Achieving pregnancy is a complex biological process. Among the many factors that affect the ability to conceive are nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits. For women trying to get pregnant, it is advisable to get on a fertility diet for women to enhance overall health and increase the chances of conceiving.
Let Food be Thy Medicine
Hippocrates, the Greek physician widely regarded as the pioneer of western medicine believed that “in food, excellent medicine can be found.” The medical texts that originated around that time all spoke about using dietetic and lifestyle measures to cure health issues, rather than only focusing on medicine.
The concept of the “fertility diet” started forming around 15 years back when a large study involving more than 17,500 women – called the Nurses’ Health Study II – was done. The study followed these women over a period of eight years as they tried to achieve pregnancy. When their nutrition and lifestyle habits were tracked and analyzed, the idea of the fertility diet was formed.
“A nutrition consultant is able to identify gaps in a client’s nutrient intake and work together to make an effective plan. With so much conflicting nutrition information and diet guidelines in the media, it can be difficult to navigate what the most appropriate dietary practices are for each individual.
A personalized nutrition plan, including monitoring and routine follow-ups, allows people to maximize the chance for positive outcomes in health goals and fertility,” nutritionist Olivia Vance weighs in.
As more data came in, it was found that better adherence to the fertility diet and healthy lifestyle measures was associated with a lower risk of ovulatory disorder infertility in otherwise healthy women.
What is the Fertility Diet for Women?
The basic principles of the fertility diet are,
- Consuming more monosaturated fats, and less trans fats
- Consuming more plant proteins
- Consuming high-fat dairy products
- Choosing complex carbs (like whole grains) over simple ones. These are low glycemic carbohydrates, meaning they don’t spike your blood sugar levels post consumption.
- Taking multivitamin supplements
- Eating iron-rich foods
Let’s take a detailed look at these principles of healthy eating – the foods to eat, foods to avoid, and why.
Choosing Healthy Fats
Monounsaturated fats found in plant sources like olives, avocados, coconut, and nut butter help in reducing inflammation in the body. It has also been shown to assist fertility. You should completely avoid trans fats (found in processed foods, and snacks) as it increases insulin resistance. Insulin resistance may lead to weight gain and reduce your chances of getting pregnant.
Choosing Healthy Protein Sources
While both plant- and animal-based protein sources have their own advantages and disadvantages, it is advisable to choose a balanced combination. While consuming meat, choose poultry (as suggested by the Mediterranean Diet) that is free from hormones and antibiotics. Avoid red meat. Fish is also a great source of proteins and healthy fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, the mercury content in fish can increase the risk of ovulatory disorders. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, you must realize that you will have to include a variety of vegetable protein options so that you get all the required amino acids, unlike animal protein which contains all of the essential amino acids. Choose lentils, beans, peas, spirulina, and nutritional yeast to provide you with all the necessary amino acids.
Eat High-Fat Dairy Products
Low-fat dairy increases the risk of ovulatory infertility in women. It is advisable to consume whole milk and full-fat dairy like Greek-style yogurt that will also provide probiotic organisms. Make sure the milk comes from a source that is free from hormones and antibiotics.
Choose Complex Carbs
When choosing carbs in your diet, choose complex carbs like whole grains. These carbs are slowly digested and the glucose is slowly released from them, making it easy for the body cells to utilize it over a period of time. When you eat processed carbs – refined flours and sugars – they are easily digested and tend to create a spike of glucose in the blood. To help cells utilize this increased amount of glucose, the pancreas has to produce more insulin, leading to high levels of insulin in the blood. Regular blood sugar spikes and subsequent high insulin levels in the blood may lead to decreased fertility and other problems like weight gain and diabetes.
Whole grains also contain fiber that helps sustain a healthy gut flora and also eases digestion. They also contain fertility-friendly vitamins B and E. Buckwheat, for example, contains d-chiro-inositol which is known to boost fertility by improving ovulation.
Take Multivitamin Supplements
A high-quality multivitamin supplement will provide nutrients that you might not get in enough quantities from your diet. Folic acid (or folate) supplementation is important to reduce the risk of ovulatory problems. Similarly, a good source of iron is required to resolve problems related to anemia. Some people may feel nausea or constipation when taking iron supplements. For them, it is advisable to eat iron-rich foods like spinach, legumes, pumpkin seeds, apples, etc. Many of these foods also provide antioxidants. Some natural supplements like maca root, bee pollen, bee propolis, and royal jelly are also known to enhance fertility.
What Are the Healthy Lifestyle Measures to Adhere to While Trying to Get Pregnant?
Apart from a healthy, well-balanced diet, you also need to follow certain lifestyle habits to enhance your chances of conceiving.
Moderate exercise – both cardio and strength training – will not only maintain your ideal weight but also help reduce the risk of ovulatory disorders. Studies have found that moderate exercising improves ART (assisted reproductive technologies) outcomes. However, you must be careful not to overdo physical activity as excessive high-intensity exercises have been found to reduce fertility.
Cut Down on Caffeine
While there is no clear strong evidence of a relationship between caffeine and female fertility, some studies have shown that women who consume more caffeine take longer to achieve pregnancy. So if you are planning to get pregnant soon, it is better to limit your caffeine intake. Turn to decaf coffee.
Avoid Processed Soy
Getting pregnant requires a fine interplay of estrogen and other hormones. Phytoestrogens present in soy products may interfere with this process and reduce your chances of aching pregnancy. Avoid processed soy products like powders and protein bars. Fermented products made from whole soy, like edamame and tempeh, are fine.
Avoid Artificial Sweeteners
While it is advisable to cut down on sugary drinks and products as they can spike your blood sugar levels, you should also not use artificial sweeteners as they elicit cortisol – the stress hormone – response. High cortisol levels are known to reduce fertility.
Limit your alcohol intake
Alcohol has been shown to affect fertility adversely. If you can stop alcohol consumption entirely, that is the best option. However, talk to your fertility expert to guide you on how much alcohol consumption is okay for you.
Avoid Smoking and Recreational Drugs
Smoking has a dose-dependent effect on ovarian function. Also, if you stop smoking, you can get back your fertility levels. Similarly, long-term use of recreational drugs will reduce your chances of getting pregnant. Male fertility is also affected by tobacco and recreational drug use. In males, cannabis use decreases semen quality.
Manage Your Stress
Your body knows that having a baby when you are stressed is not good for you and the newborn. So it turns off most of the processes that help make you pregnant if it sees that you are under stress. Psychological stress can quickly translate into physiological stress, as cortisol, the stress hormone, makes the communication between your brain and your ovaries difficult, making conception difficult. So if you are trying to get pregnant, ensure that you are managing your stress well. You may use methods like mindfulness, journaling, meditation, yoga, or just spending some quality time with your partner to melt away the stress and anxiety.
Stop Excess Medication
If you are taking over-the-counter or prescription medicine for any of your existing conditions, talk to your physician about which ones may make getting pregnant difficult or may be harmful to the baby. Your physician will ask you to stop some medicines and may also suggest an alternative.
Following healthy lifestyle habits is key to increasing your chances of getting pregnant. At Dreams Fertility, we have long followed the principle of holistic intervention for optimum reproductive health for all our patients. When patients come to us, we first offer recommendations to improve dietary behaviors and follow healthy lifestyle habits to increase the chances of success with ART, like IVF (in vitro fertilization).
If you are trying to get pregnant but are struggling with infertility issues, schedule a consult with a Dreams Fertility physician today.
Dr. Luis Murrain joined Dreams Fertility in 2021, providing specialty services in Fertility and Reproductive Genetics. With a shared vision that everyone deserves to have the family of their dreams, we are dedicated to helping all of our patients. We believe that families come in all shapes and sizes, and all of them are beautiful. We are proud to have a long history of providing services to all, including gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals and couples on their road to parenthood.