But, does what you eat really make that much of a difference to improve ovulation and egg quality and get pregnant? Can a fertility diet plan actually improve your odds of getting pregnant?
A team of researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health asked the same questions. Spoiler alert: the answer is, YES.
Nutrition definitely does boost egg & sperm quality (hello swimmers! Talking to you too!), encourage hormone balance, promote regular ovulation and ultimately improve your chances of a healthy pregnancy.
While there’s as many variations of “healthy” eating as there are people on the planet, this research clearly found the Fertility Diet, which is essentially the Mediterranean Diet, is the way to go for your fertility.
Here’s what you need to know about following a healthy fertility diet:
Can you actually improve fertility with diet?
Yes, you can!
Here’s the data: Harvard researchers reviewed 8 years of food diaries from 17,000+ women across the U.S., ages 25-42 years old, all with a history of infertility. They gave each woman a score based on how well she followed a specific healthy “fertility diet”.
Long story short, women who scored the highest were 66% more likely to reverse their ovulatory infertility and have baby*.
Compare that 66% with IVF – In one cycle of IVF:
- only ~42% of women under 35 years old will have a baby;
- those chances drop to only 32.5% for women 35-37 years old; and
- then only 21.6% for women 37-40 years.
Those are not great odds.
This is HUGE! It means that you have better chances of improving your ovulation, through good foods that boost fertility naturally, than if you were to spend tens of thousands of dollars on grueling medical procedures – this is great news!**
So what does a healthy fertility diet for women look like? Keep reading for more details, as well as a comprehensive fertility foods list and fertility diet recipes.
*Note: the researchers specified “ovulatory” infertility because they were not expecting nutrition to impact infertility due to structural issues like blocked fallopian tubes.
** Also note: if you’re going for IUI or IVF – great! You can beat the odds! Good nutrition and the tips to follow will improve your chances of getting your baby.
What is the Mediterranean Diet (a.k.a. Fertility Diet)?
The Mediterranean Diet (a.k.a. the Fertility Diet – read the book – as coined by said Harvard Researchers) includes the following nutrition guidelines and recommends some specific foods that increase fertility in women:
Eat fertility fats:
- MORE olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds
- LESS processed fats like highly refined canola, safflower and sunflower oils
- ABSOLUTELY NO trans fats (watch out for partially hydrogenated oils on the ingredients list of crackers, baked goods, peanut butters and other packaged foods that perplexingly never seem to spoil)
Eat more plant-based protein:
- MORE protein from beans, lentils and soy
- LESS protein from meat (especially conventional beef & pork)
Note: They didn’t find that you have to be 100% vegetarian for fertility – just opt for more beans and (brown) rice, and less carnitas.
Also, quality counts when it comes to this fertility foods list. Meaning, high-quality meat that’s raised on grass and not loaded with growth-hormones and pesticides is not the concern. As long as you get grass-fed and organic, red meat 1-3 times per week is fine – potentially even good – for your fertility.
Eat fiberful carbohydrates:
- MORE whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, lentil pasta), sweet potato, fruit, corn and peas
- LESS white bread, spaghetti and pastries
Takeaway: carbs are not bad – in fact, they’re good for you (your ovaries need carbs to function properly!), as long as you choose the ones that are full of fiber, and less of the highly refined varieties. Carbs play an important role in a healthy fertility diet.
Eat full-fat (organic) dairy:
- MORE full fat dairy (organic and/or grass -fed please 🙂
- LESS non-fat yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.
There are a few nutrients essential to fertility – like vitamin E for a healthy endometrial lining, vitamin A for cell differentiation and vitamin D for hormone balance – that need fat for absorption.
Dairy (yogurt, cheese, etc.) is a good source of the vitamins A and D, but only in the full-fat version. Just avoid artificial growth hormones by getting organic!
Take high quality prenatal supplements:
Yes, real food comes first. But, even the best of intentions to eat well and follow a fertility diet plan easily fall by the wayside amidst the hustle & bustle of your full life.
A high-quality prenatal multivitamin fills in the gaps – it’s your security blanket to make sure you’re getting all of the nutrients needed for ovulation, conception, implantation and cell-division – i.e. to grow another human.
What’s for lunch on a healthy fertility diet?
A healthy, fertility diet does not have to mean anything extreme, like going vegan, counting each gram of carb or treating refined sugar like toxic waste. It doesn’t even have to mean following a fertility diet meal plan.
It does mean, eating like your life is a vacation on a Grecian beach. Most meals are a colorful abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, with tons of fish, seafood, nuts, seeds, whole grains and olive oil.
Female Fertility Diet Meal Template
Use these recommendations to fill each meal with healthy foods that boost fertility naturally:
- Fill ¼ of your plate with protein
- Fill ¼ of your plate with fiberful carbohydrates
- Fill ½ your plate with vegetables
- Cook and flavor with healthy fats
Your Fertility Diet Plate
Unlike so many factors related to your health and fertility, your nutrition is one area where you have some control. Take the reins where you can by incorporating a variety of nutrient-dense foods into a healthy fertility diet.
I bet you have so many more questions. I got you. Shoot me a message.
Stay tuned for more to come about the “don’ts” for fertility – you know, like caffeine and alcohol. I’ll cover what the science says about how much is too much.
Rooting for you,
PS If you know anyone thinking about making a baby, please share this post with them! We all could use more support in eating well, for ourselves and generations to come.