Food for Fertility: Can You Diet for Pregnancy?

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Pregnancy has always been mysterious. It is one of the true miracles of human life. For some couples getting pregnant is like rolling off a log, for others it is a frustrating struggle. No wonder that myths about pregnancy have endured for generations. One of those myths is that certain foods can help you get pregnant.

Almonds have been a fertility symbol for ages. Avocado trees have been called “testicle trees.” Strawberries have been called “love nipples.” And we all know about the aphrodisiac effects of oysters. There is often some truth behind enduring myths, and a growing body of research is finding that what you eat really can affect your ability to conceive.

A lot of what is being studied comes out of the Nurse’s Health Study, which is a long-term research project from Harvard Medical School that looked at the effects of diet on health over many years. More recently, the Harvard School of Public Health published a review of many past and recent studies on diet and fertility.

Taken together, these studies suggest that what you eat matters when it comes to fertility. A lot of the research is common sense. You need a healthy weight and a healthy diet to be sexually healthy. Like all things diet, it comes down to 4 basic components, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and calories:

Proteins

Some proteins are a lot better than others for fertility. Proteins from red meat, especially processed red meat like lunch meats, reduce fertility in men and women. Studies show that women who get the highest percent of their proteins from animals have a 40 percent higher risk of infertility due to ovulation problems.

Better sources of protein for fertility are nuts (remember the almonds) legumes, soy, and beans. Seafood (like oysters) and eggs are good animal sources of protein for fertility. Omega-three fatty acids found in cold water fish have been linked to higher fertility rates.

Carbohydrates

The best carbs for conception are carbs that you digest slowly, called low-glycemic foods. These include whole grains, and high-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables (including testicle tree avocadoes and strawberry love nipples).

Avoid high-glycemic index foods that flood your digestive system with sugar. These foods include white bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, and anything with added sugar, especially sugary beverages. [1] Women who get most of their carbs from high-glycemic foods have about double the risk of ovulation-related infertility.

Fats

If you have been following dietary research news, you know that healthy fat is the new health food. Healthy fats include the omega-three fatty acids and fats from olive oil. In fact, some studies show that whole-fat dairy products are better than low-fat for fertility. Cholesterol is also healthy. Eggs can be part of your fertility diet.

The one fat that comes up as a fertility negative is trans-fat. Trans-fat almost always comes from processed foods. Read the Nutrition Foods Label to find it. Always avoid it. Look for this fat in doughnuts, fries, margarine, and frozen pies.

Calories

This is one of the most researched areas of diet and fertility. It applies to women more than men. Women who are overweight or underweight have more problems getting pregnant. Women who have too little body fat may stop menstruating. Women who have too much body fat may have ovulation issues. So, it’s all about that BMI. The fertility zone for women is a BMI between 20 and 24. For a woman of average height, that would be a weight somewhere between 115 and 125 pounds.

Finally, a final tip for women trying to get pregnant is to have a preconception visit. Your health care provider may suggest a preconception vitamin high in vitamin B-12 and folic acid. These nutrients have been shown to promote fertility.

Christopher Iliades
Dr. Chris Iliades is a medical doctor with 20 years of experience in clinical medicine and clinical research. Chris has been a full time medical writer and journalist since 2004. His byline appears in over 1,000 articles online including EverydayHealth, The Clinical Advisor, and Healthgrades. He has also written for print media including Cruising World Magazine, MD News, and The Johns Hopkins Children's Center Magazine. Chris lives with his wife and close to his three children and four grandchildren in the Boston area.

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