When was 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, so why not jump straight to assisted reproductive technologies (ART) like IVF or IUI and skip the eating healthy 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, it has scientifically been shown that the foods you eat can 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 nutrition elements of the diet. We’ll also be debunking some common food myths as they pertain to infertility and getting pregnant.
Still, think those yams are going to help?
But before diving in, we should mention that the diet principles we’re going to discuss won’t guarantee that you’ll get pregnant. There are some things that lifestyle changes can’t overcome, like blocked fallopian tubes. With that said, when you adopt a healthy diet like the one we are about to present, you’ll set the stage for a healthy pregnancy and beyond.
And 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) or almost any other fertility treatment for that matter!
View the Video Recap:
Spend a few moments searching Amazon’s best sellers list under diet and nutrition and you’ll easily get overwhelmed with a wide variety of resources and diets claiming to reveal the perfect plan for your health and wellness. There is a lot of advice on which foods you should and should not eat.
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 🙂
Let’s take a quick look at the standard Western diet as it relates to female fertility…
To begin, let’s consider the typical dinner plate:
Start by piling it with more calories than we can possibly burn in a given day causing weight gain and an increase of excess body fat. Unfortunately, too many fat cells can create inflammation and hormonal imbalance within our bodies, including insulin resistance and estrogen dominance.
Now preferentially fill the plate with carbohydrates from high-glycemic-index foods (e.g., bread, pasta, potatoes, etc.) rather than whole grains, driving up blood sugar and insulin levels. Not to mention that these processed foods are typically nutrient-poor; meaning they’re missing many of the best vitamins and minerals (i.e., folic acid & vitamin D) that help you get pregnant.
Next, choose commercially raised animal protein (e.g., red meat) rather than fish or vegetable protein. Poorly sourced animal protein can introduce extra hormones into your body as well as environmental toxins that are concentrated in the fat accompanying beef and poultry. Don’t forget the highly processed protein such as deli meats and hot dogs that come filled with chemical additives harmful to reproductive health.
Finally add in too many pro-inflammatory fats by way of refined vegetable oils, fried foods, and savory desserts. Both the polyunsaturated and partially hydrogenated fat contained in these foods also promote hormonal imbalance and cellular inflammation… This means eating these fat-filled foods increases the likelihood of infertility.
The purpose of this exercise is not to scare you, but to create an awareness that what you eat impacts your health, especially when you’re trying to become pregnant.
This should actually be considered excellent news!
It means that our diets – along with the specific foods that we eat – can improve our reproductive health and overall wellness as women. We have control over the foods we eat! It also means that we have the power to increase our chance of getting pregnant and giving birth to a healthy baby.
Ultimately, the goal is to help you understand which foods can boost your fertility while helping you avoid foods that can threaten it. Most importantly, you’ll discover how to incorporate eating these foods into a sustainable, everyday lifestyle even if you’re struggling with infertility.
How did we first become aware of the so-called Fertility Diet?
Isn’t it just the same thing as the Mediterranean diet?
Close, but not exactly…
We started to get a deeper understanding of how food could affect fertility in women by looking at data from the Nurses’ Health Study. As you may know, 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 diseases such as heart disease among women.
A group of researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston, including Dr. Jorge Chavarro and Dr. Walter Willett, poured over this research and looked for trends among the women most likely and least likely to get pregnant. The initial patterns that they discovered became known as the Fertility Diet and their self-entitled fertility nutrition book 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 book, and many new discoveries have been uncovered. However, many of the foundational health principles that the authors uncovered still hold true today.
Over the course of our Decoding the Fertility Diet mini-series, we will summarize the key components of the diet for those of you looking for the cliff notes version. We will also discuss newer medically reviewed findings from peer-reviewed studies along with other data that has developed since the book was originally published.
It’s time to get clear on what dietary changes ACTUALLY improve your chances of getting pregnant and becoming healthy parents to a healthy baby!
But before we discuss one of the best diets overall when trying to conceive, let’s give special thanks to all the nurses who dedicated their time so that we could learn how to optimize reproductive health.
Those who have read the original Fertility Diet book know that there are a total of 10 lifestyle changes set forth, some of which extend beyond dietary changes and healthy eating habits and include things such as exercise.
For now, we’ve simplified these changes into 5 core nutrition principles. These are the same principles we apply and teach inside our fertility nutrition program.
Here are the 5 Core Principles of The Fertility Diet decoded:
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 cutting out sugar and getting familiar with things like glycemic load and insulin. Also, any food that contains fiber is important to add to your diet. Increase the percent of carbs you eat from whole grains (e.g., quinoa) and vegetables (e.g., folate-rich greens) and decrease the number of carbs you eat from other sources (e.g., bread and pasta).
There’s nothing good about trans fat, period. On the other hand, monounsaturated fats and some forms of polyunsaturated fats (e.g., omega-3 fats) can help when you are trying to become pregnant. So, it’s time to stop avoiding dietary fat altogether and simply eat more healthy fats (e.g., olive oil) as part of your diet each day.
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 (e.g., lentils) make an excellent protein source when trying to conceive and they are packed with other pro-fertility nutrients (e.g., iron) that will help when you’re pregnant too. Increasing your intake of plant proteins will help increase your fertility.
Supplementation with 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. There are many quality prenatal vitamins for women to take in the preconception period, so learn how to source and spot one that will improve your health and your chances of getting pregnant.
Cutting out soft drinks and sugar-sweetened beverages is good for more than just preventing gestational diabetes, it also helps you get pregnant. And while water is a great alternative, full-fat milk rich in calcium is surprisingly a pro-fertility beverage. We know this might come as a surprise to skim milk drinkers, which is why we reviewed the topic of high-fat dairy vs. low-fat dairy products in another post. Spoiler alert… whole milk has been associated with a lower risk of ovulatory infertility. If milk isn’t your thing, simply skip those beverages with sugar!
Remember these principles are just the highlights of the diet. So much more has been discovered around nutrition and fertility since this research kicked off almost 15 years ago!
Increase Your Reproductive Health and Fertility TODAY
With the Principles of The Fertility Diet.
There is more to all those so-called fertility diets out there than the right or wrong foods to eat. In fact, some studies show that the relative amount of macronutrients that you eat (e.g., protein, fat, carbohydrate) matter too.
In each of the separate posts in our series, we will dive into the ideal macronutrient consumption for your fertility-enhancing diet. But, for now, just know that any sort of extreme adjustment one way or the other is unlike to help your chances of getting pregnant.
As we alluded to in the introduction, there are some causes of infertility that your diet won’t fix…
There’s absolutely no diet plan or antioxidant-rich food 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 infertility issues).
Another potential shortcoming surrounding the Fertility Diet was that the original research focused primarily on those 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 trusted 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 infertility treatments.
And even though the 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 better reproductive health and overall wellness…. Who says food doesn’t matter?
Should you have questions about whether this type of diet is right for you and your unique situation, we’d love for you to join us for our advanced training on this important health and fertility topic. You can also partner with an integrative nutritionist who can provide personalized recommendations for you to try too.
There’s absolutely no question about it, women struggling with infertility are faced with many challenging decisions when trying to get pregnant.
What should you do about low AMH levels…
Which fertility center should you attend…
Should you skip IUI and go straight to IVF…
What medications are best…
And the list goes on.
So instead of getting overwhelmed by the thought of changing your diet or worrying about the best foods to eat, focus on making just one change at a time and be patient with yourself as you make changes to your diet.
If you’re up for a challenge, choose the nutrition principle you know that you need to work on the most… Or pick the one that’s the easiest to implement and go from there. Whatever you decide, stay flexible, and don’t feel guilty if you don’t stick to the diet 100% of the time.
Remember, part of your fertility journey is about giving yourself grace. And if you find yourself struggling with emotional eating, check out our post on how to maintain a healthy relationship with food while experiencing infertility.
There you have it!
The 5 Core Principles of the Fertility 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 about the diet 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 help you get pregnant.
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 new way of healthy eating – one that reduces inflammation, helps maintain a healthy weight, and promotes hormonal balance, setting you up for a healthy pregnancy along with the ability to nourish 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.
Whenever you’re ready, click the link below and discover how to implement the principles of the fertility diet into action even if you already eat clean and take all the best fertility supplements.
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