Decoding The Fertility Diet:
The 5 Core Nutrition Principles for Optimal Reproductive Health

Written & Edited by: Dr. Will Haas, MD, MBA & Dr. Ashley Eskew MD, MSCI

Last updated: February 14th, 2021

Prescription to Eat Pineapples for Fertility

When is the last time your doctor wrote you a prescription for pineapples?

And all those stories about yams and bee pollen for fertility… just a myth, right?

So many things are possible today because of advances in modern medicine… Why not just jump straight to assisted reproductive technologies (ART) like IVF or IUI and skip the food talk?

As medical doctors who practice Integrative Medicine (Dr. Haas) and Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility (Dr. Eskew), we understand that FOOD is medicine. In fact, the food that you eat has been scientifically shown to either help or harm your fertility.

That’s why we’ve put together a special mini-series all about The Fertility Diet.

Over the next few posts, we’re going to break down the 5 core elements of the fertility diet. We’ll also be debunking some common food myths as they pertain to getting pregnant. Still, think those yams are going to help?

But before diving in, we should mention that the principles we are going to discuss won’t guarantee you’ll get pregnant. There are some things that lifestyle changes can’t overcome. With that said, when you adopt a pro-fertility diet, you’ll set the stage for a healthy pregnancy and beyond.

The best part? Using food to optimize your fertility and overall reproductive health will certainly cost less than a round of in-vitro fertilization (IVF)!

How the wrong foods can harm your fertility

Spend a few moments searching Amazon’s best sellers list under diet and nutrition and you’ll easily get overwhelmed with the wide variety of books claiming to reveal the perfect plan for your health and wellness.

And while the world of nutritional science is advancing at a rapid pace, if we step back for a moment and simply observe the dietary patterns of the standard Western diet, it’s no surprise that the average person’s eating habits aren’t supporting their reproductive health.

Good thing we don’t settle for average 🙂

So let’s take a quick look and the standard Western diet as it relates to fertility…

To begin, let’s look at a typical dinner plate:

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    Start by piling it with more calories than we can possibly burn, resulting in the accumulation of excess body fat. An overabundance of fat cells promotes inflammation and creates hormonal imbalance, including estrogen dominance and insulin resistance.

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    Now preferentially fill the plate with carbohydrates from high-glycemic-index foods (bread, pasta, potatoes, etc.), driving up both blood sugar and insulin levels. Not to mention that these processed foods are typically nutrient-poor; meaning they’re missing many of the much-needed vitamins and minerals (i.e., folic acid & vitamin D) that help prepare your body for pregnancy.

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    Next, grab a few servings of animal protein (e.g., red meat) instead of fish or plant-based proteins (e.g., lentils). Don’t forget the highly processed proteins – such as deli meats and hot dogs – that come filled with chemical additives. Moreover, conventionally raised animal protein can also introduce environmental toxins (as well as extra hormones) that concentrate in the fat of beef and poultry.

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    Finally add in too many pro-inflammatory fats by way of refined cooking oils, fried foods, and savory desserts. Both the polyunsaturated and partially hydrogenated oils contained in these foods promote hormonal imbalance and cellular inflammation.

The purpose of this exercise is not to scare you, but to create an awareness that what you eat matters, especially when you’re trying to conceive.

This should actually be considered excellent news! It means that the food we eat can improve our reproductive health and overall wellness.

Our goal is to help you understand what foods boost your fertility and help you avoid those that threaten it. Most importantly, you’ll learn how to incorporate this information into a sustainable, everyday lifestyle.

Lessons learned from a group of dedicated nurses

How did we first become aware of the so-called Fertility Diet?

Isn’t it just the same thing as a Mediterranean diet?

Close, but not exactly…

We started to get a deeper understanding of how food could affect fertility by looking at data from the Nurses’ Health Study. For those of you not familiar, the Nurses’ Health Study started following a group of nurses in 1976 who completed regular assessments of their lifestyle and health to identify risk factors for chronic disease among women.

A group of Harvard researchers, including Dr. Jorge Chavarro and Dr. Walter Willett, poured over this research and looked for trends among women most likely and least likely to get pregnant. The initial patterns that they discovered became known as the Fertility Diet, their self-entitled book which was first published back in 2008.

Research relating to the field of nutrition and fertility has advanced significantly since the initial publication of the Fertility Diet, and many new discoveries have been uncovered. However, many of the foundational principles still hold true today.

Over the course of our Decoding the Fertility Diet mini-series, we will summarize the key components of the fertility diet for those of you looking for the cliff notes version. We will also discuss the findings from newer studies and research that has developed since the book was originally published.

Time to get clear on what dietary changes ACTUALLY improve your chances of getting pregnant!

But before we discuss the fertility diet in detail, let’s give a special thanks to all the nurses who dedicated their time so that we could learn how to optimize reproductive health.

The core principles of the fertility diet

Those who have read the original Fertility Diet book know there are a total of 10 lifestyle changes set forth, some of which extend beyond basic nutrition and healthy eating.

We’ve simplified these changes into 5 core principles. These are many of the same principles we teach and apply inside our Fertility Foods Cleanse program.

Here are the 5 core principles of a fertile diet decoded:

Infographic of the 5 Core Principle of the Fertility Diet
  1. Choose “good” carbohydrates including whole grains and vegetables.

    No need to eliminate carbs when you’re trying to conceive, just be mindful you’re choosing the right kinds for optimal reproductive health. That means getting familiar with things like glycemic load and insulin.

  2. Eliminate trans fats and enjoy high-quality ones like omega-3 fatty acids.

    There’s nothing good about trans fat, period. On the other hand, monounsaturated fats and some forms of polyunsaturated fats can help your efforts to conceive. Time to stop avoiding fats and just get

  3. Add more plant proteins into the mix.

    Now’s the time to amend your carnivorous habits and get more protein from plants (bonus points for identifying the song reference, an oldie but goodie). Seriously, plants make an excellent protein source when trying to conceive and there are packed with other pro-fertility nutrients too.

  4. Take a multivitamin with pro-fertility ingredients.

    A prenatal multivitamin is an absolute must when you’re pregnant or trying to conceive. But not all prenatal vitamins have the right ingredients at the right dose to help your efforts to conceive. Learn how to spot a good prenatal multivitamin.

  5. Swap out sugar-sweetened beverages for water or the occasional glass of whole milk.

    Cutting out soft drinks is good for more than preventing gestational diabetes, it also helps you get pregnant. And while water is a great choice, full-fat milk (in place of skim milk) may surprisingly be a pro-fertility beverage.

Remember these principles are just a few of the highlights. So much more has been discovered around nutrition and fertility since this research kicked off almost 15 years ago.

Start Optimizing Your Reproductive Health TODAY
With the Principles of The Fertility Diet.

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Does the Fertility Diet Really Work?

As we alluded to in the introduction, there are some causes of infertility that nutrition won’t fix.

There’s absolutely no diet plan or antioxidant-rich foods that will unblock a woman’s fallopian tubes or fix an irregular shaped uterus. (That’s not to say improving your diet won’t help your overall health and wellness if you indeed struggle with these issues).

Another potential shortcoming surrounding the Fertility Diet was that the original research focused primarily on women struggling with ovulation issues. Women can experience infertility for a variety of reasons including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, or poor egg quality. Even non-gynecological reasons, such as thyroid problems, can impact fertility.

Luckily, there has been a lot of research that has come out since the Fertility Diet book was initially published. We now know so much more about how nutrition affects various conditions among women just starting their fertility journey as well as those facing fertility treatments.

And even though the fertility diet may not be a silver bullet, adopting many of the core principles of this nutrition plan (except for the full-fat dairy ice cream perhaps) will only help improve one’s reproductive health and overall wellness.

Should you have questions about whether the fertility diet is right for your unique situation, you can always join us inside our Fertility Foods Cleanse program or partner with an integrative nutritionist who can provide personalized recommendations.

Final Thoughts

There you have it… the 5 Core Principles of the Fertile Diet (and how they came to be).

Your new-found knowledge doesn’t stop here… Over the next several posts, we’ll explore each of these principles in greater detail. We’re so excited to share all the evidence we know about these topics – no fluff or useless facts that don’t matter.

As you read through the mini-series, keep in mind that the Fertility Diet should not really be considered a ‘diet’ per se. It should be approached as a general way of healthy eating. One that reduces inflammation and promotes hormonal balance, setting you up for a healthy pregnancy and the ability to nurture your family for years to come.

Finally, we want to point out that a fertility diet should primarily focus on food QUALITY, not quantity. Obviously, you don’t want to over-consume calories. But counting calories or focusing on weight loss should never get in the way of consuming nutrient-rich foods that satisfy and nourish your body.

Remember, the food you eat is one of many important factors that you can control along your reproductive journey.

With Love & Empowerment,
Dr. Ashley Eskew and Dr. Will Haas

Whenever you’re ready… put the Fertility Diet into action and increase your chances of getting pregnant today.

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