Diet and Fertility
Diet plays an important role in increasing fertility potential. Our food choices can have a positive effect on reproductive functioning in a number of ways. It’s thought that certain food items support reproductive efforts, promote the health of the woman’s eggs and the sperm of the male, and provide nutrients crucial for hormonal functioning, production, and balance.
In addition to the direct impact of nutrients on fertility, the food choices we make are critical for building up our nutrition and for ensuring that we have all the building blocks needed for an embryo to grow and develop.
Studies show that a healthy diet can improve fertility and the health of a pregnancy.
Diets rich in unsaturated fats, whole grains, vegetables, and fruit are linked to both male and female fertility. While evidence of the role milk, alcohol, and coffee play is inconclusive, unsaturated fats and sugar are more substantially linked to bad fertility outcomes among men and women.
But what does a healthy diet look like?
Below are a few clues taken from a recently-published summary of studies that discuss the influence of diet on female and male fertility.
Two main messages have emerged:
The first message is to reduce consumption of fast food and sweetened beverages.
Fast food is full of what is called “trans fat” (trans fatty acids), which is considered “bad fat”. A few examples of food items with a lot of trans fat: french fries, doughnuts, deep-fried fast food, margarine, cookies, baked goods, and processed foods, such as crackers and microwaved popcorn. The worst thing in sweetened beverages is that they contain a lot of sugar that converts to fat when it is processed in the body. A 375ml can of Coca-Cola, for example, contains almost 10 teaspoons of sugar! And while we may think that fruit drinks are healthy for us, a cup of orange juice contains the equivalent of five teaspoons of sugar.
The second message is to stick as close as possible to the Mediterranean diet.
Many of the food sources that are considered good for fertility are similar to the food ingredients in a Mediterranean diet. This type of diet is rich in plant food, namely, full grains, fruit, vegetables, and healthy fats. A Spanish study that was done on more than 2,000 women discovered that only 17% of the women who followed a strict Mediterranean diet reported having fertility problems, compared to 26% of women who followed a “western diet” that included fatty meats and highly processed food.
The Mediterranean diet consists of a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grain, legumes, fish, and olive oil, and very little red meat. These foods are connected to good health and are recommended by nutritionists. Studies show that the Mediterranean diet can also stimulate fertility and reduce the risk of gestational diabetes (diabetes that starts during pregnancy).
In order to change to a Mediterranean diet, you have to:
- Eat more fruit and vegetables. Try to eat at least 7 to 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
- Change to eating whole-wheat bread, whole grains, like bulgur. Use healthy fats whenever possible.
- It’s recommended to replace butter with olive oil during cooking and to try to dip bread into olive oil rather than smearing butter or margarine on it.
- Eat more seafood.
- Eat less red meat and replace it with fish, nuts, chicken, or beans. If you eat red meat, make sure that it’s lean and eat small portions of it.
- If you drink milk, move to full milk and give up on low-fat milk products. Full-bodied yoghurt and small amounts of a variety of cheeses are allowed.
A study conducted on a large group of couples who were trying to conceive showed that there is a correlation between the time it took to conceive and the amount of seafood the men and women ate.
Another study shows that the Mediterranean diet improves the outcome of IVF treatments. According to the study, the Mediterranean diet helped infertile women to have a greater number of fertilized embryos and to have more embryos available during the IVF cycles.
Another study showed that eating fish is linked to a higher incidence of live births following fertility treatments.
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