This is a BIG question, and if the answer is “yes”, then we have a huge potential to influence fertility, especially in the year leading up to getting pregnant. After all, we have to eat, so why not make sure we’re fueling fertility at the same time?
It’s really easy to get caught up in what a social media influencer might be telling you about diet and fertility so let’s actually dig into some of the research here.
Is there a best “diet” for supporting fertility?
There’s quite a bit of hype recently around the Mediterranean diet being supportive of fertility, but is it really the holy grail diet we are hoping for?
A 2018 study looking at how the Mediterranean diet impacted IVF cycles showed that for non-obese women under 35 who had a high adherence to the diet were actually 2.7 times more likely to conceive and have a live birth. In women over 35, or in women who were obese, the data was less conclusive.
There are obvious limitations in this study- the ones that catch my eye are that they didn’t discuss how long participants adhered to the MedDiet or whether they were assessed for nutrient deficiencies or inflammation prior to using this diet or proceeding to IVF. While we need more research, this is certainly a good start and I’ve had good results in anecdotally recommending the MedDiet in practice to my patients with PCOS, endometriosis, hypothalamic amenorrhea and thyroid disease.
What about diet and male fertility or sperm quality?
Well the same clinic that ran the study on women using the MedDiet during IVF also ran a study on men that was published in 2017. It found that men who had higher adherence to the MedDiet had higher sperm count and better morphology and motility compared to men with lower adherence.
Why I’m All for the MedDiet
The appeal of the MedDiet is that it is generally considered nutrient-dense, focuses on whole foods (vs processed foods), and really isn’t a “diet” at all- it’s more of a way of eating vs a strict prescription. And given the standard Western diet of processed and fast food is a high calorie, low nutrient diet, the MedDiet is absolutely an upgrade and is likely to benefit overall health as well as fertility.
Beyond the MedDiet…Does eating organic improve fertility?
More recently, we’ve seen some investigation on whether pesticides have an impact on fertility. Multiple review studies have found links between organopesticides and their impact on female reproductive hormone levels, thyroid hormone levels, liver and kidney function. Most of these studies are limited in their conclusions because they have a small number of participants. The bottom line is we need a lot more research on direct and indirect exposure from pesticides on fertility.
One thing we do know about organic food is that it tends to be more nutrient dense- which again, is something we are rooting for in a fertility friendly diet.
While I was deep in the research rabbit hole for this writing this blog post and preparing the Fueling Your Fertility Workshop, I came across a review paper written by a former professor of mine. The review states, “multiple studies show that organic varieties do provide significantly greater levels of vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus than non-organic varieties of the same foods.”
But going organic 100% of the time can add up to hefty grocery bills, so we have to decide which organic foods matter most.
Each year the Environmental Working Group puts out a list of the produce with the highest pesticide residue. It’s called the Dirty Dozen and it can help you decide which produce is most important to buy organic. I also recommend going organic for meat and eggs when possible as certain chemicals are fat soluble and tend to concentrate in the fatty tissue of animals.
We also have to acknowledge that this is also a conversation of privilege, that some people live in food deserts and that people in lower income groups are at a higher risk of infertility.
How to increase nutrient density in your diet and potentially improve your fertility:
- Go Organic when you can afford to, especially with the Dirty Dozen and meat. Soak your produce to further reduce pesticide residue.
- Add more colorful plants to your diet (aim for half your plate)
- Increase healthy fats like olives, olive oil,nuts, seeds, avocado and fish like salmon, sardines, and anchovies
- Use spices and herbs with “wild abandon” as one of my mentors likes to say
- Increase legumes like lentils and beans (aim for 1 cup per day if your digestion allows it)
- If you tolerate eggs, aim for 2 per day as they are a great source of protein, B vitamins and choline
There are so few things you can control when undergoing fertility treatments, but diet and lifestyle are things you CAN control. If you’re feeling overwhelmed about where to begin with nutrition for fertility, help is out there! Contact Dr. Katie Rose to learn about how you can work together to support your fertility using nutrition.
Check out the Fueling Your Fertility Workshop on Friday, February 11th, 2022!
- The trouble with diet culture and how it can negatively impact hormones & fertility
- The main macronutrients and micronutrients you need to focus on in a fertility friendly diet
- The fertile plate template that can help you make any meal into a fertility friendly meal
- Are there really fertility superfoods and
- When to think about food sensitivities and whether you need to an elimination diet
- Where alcohol and caffeine fit into a preconception diet
- How supplements can support nutrient and antioxidant levels
The workshop includes:
- A private Facebook group
- Live training on 2/11 and Live Q&A on 2/18 – both run through Zoom & Live streamed to FB
- Lifetime access to recordings
Early bird rate of $97 until 1/29, then $197 until the workshop begins on 2/11