margarine and cookies, are thought to disrupt the hormonal pathway. On the other hand, vegetables, fruits and whole grains have a beneficial effect on ovulation.
  • Eat a high percentage of vegetable protein rather than animal protein. Replacing animal protein such as red meat with vegetable protein may reduce the risk of ovulatory infertility. Healthy vegetable protein includes sources such as beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.
  • Eat carbohydrates that are low on the glycemic index. Simple carbs like potatoes, white bread or pasta, and sugary drinks may boost the chances of ovulatory infertility. Eating slowly digested complex carbs that are high in fiber may improve fertility.  These complex carbs are low on the glycemic index (GI), a numerical system that ranks carbohydrates on a scale of 0 to 100, according to the effect on blood glucose (sugar) levels. 
  • Eat high-fat dairy products instead of low-fat dairy. The fertility diet recommends drinking one glass of full-fat milk (or yogurt or ice cream) daily. In the Harvard study, these high-fat dairy foods were found to possibly decrease the risk of anovulatory infertility.
  • Eat foods high in iron and take a supplement with folic acid. The fertility diet study revealed that women who ate fruits, vegetables, or beans high in iron and women that took iron supplements were more likely to get pregnant.

A supplement with folic acid is important to help your body make healthy new cells. All women must get enough folic acid before and during pregnancy to prevent major birth defects related to the baby's brain, heart and spine. Also, some newer studies report that taking folic acid a year before getting pregnant may help prevent preterm births (before 37 full weeks of gestation).

It’s recommended that women of childbearing age get at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily. Your doctor may recommend as much as 800 mcg daily for pregnancy. (Most standard multivitamins contain 400 mcg.)

How does a fertility diet work?
Researchers believe that this "fertility diet" pattern is linked in some way with a lower risk of ovulatory disorder infertility. They hypothesize that the fertility diet is favorable to ensure balanced levels of glucose and insulin sensitivity -- both factors that play a role in ovulatory function.

Will a fertility diet work for me?
Talk to your doctor about your need for a fertility diet. Ask about your current blood glucose and insulin levels.

Women with healthy insulin levels are more likely to have regular ovulation cycles. Yet women who have diabetes or insulin resistance - which can occur with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) - have a greater risk of irregular ovulation and may benefit from a fertility diet.

Ask a doctor about how diet influences fertility

Sources
  • The Fertility Diet, Fat, Carbs and the Science of Conception, Jorge Chavarro MD ScD, Walter C. Willett, MD, Dr. P.H., Patrick J. Skerrett, editor of Harvard Health Letter. 
  • Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner BA, Willett WC. Diet and lifestyle in the prevention of ovulatory disorder infertility. Obstet Gynecol. 2007 Nov;110(5):1050-8.