Eat This, Not That
When undergoing IVF, you’ll take several different types of fertility medications that stimulate follicular growth, help you ovulate, and others that help your body release its own hormones to get the process going. Although these medications are designed to do their job successfully, there are other ways in which you can boost your fertility.
What we eat (or don’t eat) certainly has an impact on our reproductive systems. Let’s consider the most obvious example: when women don’t take in enough calories on a daily basis, they will eventually stop menstruating. Our bodies know, based on what we’re eating, whether we should prepare for the possibility of pregnancy, or save energy for other things.
Although there is no one “fertility diet,” there is a lot of strong evidence to help direct our food choices along the way. In this article, we will take a look at which foods to avoid, which to limit, and what you should definitely eat in order to boost your fertility.
Definitely Eat This:
Even though there’s no one size fits all diet plan, most research suggests that a balanced diet of whole grains, fish, poultry, vegetables, and fruits–in other words, the Mediterranean diet–is the way to go for the best results. Here are Crown Fertility’s top, must-eat picks and why:
Salmon, walnuts, flax seeds & chia seeds
What do all of these have in common? Each one of these foods is high in omega 3 fatty acids. Typically we think of omega 3’s as good for our brain development and health (especially in pregnancy), but they’re also tied to better treatment outcomes in women undergoing assisted reproduction. In other words, the higher your diet is in omega 3 fatty acids, the more likely you are to get pregnant and/or have a live birth (10). If you’re not a big fan of any of these, you can also use walnut oil, flaxseed oil, or take a cod liver oil supplement to boost your omega 3 intakes.
Spinach always seems to appear on every healthy food list, and for good reason! Spinach is packed with so many essential vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants. One mineral in particular is the reason spinach deserves a spot on this list, and that’s folate. Although folate has been studied extensively for its reproductive benefits, one study looked specifically at women undergoing assisted reproduction, like IVF, and found that a higher intake of folate is associated with a successful pregnancy (i.e. live birth) (11).
Besides falling under the whole grain category of the Mediterranean diet, the fiber content of oatmeal is what puts this food in the must-eat category. Results of the Nurses’ Health Study II–a study which followed over 17,000 women for 8 years–found that women who had higher intakes of fiber were at a lower risk for infertility (12). The benefits of fiber don’t just stop there either. Fiber is good for your digestive system (it keeps you regular), your heart, and for blood sugar control.
Alcohol & Caffeine
Not so surprisingly, there is a decent amount of research on these two substances and their effects on fertility. What is surprising is that the general consensus is inconclusive (1). So far, it appears that neither one, in normal amounts, is capable of decreasing fertility. However, that doesn’t mean we should forget that alcohol is definitely best in moderation, and excessive caffeine can also lead to negative side effects, such as anxiety and insomnia.
Similarly to alcohol and caffeine, there isn’t exactly enough evidence for or against dairy to really put it in the definitely eat or avoid categories. Studies are inconclusive at best (1). Dairy products are an excellent source of some essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D and calcium, and can be part of any healthy diet–but what really puts dairy in the “limit” category is that a healthy diet consists of only a moderate amount of dairy, according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans. For example, just one slice of processed cheese (2 oz) already meets one-third of the daily recommendation.
Unless you have special dietary needs, allergies, or other health concerns, there’s no reason to truly cut out any food group from your diet entirely. However, there are some things that can, in some cases, do more harm than good.
Excessive Sugar & Artificial Sweeteners
OK so excessive sugar is something you probably can definitely cut out of your diet and leave it out forever. The facts are that Americans consume so much added sugar (sugar that is added to a product versus sugar naturally present in a food), that it’s contributing to major health problems such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
When it comes to fertility, studies have shown that excessive sugar intake, in the form of sodas and energy drinks, negatively affects fertility in both women and men (2, 9). In fact, according to a study presented by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, diet sodas and other beverages with artificial sweeteners can also decrease oocyte quality (lowering your chance of successfully getting pregnant) (3).
Red Meat & Processed Meat
In addition to being high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and in some cases preservatives, red meat and processed meat provide us with one more thing: inflammation.
Inflammation plays a large role in disease, cancer development, and yup, reproductive outcomes (5, 6). This is important to consider because certain foods we eat have the ability to contribute to this inflammation, specifically red meat and processed meats (ie salami, jerky, deli meats).
We know that inflammation associated with reproductive disorders is related to an increased risk of fertility and pregnancy complications (6). We also know from several studies that red meat and processed meat appears to contribute to inflammation throughout the body (5, 7). Thus, red meat and processed meat is on the avoid list if you’re considering IVF.
Phew, that was a lot! Pregnancy can be scary, but just remember that good nutrition is not necessarily going to be the deciding factor on whether or not you have a successful IVF treatment. So don’t stress if your diet isn’t perfectly “fertility-friendly.” In fact, Crown Fertility supplements are a great way to help boost your nutrition when thinking about or going through the IVF process.
1. Panth et al, 2018. The Influence of Diet on Fertility: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6079277/
2. Wesselink et al, 2016. Caffeine and Caffeinated Beverage Consumption: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4907331/
3. Artificial sweeteners – do they bear an infertility risk? American Society for Reproductive Medicine: https://scientific.asrmcongress.org/Portals/1/2016PDFs/2016AbstractSupplement.pdf?ver=2016-09-09-093055-120
5. Chai et al 2017. Dietary red and processed meat intake: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5540319/
6. Vannuccini et al, 2016. Infertility and reproductive disorders: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26395640
7. Red meat intake is associated with metabolic syndrome: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19074209/
8. Dietary guidelines for Americans: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/dietary-guidelines
9. Hatch et al 2018. Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29384791
10. Chiu et al, 2018. Serum omega-3 fatty acids and treatment outcomes: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29136189
11. Gaskins et al, 2014. Dietary folate and reproductive success: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4172634/
12. Chavarro et al, 2007. Diet and lifestyle in the prevention of ovulatory disorder infertility: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17978119
May 08, 2019