Choosing the right foods to eat when you’re trying to get pregnant receives a lot of attention.
And for good reason!
Knowing which beverages to avoid (and enjoy) is important too.
“Is my soda okay?”
“Do I have to give up coffee?!?”
“What about the occasional glass of wine?”
If these questions have crossed your mind, you’re in good company.
The mere thought of skipping coffee in the morning is anxiety-provoking for many (Dr. Eskew wouldn’t make it to work without it). And that occasional glass of wine… girl, we feel you.
But we know you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get pregnant and give birth to a healthy baby, even if that means drinking one or two fewer cups of coffee.
In our final post of the Decoding The Fertility Diet series, we’re going to review the facts around the beverages we get asked about most often when you’re trying to conceive.
There’s no way around it, soda is in no way shape, or form a part of a healthy diet, especially when you’re trying to conceive.
The number 2 ingredient in most sugar-sweetened sodas (second to carbonated water of course) is high-fructose corn syrup. If you haven’t stumbled upon any of the work by Dr. Robert Lusting on the evils of high-fructose corn syrup, make sure to check it out.
High-fructose corn syrup, as well as other sweeteners, can wreak havoc on your body by spiking your blood sugar and driving up insulin levels. Overworking the glucose/insulin loop creates inflammation and hormonal imbalance within the body. Over time, soda intake can contribute to insulin resistance, which is problematic for a healthy pregnancy too.
Consumption of as little as one sugar-sweetened soda per day has been associated with a 25% reduced fecundability (probability of getting pregnant in a single menstrual cycle) for females, and a 33% reduction for males — regardless of the caffeine content.
In fact, intake of as little as 1 serving per day has also been associated with poorer IVF outcomes, including a 12% reduction in cycles resulting in a live birth.
If you’ve been thinking about kicking your soda habit, now is as good a time as any to stop.
Simply love the bubbles?
Try club soda with lime or lemon.
If you’re not ready to completely say goodbye to soda, try swapping to diet and gradually cut back. Diet sodas with artificial sweeteners have their own issues (a topic for another day), but they don’t have the same degree of negative impact as regular soda in terms of reproductive health.
Based on our current understanding, the answer to this question is fairly clear…
It depends on the type of milk you choose.
Contrary to standard nutrition advice, full-fat milk (along with other forms of dairy for that matter) is the way to go when you’re trying to conceive.
This has a lot to do with what happens during the production of low-fat dairy products. For reasons that we’ll save for another post, low-fat dairy contains fewer female-type hormones (e.g., estrogen) and a relatively larger amount of male-type hormones (e.g., testosterone) when compared to full-fat dairy.
That means drinking low-fat milk can disrupt your reproductive system, including the process of ovulation. And while this is troublesome for all women trying to conceive, this is especially problematic for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
So what does all dairy talk mean for you?
Well, based upon work from researchers at Harvard, the more low-fat dairy products in a woman’s diet, the greater the risk of ovulatory infertility (85% greater risk with ≥ 2 servings per day compared to < 1 serving per week). On the contrary, the more full-fat dairy in a woman’s diet, the lower the risk of ovulatory infertility (27% lower risk with ≥ 1 serving per day compared to < 1 serving per week).
For our female readers undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF), the best study evaluating the impact of dairy on reproductive outcomes comes from the Environment and Reproductive Health (EARTH) study by Dr. Audrey Gaskins and colleagues. Here’s what her team of researchers found:
Increased dairy consumption as part of a pro-fertility diet did not appear to negatively impact reproductive outcomes.
This is good news for those who enjoy milk, right?
Keep in mind that the EARTH study did not differentiate between low-fat dairy and full-fat dairy. Moreover, the study was centered around a balanced diet including a number of other fertility-enhancing nutrients (e.g., healthy fats, slow-digesting carbs like brown rice and lentils, seafood like salmon and sardines in place of red meat, and a higher intake of supplemental folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin D).
If you’re already a milk drinker (yes, that includes the creamer in your coffee), it’s best to switch to the full-fat dairy version when trying to get pregnant.
However, if you don’t like milk OR dairy doesn’t agree with your digestive system, then feel free to skip it. And don’t worry about getting enough calcium — there’s plenty of calcium in those vegetables you’re getting (consider that a gentle reminder to eat more vegetables!).
We know that milk isn’t your primary concern when trying to conceive.
Coffee, on the other hand, is a way of life for many!
The thought of having to give it up poses a serious conundrum. For many, it’s the caffeine in coffee that’s a must. And for others, the flavor is equally important.
Regardless of why you enjoy coffee, let’s see what the scientific literature shows us about caffeine intake as well as coffee for that matter.
Regular coffee (you know…the pure stuff without the processed food additives like sugar, whipped cream, and caramel) does NOT appear to affect fertility preconception when drinking 2-3 cups per day. This was found to be true for ovulatory infertility as well as infertility due to other gynecology-related issues such as endometriosis or tubal problems.
In terms of outcomes among women undergoing fertility treatments, the data related to caffeine is limited and conflicting at best. With that said, a recent review evaluating data from 5 different studies pulled together (known as a meta-analysis) failed to find a negative association between coffee or caffeine consumption and the ability to conceive.
Although it’s not related to your efforts to conceive, it is equally important to point out that there is evidence to suggest that consuming 300mg of caffeine per day has been associated with a 37% increased risk of miscarriage.
So, until there’s stronger evidence to the contrary, we recommend sticking to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommendations that women who are pregnant, or capable of becoming pregnant, limit caffeine intake to less than 200 mg/day.
For reference, a grande dark roast coffee from Starbucks contains 260 mg of caffeine, and a tall comes in right around 193 mg. Add in some vanilla flavoring and you’re looking at closer to 25 grams of sugar – yikes!
Here is what 200 mg of caffeine looks like for other beverages:
It’s important to note that when it comes to the data on caffeine we’re talking about consuming plain ‘ole coffee here. When you start adding in all that sugar, syrup, and skim milk, then you can definitely start to wreak havoc on your body as noted in the first two sections of this post.
Moderate your caffeine intake to less than 200 mg/day and avoid those overly caffeinated sugar-sweetened sodas and energy drinks.
If you’re looking for ways to cut back on caffeine in your coffee, then consider weaning down to half-caff – just mix in decaf beans with the other half of your regular beans.
You can also try skipping out on any additional caffeinated beverages after your morning pick-me-up. If you’re feeling low on energy at any point in time, make sure to down some extra water or do a quick stretch to get the blood flowing!
Most women are well aware that no amount of alcohol is considered safe to consume while pregnant, or while trying to get pregnant for that matter.
But what about drinking before your efforts to conceive?
Will it negatively impact your chances of getting pregnant?
When reviewing the evidence, it’s somewhat unclear if alcoholic beverages reduce your ability to conceive prior to commencing your reproductive efforts. With that said, it likely comes down to when and how much you drink.
In women undergoing fertility treatment, one study has shown that alcohol intake throughout the year prior to treatment was not associated with any adverse reproductive outcomes, including live birth.
In contrast, another study only noted negative effects of moderate consumption closer to IVF treatment. More specifically, women who drank ≥ 4 drinks per week during the week and/or the month prior to IVF treatment had a 16% lower odds of live birth compared to those who drank less. And when both partners drank at least four drinks per week, researchers noted a 21% lower odds of live birth. So the men better listen up as well!
To further muddle the picture, research looking at women without a history of infertility found that intake prior to getting pregnant (or attempting to become pregnant) did not impair ovulation to the point of decreasing fertility. It’s important to note, however, that this study only looked at ovulatory infertility and not other factors of infertility.
Keep in line with the recommendations of the CDC… In other words, women actively trying to conceive should abstain from alcohol. This is also true for those undergoing fertility treatments as well.
Yes, the occasional alcoholic beverage outside of your treatment time may not be detrimental. However, those who prefer to err on the side of caution should eliminate alcohol altogether. This is certainly our recommendation despite the mixed findings in the scientific literature.
But what if you just experienced an unsuccessful cycle?
Or you lost a pregnancy?
Then, by all means, do what feels right to you.
Consider a glass of red wine instead of a sugar-laden cocktail or beer filled with extra carbohydrates.
Either way, don’t guilt yourself.
And if you’re at a social function and you don’t want to feel awkward with an empty hand (yeah, we’ve been there too), then opt for a club soda with lime OR discreetly ask the bartender to make you a mocktail — no one will be any wiser.
Sometimes it’s nice to have something other than just plain old water.
We totally get it. Besides, there’s a lot more to what we drink besides the taste.
Regardless of your favorite beverage, remember some of the facts you just learned. They could optimize your chances of getting pregnant and giving birth to a healthy baby!
There you have it… our final post in the Decoding the Fertility Diet mini-series. If you missed any of the other 4 posts, you can find them here.
Whenever you’re ready… join other women trying to conceive and reboot your diet for optimal fertility today!
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