For some couples trying for a baby can be a walk in the park. But what happens when you’re one of the unlucky ones? Could changing your diet help boost your fertility?
When you’re trying to get pregnant, any number of lifestyle factors can impact your chances: smoking status, exercise habits, sleep, stress, and importantly, diet. In the last 10 years, there has been more focus placed on the importance of diet and lifestyle in relation to fertility.
Growing evidence has shown that diet and nutrition can play a significant part in conception. Not only was it found to improve wellness, but also helped the success rates of medically-assisted fertility treatments like IVF.
Just as important as watching what goes into our body is avoiding potential environmental toxins that may affect fertility.
What is infertility?
Infertility is defined as the inability to get pregnant after a year of having regular sexual intercourse without using birth control. For those who are over 35, an evaluation is recommended after 6 months of trying. If you are older than 40, it is advised that you talk with your obstetrician-gynecologist (ob-gyn) now about an evaluation.
Usually, the common problem with infertility is ovulation. Other factors that may affect female fertility include age, lifestyle, and health conditions. In some cases, no particular cause can be found.
But for the sake of discussion let’s put lifestyle choices in the spotlight—your diet in particular.
How can diet affect female fertility?
Specialists believe that fertility can be affected by our diet. There is evidence that supports that within the reproductive years, our diet patterns prior to pregnancy can have an effect on fertility.
Like other factors that come with your lifestyle, diet is one of the controllable variables when it comes to reproductive health. A lot of women may be guilty of having a poor diet, and sometimes this makes their nutritional status inadequate for the demands of pregnancy. But even if you have plans to conceive or not, it’s important to invest heavily in your nutritional stores because this will give you wonderful returns as you advance in age.A poor diet can wreak havoc on your hormones, which in turn, can lead to ovulatory issues. Click To Tweet
A 2018 Australian study suggests that eating too much fast food and not enough fresh fruit will make it harder for women to get pregnant. This means that eating certain foods and avoiding others can actually improve your fertility.
Meanwhile, good nutrition prepares the body for the arduous process of carrying a healthy baby to term. Even prenatal multivitamins can’t replace the benefits that whole foods bring to the plate. We cannot stress the benefits of eating healthy even before a baby comes into the picture.
What is the Fertility Diet?
The Fertility Diet revolves around the idea that diet and exercise could influence fertility. Rooted in science, the Harvard Medical School researchers who developed it examined data from a large, long-term study that involved over 100,0000 women to learn what they ate and how often they got pregnant.
This was a cohort study, which means that women were followed over time and links were made between what they reported eating and their fertility. As such, the findings aren’t cause-and-effect, rather, these should be taken as healthy recommendations that could help boost fertility.
As a result, the researchers interpreted their findings into digestible suggestions that women can follow to boost their chances of conceiving. The diet and exercise strategies they shared in the book are aimed specifically at ovulatory infertility, which is the kind where your ovaries fail to produce mature eggs during each menstrual cycle.The Fertility Diet suggests that a diet rich in healthy fats, whole grains, and plant-based protein may help improve your egg supply. This can help you ovulate regularly because it can help regulate blood glucose and insulin levels,… Click To Tweet
On one hand, a diet laden with saturated fats, refined carbohydrates, sugary sodas, and red meat has been linked to diminished egg supply and more difficulty conceiving.
What goods can help boost your fertility?
You must know that if you are fertile, proper timing can sometimes be all it takes to get pregnant no matter what you eat or don’t eat. However, there are certain food options that can help boost fertility. So why not get your plate full of the good stuff?
The Fertility Diet boils down to 10 recommendations.
- Avoid trans fats. Eating trans fat raises the level of your LDL (bad) cholesterol. If you don’t keep a close eye on what you’re eating, these are easily found in usual crowd-pleasers such as fried foods and baked goods.
In Singapore, Partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), which are the main source of artificial trans fats, will be banned as an ingredient in all foods sold in the country from June 2021. This includes all pre-packaged foods such as cookies, potato chips and instant noodles, even if they are manufactured overseas. This is part of the government’s push for healthier eating. If there is any group that would benefit from this move, it would be expectant moms, who are still scrambling to find ways to eat healthily.
- Consume more unsaturated vegetable oils. In your efforts to curb bad cholesterol, you must also level up your intake of good cholesterol in the form of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils. To do so, you can add more olive oil and canola oil to your diet, and try to consume healthy fats from foods like fish and avocados.
- Get more protein from vegetables. Instead of a serving of steak, consider plant-based protein like lentils. Research from the Nurses Health Study II found that women who ate higher amounts of animal protein were more likely to experience ovulatory infertility compared to those who ate fewer animal proteins. But before you start researching vegetarian meal plans, you must remember that you don’t have to bid your favorite slab of steak goodbye. You can still enjoy it, or any animal protein for that matter, but you have to take it in moderation.
Just remember to go lean with your protein options. Choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry. Eggs are also a healthy way to get quality animal-based protein in your diet, and they contain the nutrient choline, a vitamin that is essential for women who are trying to conceive to support a healthy pregnancy and baby.
You can also vary your protein routine by choosing more fish, nuts, seeds, peas, and beans.
- Choose your carbs wisely. Choose whole grains, oatmeal and vegetables because these are not as highly refined, compared to simple carbs like white bread and pasta, which can increase ovulatory infertility. This can mean irregular ovulation or lack of ovulation. Researchers at Harvard Medical School who were some of the earliest to look at carbohydrate consumption and fertility found that women who consumed approximately 60% of their calories from carbohydrates had a 91% higher risk of ovulatory infertility.
- Make it whole milk. A study published in the journal Human Reproduction found that women who drank three or more glasses of whole milk a day were 70 percent less likely to be infertile due to failed ovulation. However, whole milk does contain more calories and saturated fat, and should be consumed in moderation. So, if you’re out doing your grocery run, be sure to choose whole milk over skim. If you want to add a dash of fun to your daily dairy intake, you can even enjoy a small dish of ice cream or full-fat yogurt.
- Take a multi-vitamin. Multivitamins are not magic pills. While they may help fill in nutritional gaps, you still need to pair it with a healthy diet. However, doctors suggest that you take it because there are specific nutrients that are essential in boosting fertility and also help your body prepare for pregnancy. For instance, Folic acid (400 mcg) and vitamin B are essential because they play a big role in preventing birth defects.
- Don’t neglect iron intake. Get plenty of iron, but not only from red meat. Eat vegetables high in iron, like spinach, and consider taking an iron supplement.
- Drink water. Did you know that one of the measures for you to be healthy is just to go back to basics? When it comes to fluids, skip the soda and put everything else (e.g. coffee, alcohol) in moderation. It plays an important role in moving hormones throughout the body. It also helps thin out cervical mucus, which may make it a little easier for your partner’s swimmers to get to their goal. Keeping your body hydrated is essential because water carries oxygen and nutrients to your cells, tissues and organs.
- Get to a “fertility zone” weight. Being overweight, obese or underweight can affect a woman’s fertility. You have a greater chance of getting pregnant and having a healthy baby if you are close to a healthy weight. A small weight loss can improve fertility and pregnancy health. The “fertility zone” means achieving a BMI of 20 to 23. Weighing too much or too little can affect your menstrual cycle.
- Be active. If you don’t exercise regularly, starting could help your fertility. If you’re already active, be careful not to overdo it. According to Resolve, low body fat can affect ovulation and fertility.
Keep an Eye Out for Environmental Toxins
Besides eating right to boost fertility, you also have to be watchful of factors that might foil these efforts.
People often overlook certain dangers that are actually present based on how you pack your food. Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates are synthetic chemicals used in scores of products such as vinyl flooring, medical tubings, and cosmetics.
Unfortunately, these components can also make their way into the food we eat. We consume phthalates that leach from food and beverage processing and their packaging materials, even in drug coatings. In addition to that, we can also get these compounds via lotions, makeup and shampoos and we can even inhale particles that off-gas from blinds, shower curtains and linoleum floors.
Studies have shown that BPA and phthalates, which are seemingly ubiquitous in a typical household, are hormone-disrupting chemicals that can interfere with the production, elimination, or binding of any hormones in the body. The reproductive system in particular is sensitive to these compounds.
Reduce BPA and phthalate exposure by replacing any plastic kitchenware that comes into contact with hot food or drinks. You must also minimize canned and highly processed foods. Rather, make it a point to prepare your meals at home, using whole, natural ingredients. If you have any leftovers, reduce storing and heating foods and beverages in plastic containers. You must also be cautious with plastic bottles and other containers—even if it says “BPA free”. Choose polypropylene, HDPE plastic, stainless steel bottles instead. Also be sure to wash your hands when you return home after handling paper receipts (yes that nasty stuff can also make its way there).
Try to avoid using conventional perfume, hair spray, nail polish, and fabric softener. To the extent your budget permits, start replacing other hair care and skin care products with ones labelled fragrance free or, better yet, phthalate-free. When buying cleaning and laundry products, look for brands that are plant-based, fragrance free, or phthalate-free.
It basically calls for a lifestyle change. Oftentimes, we focus on the obvious dangers that we fail the sinister risks that are around us every day.
The Final Word
Eating well is no magic bullet. But lnowing what to eat when trying to get pregnant can help you in your journey to conceive. The bottom line is that eating a nutritious, balanced diet may help fuel your fertility through food and, if you do become pregnant, it will give your baby the healthiest start!
However, it’s also important to note that there are many reasons why a woman may have trouble getting pregnant, and changing your diet alone may not be enough to help you get pregnant immediately. However, it can help increase your chances of pregnancy for most women.
Whether you are just facing infertility for the first time or you have been on your journey for a while, know that you are not alone. If you find yourself constantly wondering and researching, for ways of conceiving, you can turn to Dr Pamela Tan for help. Make an appointment today for your comprehensive assessment and personalised care.
Dr Pamela Tan is a board certified obstetrician and gynecologist in Singapore. She finished her undergraduate studies at the National University of Singapore and earned her post-graduate degree at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK. She is an accredited specialist by the Specialist Accreditation Board (Ministry of Health), and a fellow of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore. She subspecialises in colposcopy and is certified to perform Level 3 minimally invasive keyhole surgeries such as laparoscopic hysterectomy, myomectomy and cystectomy. Dr Pam also supports the natural birthing method and she strives to provide a personalised care and treatment for each patient.