January often feels like the right time to start fresh – making new commitments to a well-lived life. For people seeking to grow their family, many often wonder, “is there anything I can do with my lifestyle to help make that happen?” Thankfully, many dedicated researchers have committed their careers to understand the impact of nutritional choices on fertility. Patients can take this best information to guide their own lifestyle choices as they continue their fertility journeys.
The three dietary patterns associated with the best fertility outcomes have been called the “fertility diet,” “the pro-fertility diet,” and the Mediterranean diet.
The “fertility diet” features:
- More monounsaturated fats, reduced saturated and especially trans fats (Examples of monounsaturated fats include olive, canola, avocado, and sesame oils, as well as nuts and peanuts, while saturated fats often come from animal sources, such as butter and fatty meats)
- More vegetable protein and decreased animal protein
- Low-glycemic carbohydrates (see https://www.nhrmc.org/~/media/testupload/files/low-gylcemic-meal-planning.pdf for a complete list)
- Inclusion of dairy
This diet has been shown to be particularly helpful in women with irregular menstrual cycles and ovulatory dysfunction.
The “pro-fertility diet” includes the elements of “the fertility diet,” plus:
- Supplemental folate/folic acid
- Supplemental Vitamin B12 and D
- Reduced pesticide intake – e.g., avoidance of the “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables, or a change to an organic/selectively organic diet
- Increased whole grains
- Inclusion of seafood (fish and/or shellfish) in the diet
This diet has been shown to be associated with more successful IVF outcomes.
The Mediterranean diet is not simply eating Italian food all the time. Rather, it includes:
- Whole grains rather than simple carbohydrates (e.g. sugars, white rice/bread/pasta)
- Plant-based oils rather than butter and animal fats
- Significant vegetable proteins from nuts and legumes, moderate lean animal proteins from fish and poultry, and minimal red meat
In addition to being associated with better chances of conception (both at home and assisted), the Mediterranean diet has been named the healthiest overall dietary plan for the sixth year in a row by leading nutritional experts.
It is important to recognize that dietary changes are rarely the only thing a couple needs. For instance, no specific diet will open blocked tubes, make fibroids disappear, or serve as a “fountain of youth” to reverse the well-documented impairment that advancing age has on egg quality (and thus fertility). Incorporating these dietary changes generally works best when done alongside fertility evaluation and management by a board-certified endocrinologist.