The Mediterranean Diet for Fertility - How to Eat to Get Pregnant 101Feb 03, 2022
When it comes to nutrition, everyone and their mother has an opinion about what you should eat. Fertility is no exception. I'm sure you've heard everything under the sun from go vegan, to eat all the meat because that's what our paleolithic ancestors did.
But, does what you eat really make that much of a difference to improve ovulation and egg quality, and ultimately to get pregnant?
A team of researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health asked the same questions. Spoiler alert: the answer is, YES. Nutrition definitely does boost egg & sperm quality (hello swimmers! Talking to you too!), improve ovulation and ultimately enhance fertility.
While there's as many variations of "healthy" eating as there are people on the planet, this research clearly found the Mediterranean Diet as the way to go for your fertility.
How much of an impact can diet make on your fertility?
Here's the data: Harvard researchers reviewed 8 years of food diaries from 17,000+ women across the U.S., age 25-42 years old, all with a history of infertility. They gave each woman a score based on how well she followed the “fertility diet”.
Long story short, women who scored the highest were 66% more likely to reverse their ovulatory infertility and have baby*.
Compare that 66% with IVF - In one cycle of IVF:
- only ~42% of women under 35 years old will have a baby;
- those chances drop to only 32.5% for women 35-37 years old; and
- then only 21.6% for women 37-40 years.
Those are not great chances.
This is HUGE! It means that you have better chances of improving your ovulation naturally, through good food, than if you were to spend tens of thousands of dollars on grueling medical procedures - this is great news!**
*Note: the researchers specified “ovulatory” infertility because they were not expecting nutrition to impact infertility due to structural issues like blocked fallopian tubes.
** Also note: if you're going for IUI or IVF - great! You can beat the odds! Good nutrition and the tips to follow will improve your chances of getting your baby.
What is the Mediterranean Diet (a.k.a. Fertility Diet)?
Eat fertility fats:
- MORE olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds
- LESS processed fats like highly refined canola, safflower and sunflower oils
- ABSOLUTELY NO trans fats (watch out for partially hydrogenated oils on the ingredients list of crackers, baked goods, peanut butters and other packaged foods that perplexingly never seem to spoil)
Eat more plant-based protein:
- MORE protein from beans, lentils and soy
- LESS protein from meat (especially conventional beef & pork)
Note: They didn't find that you have to be 100% vegetarian for fertility - just opt for more beans & (brown) rice, and less carnitas.
Also note that quality counts. Meaning, high-quality meat that's raised on grass and not loaded with growth-hormones and pesticides is not the concern. As long as you get grass-fed and organic, red meat 1-4 times per week is fine - even good - for your fertility.
Eat fiberful carbohydrates:
- MORE whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, lentil pasta), sweet potato, fruit, corn and peas
- LESS white bread, spaghetti and pastries
Takeaway: carbs are not bad - in fact, they're good for you (your ovaries need carbs to function properly!), as long as you choose the ones that are full of fiber, and less of the highly refined varieties.
Eat full-fat (organic) dairy:
- MORE full fat dairy (organic and/or grass -fed please :)
- LESS non-fat yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.
There are a few nutrients essential to fertility - like vitamin E for a healthy endometrial lining, vitamin A for cell differentiation and vitamin D for hormone balance - that need fat for absorption.
Dairy (yogurt, cheese, etc.) is a good source of the vitamins A and D, but only in the full-fat version. Just avoid artificial growth hormones by getting organic!
Take high quality prenatal supplements:
Yes, real food comes first. But, even the best of intentions to eat well easily fall by the wayside amidst the hustle & bustle of your full life.
A high-quality prenatal multivitamin fills in the gaps - it's your security blanket to make sure you're getting all of the nutrients needed for ovulation, conception, implantation and cell-division - i.e. to grow another human.
The big picture
A healthy, fertility diet, does not have to mean anything extreme, like going vegan, counting each gram of carb or treating refined sugar like toxic waste.
It does mean, eating like your life is a vacation on a Mediterranean beach. Most meals are a colorful abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, with tons of fish, seafood, nuts, seeds, whole grains and olive oil.
Here's a template for each meal:
Unlike so many factors related to your health and fertility, your nutrition is one area where you have some control. Take the reins where you can.
I bet you have so many more questions. I got you. Shoot me a message.
Stay tuned for more to come about the "don'ts" for fertility - you know, like caffeine and alcohol. I'll cover what the science says about how much is too much.
Here for you,
PS If you know anyone thinking about making a baby, please share this post with them! We all could use more support in eating well, for ourselves and generations to come.
I can help you conceive easily and enjoy a healthy pregnancy.
Fertility is not one-size-fits-all.
As a registered dietitian, I use strategic testing to understand your unique physiology, and a data-driven approach to balance your hormones, improve egg quality and get you pregnant. Let's make a baby!
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