Fertility Diet

By Angie Best-Boss

Ice cream, brown rice, and broccoli? Is that all it takes to make a baby? According to the Harvard researchers Jorge Chavarro and Walter C. Willett, the authors of The Fertility Diet, making changes in your diet just might be the key to bringing home a baby.

The authors described the research behind the book this way: “There were 8,000 women taking part in the Nurses' Health Study, a long-term research project looking at the effects of diet and other factors on the development of chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Each of these women said she was trying to have a baby. Over eight years of follow-up, most of them did. About one in six women, though, had some trouble getting pregnant, including hundreds who experienced ovulatory infertility—a problem related to the maturation or release of a mature egg each month. When we compared their diets, exercise habits and other lifestyle choices with those of women who readily got pregnant, several key differences emerged. We have translated these differences into fertility-boosting strategies.”

The crux of the book is this: a healthy diet with specific foods may be able to help some women with ovulatory problems – which is about 25% of women with infertility. For example, if you’re trying to conceive, the book identifies particular nutrients you should be getting, such as iron, (But not from red meat – from multivitamins or veggies) or avoiding, such as trans fats, (doughnuts = bad).

Say Yes to Ben and Jerry’s

A few tips are pretty standard fare for anyone trying to eat a healthier diet:

  • Eat less than 2 grams per day of trans fat, and try to eliminate it entirely.
  • Eat whole grain foods and use healthy oils.
  • Take a multi-vitamin with folic acid daily (you were already doing that one, right?)
  • Kick the sugary soda habit.
  • The big surprise?
  • Eat full-fat diary products. Researchers aren’t sure why, but they recommend two or three small servings of full-fat ice cream each week, or a glass of whole milk a day provides enough of a boost. Ok, if I have to.

Does it work?

No one knows. As Newsweek reports, “the 10-step plan was formulated from dietary habits collected from surveys—and not actually tested on infertile women. While no one knows whether this plan can truly help women get pregnant, it's based, for the most part, on good nutrition and smart health habits.”

“Better eating is always a good idea for all of us. But, to tell the millions of men and women out there who struggle with infertility that simply eating better will improve their chances of having a baby is irresponsible. First of all, the findings presented in this book don’t apply to the vast majority of people with infertility problems. Instead, they are based on women with irregular ovulation, a condition that affects only a small percentage of infertility diagnoses. And just because a woman ovulates does not guarantee that she will get pregnant. Secondly, will this book only add to the tremendous emotional stress of infertility? Will these interpretations only encourage people to blame their own eating habits for their inability to conceive? There is no doubt that improved nutrition is important; however, this book does not include any definitive evidence that dietary changes will actually increase a woman’s odds of getting pregnant or cure infertility,” explains public health educator Evelina W. Sterling, PhD, MPH, CHES.

It won’t hurt

If you’re just beginning to try to conceive, checking this book out may be a good resource. If you’re been trying for a year or you’re over 35 and have been trying for six months, make an appointment with a health care provider first, then read the book.

The Fertility Diet might help you get back on track with eating habits that have gotten a little sloppy. Stress, long workdays and not planning healthy meals may have contributed to you weighing a little more or less than you would like. Women (and some experts say male partners as well) should aim for a Body Mass Index of between 20 and 24, (between 117 and 140 pounds for someone 5 feet, 4 inches tall) the range that is considered by many fertility experts to be ideal for conception. Even women with much higher BMI can improve their pregnancy odds with losing just 5-10% of their weight.

No quick answers

Following the book’s recommendations isn’t going to hurt anyone. But it might not get you pregnant, either. All the broccoli in the world can’t open blocked fallopian tubes or lower FSH levels.

References

The Fertility Diet: Eat Right to Get Pregnant

Fat, Carbs and the Science of Conception: In a groundbreaking new book, Harvard researchers look at the role of diet, exercise and weight control in fertility.


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