When it comes to planning conception, some things are no brainers. No smoking and abstaining from alcohol are amongst the obvious. And now we’re heavily confused as to whether diet can play a role too.
There Is No Direct Evidence That Says So
To answer that question up front, there has been no proof that clearly states whether following a certain diet or eating a certain kind of food or food set can boost fertility, or cure infertility. Whatever research has been conducted so far, tells us the same thing we’ve been hearing all our lives about eating healthy. And this is pretty much the closest we can get to making perfect little babies. So even though following a certain diet may not guarantee a pregnancy, it still has no side effects and sets the stage for a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy. Plus, it also lays the foundation to a healthy eating strategy not just for motherhood, but for several years beyond. And no matter what way you look at it, this is a winning combination.
What You Need To Know About Research On Diet And Fertility
Before we proceed to list out the various diets that research suggests may help with fertility, it is important to note that conducting research on diet is not an easy task. It is practically impossible to keep a close watch on the food and activities of the people being studied unless you isolate them completely from their surroundings. It is also not an ethical practice to force one group of people to down junk food for days on end while making another group eat only healthy food, solely for the benefit of research.
Almost all studies that are conducted on diet and fertility are conducted by closely observing a group of people who may not necessarily be fertility patients and their dietary habits. The latter is further analyzed by interviewing each participant in detail about their food practices, so the data that is collected is based sheerly on how accurately the subjects recall the details and how honest they are. Therefore, the conclusion may or may not be entirely correct. In order to make the evidence as flawless as possible, researchers often ask their subjects to maintain food diaries.
The next step is to analyze the fertility of these individual subjects. This is done by revisiting the subject’s medical history to check for pregnancy rates (although this is rare), symptoms of infertility, diagnosis of infertility, semen analysis tests, and hormonal panels, or any mention of the subject having taken more than a year to conceive. Sometimes, they may only take one or multiple fertility aspects into consideration.
Based on the results, the data is collated and helps the researchers segregate their subjects into two separate categories according to better or worse fertility (these comparisons are made amongst the subjects within the group).
Now that you know how the research on these subjects is usually conducted, it will become obvious that a certain amount of discretion needs to be practiced when it comes to actually applying these findings in real life. Besides, you also need to remember that everyone’s body is built differently. A certain diet may not suit you while it suits someone else, regardless of whether it is healthy or not.
Now that we’re done with the disclaimer bit, let’s move on to some diets that research thinks may boost fertility. Remember – the key word here is ‘may’.
Diets That May Help Boost Fertility
1. The Mediterranean Diet
Researchers have suggested that women who follow a Mediterranean diet are more likely to get pregnant sooner. Plus, it has also been found that a Mediterranean diet can bring down the risks of cancer and heart disease. It may also offer a decent amount of protection against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease.
So what exactly is The Mediterranean Diet? From what it entails, eating like the Greeks does sounds quite delicious!
- Plant-based: This means only one thing. The diet is founded mainly on fresh foods in their most natural form that go through minimal processing. Foods like lentils, nuts, beans, seeds, whole grains, fruits, and veggies are the hallmark staples of this diet and find their way to your table at least six servings in a day.
- Eating seafood: This diet recommends eating seafood or fish twice a week at the very least. Seafood, especially fatty fish is rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- Consuming healthy fats: This diet substitutes saturated fats like vegetable oil and butter. Instead, bread, meat, and vegetables are cooked with olive oil.
- Seasoning with herbs: Cooking and seasoning with fresh herbs and spices bumps up the flavor of your food by several notches, thereby allowing you to go easier on the salt.
- Moderate servings of animal protein: These become more of a side dish, rather than the main course. The more preferred sources of protein include eggs, yogurt, chicken, and a variety of cheeses.
- Sparse servings of sweets and red meat: This means you don’t have to worry about empty calories, and extra fat deposits around your waistline, or cholesterol and heart disease.
As far as the Mediterranean lifestyle is concerned, decent amounts of exercise, and indulging in family time where food is shared amongst each other are important elements. These have also been shown to contribute to a long, healthy, and much happier life.
2. The Nurses’ Health Study Fertility Diet
The Fertility Diet is a study from the landmark Nurses’ Health Study. This fills a fair amount of critical information gap regarding diet and fertility.1 It involved closely observing 17,544 married women over eight years. The researchers basically took note of and evaluated certain diet and lifestyle factors that had previously been proven to affect ovulatory infertility. Each woman was assigned a score card of one to five based on how many ‘fertility friendly’ lifestyle factors she followed.
The study found that those women who followed none of the fertility-friendly lifestyle practices were six times more likely to face ovulatory fertility problems as compared to those who followed at least five or more of these factors.
Here’s what the diet recommends:
- Be partial to monounsaturated fats: These are contained in foods like avocado, salmon, tuna, and olive oil and are healthy for the heart. Trans fats like margarine and shortening are very likely to increase your risks of obesity and heart disease.
- Make plants your main source of protein: Beans and lentils are healthier sources of protein than animal sources like red meat that may contribute to buildup of ‘bad cholesterol’.
- Eat more complex carbs: Choose whole grain bread, brown rice, and oats over refined carbohydrates like white bread and white rice. The former is richer in fiber and will keep you full for longer, as compared to their refined counterparts that are high in excess sugars.
- Go full-fat when it comes to dairy: Low-fat will have other harmful additives that you don’t want to consume. Choose whole milk, or full-fat yogurt, and maybe even indulge in an occasional bowl of ice cream!
Lifestyle factors recommended by the Fertility Diet include taking a multivitamin regularly, engaging your body in a fair amount of exercise every day, and maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI)
3. Diets For Stabilizing Blood Sugar IN PCOS
Having Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS increases a woman’s risk of infertility. Even if she does get pregnant, the chances of miscarriage are fairly high. Therefore it only makes sense that a diet that can help bring down the effects of PCOS may also help boost fertility.
PCOS is thought to be associated with insulin resistance, where the body’s cells stop resisting insulin, causing more of this hormone to be produced in the process. This will lead to less absorption of sugar by the cells, thereby causing it to remain in the bloodstream. As a result, your blood sugar sky rockets. For this reason, a diet that helps in stabilizing blood sugar levels is ideal for helping to treat PCOS, and maybe, in turn, even infertility.
The dietary habits include:
- Eating low-glycemic index foods: These are fairly low in sugar content and will, therefore, encourage less sugar consumption.
Pair high-glycemic foods with proteins: If you must eat high-glycemic index foods, try to serve yourself some protein or healthy fats as well. This will help bring down the overall impact of the sugar on your body.
- Eating more complex carbohydrates: Because whole grain bread, brown rice, and old fashioned oats are low in sugar content and high in fiber as compared to refined carbs like white bread and white rice.
- Making proteins your main source of calories: Eat plenty of eggs, chicken, fish, and dairy products for energy, and cut down on carbohydrates like pasta, bread, and rice.
- Going heavy on the breakfast: This will help you stay full and give you enough energy to run your day. You won’t feel the need to snack on quick hunger-fixes that are full of empty calories. If you’re worried about taking in too many calories, why not cut down on the serving sizes during dinner, which is a healthy practice anyway?
Maintaining a healthy weight by exercising yourself regularly should also be made a part of your daily routine for these have been found to greatly improve fertility rates.
4. Foods Rich In Nutrients May Boost Fertility
A “Western diet” may seem tempting to most of us, but could adversely affect your fertility. People who indulge in this kind of a diet eat plenty of junk food, refined carbs, energy drinks, sweets and red or processed meats. As compared to those who stick to a “Prudent diet” or one that involves eating more fish, chicken, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, ‘Western Diet’ followers demonstrate decreased progressive sperm motility. In other words, the sperm analysis of the followers of the ‘Prudent Diet’ displayed sperm that swam swiftly forward in the right direction, that is towards the egg. The faster and more active the sperm, the larger are the chances of fertilization taking place successfully.2
5. The Effect Of Diet On Endometriosis
We are all aware that endometriosis comes with painful cramps. And this can have a significant impact on fertility. It’s hard to tell whether diet plays a role in boosting pregnancy in women with endometriosis since very little research has been conducted on this subject. It is also fairly hard to tell whether dietary habits are caused by endometriosis, or whether they’re the actual cause of endometriosis. For instance, we wonder if drinking coffee can increase a woman’s risks of endometriosis or whether the lethargy and tiredness caused by endometriosis causes women to consume more caffeine.
Also, research on diet and endometriosis is fairly contradictory. While one study declares drinking coffee may lead to endometriosis, another may state no such observation.
Nevertheless, it is never intelligent to completely ignore studies, for they do make some good points. So here are a few dietary mistakes that could exacerbate endometriosis:
- Eating too much red meat.
- Consuming high levels of trans fatty acids and saturated fats like butter and margarine.
- Downing two or more cups of coffee each day (though some studies report no such evidence).
Some dietary habits associated with a reduced risk of endometriosis are as follows:
- Eating plenty of green vegetables and fruits (though some studies reported this makes no difference).
- Eating three or more servings of dairy each day.
- Consuming healthy doses of omega-3 fatty acids from sources like fish oil helped bring down the pain during menstruation in some women.
Note: Taking dairy entirely out of one’s diet was found to have significantly helped improve symptoms of endometriosis in some women. However, these women were found to be lactose intolerant. It is, therefore, possible that excluding dairy products helped improve the symptoms of lactose intolerance in these women, rather than improving endometriosis, and this is what helped bring down abdominal and pelvic pain.
Therefore, dairy may not worsen endometriosis; it may in fact help improve this condition. Although no conclusive evidence has been reached regarding this matter, the fact that vitamin D has immune regulatory effects in chronic inflammatory responses seems like a plausible explanation.3
In case you’re sensitive to milk, consult your doctor to see if he recommends you taking calcium or vitamin D supplements to compensate for the loss of dairy and its benefits in your diet.
|↑1||Fisher, Susan. “The fertility diet: Groundbreaking research reveals natural ways to boost ovulation & improve your chances of getting pregnant.” The Journal of clinical investigation 118, no. 4 (2008): 1210.|
|↑2||Gaskins, Audrey J., Daniela S. Colaci, Jaime Mendiola, Shanna H. Swan, and Jorge E. Chavarro. “Dietary patterns and semen quality in young men.” Human reproduction 27, no. 10 (2012): 2899-2907.|
|↑3||Almassinokiani, Fariba, Sepideh Khodaverdi, Masoud Solaymani-dodaran, Peyman Akbari, and Abdolreza Pazouki. “Effects of vitamin D on endometriosis-related pain: a double-blind clinical trial.” Medical science monitor: international medical journal of experimental and clinical research 22 (2016): 4960.|