We have all been forced to take a pause with the recent lockdown in NZ and sadly for some, this has meant a delay in fertility treatment. But not everything is outside our control and given the current restrictions on social activities, now could be the time to dedicate more time and energy to healthy eating to help improve your chances of conceiving.
It is a fact that your regular eating habits can impact fertility by affecting ovulation, egg and sperm quality, implantation, pregnancy rates, as well as health during pregnancy and of your child. Weight-loss is the most common topic when it comes to diet and fertility – but did you know you can make changes to your diet to positively impact fertility without weight-loss? This is what we call your ‘fertility diet’ which is about improving your chances of successfully having a healthy baby.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that women following a healthy fertility diet were 66% less likely to suffer from ovulatory disorder infertility (i.e. irregular or absent ovulation) and 27% less likely to have other causes of infertility1. These benefits were achieved regardless of a women’s body mass index (BMI) or weight.
For me, there is so much evidence around how dietary changes can achieve results. The good news is that there are easy changes that can be made with minimal effort – particularly in our less social environment right now!
Here are my top 5 diet changes to improve your fertility:
1. Up your plant protein – research has shown that replacing 25g of animal protein (about a small chicken breast) per day with plant protein is associated with a 50% lower risk of ovulatory infertility2. Plant protein includes lentils; legumes like chickpeas, split peas and black beans; and soy products like tofu and edamame beans. You do not have to go vegetarian to achieve these benefits. Try adding a tin of kidney beans to your spaghetti bolognaise and reducing the mince by half, or replace once of your meat meals a week with a vegetarian option.
2. Eat oily fish – oily fish is the best source of long chain Omega 3 fats EPA and DHA. Omega 3s may help reduce overall body inflammation, improve egg quality and increase the chance of embryo implantation. One study has found that couples who ate seafood on average twice per week, had a shorter time to conception than those that consumed less3. Introducing low-mercury oily fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna or trout in your diet 2-3 times per week will give the greatest benefits.
3. Cut back on the sugary drinks – a 2018 study found that men and women who drank on average one sugary drink per day were 20% less likely to fall pregnant than those who drank less4. This wasn’t found with diet drinks, but other research suggests that drinking diet drinks may also impact IVF outcomes, so it is probably best to try to reduce your intake altogether rather than switching to the diet option5. (Setti et al, 2007).
4. Keep up the home cooking – it is tempting to go wild on the takeaways as our favourites are now available in Alert Level 3. Unsurprisingly, research has found that women who ate more takeaways and less fruit took longer to become pregnant than those with healthier diets6. Enjoying the occasional takeaway will not harm your fertility, but try to keep up your positive lockdown habits and prepare most of your meals at home for a better chance of success.
5. Veg up your plate – you’ve heard it before; we don’t eat enough vegetables. The most convincing evidence that diet can improve fertility is about dietary patterns, rather than individual foods7, 8, 9. The main feature of all of these patterns is a high intake of vegetables. We have grown up hearing eat 5+ a day, or 2 servings of fruit and 3 of vegetables. But for optimal fertility, we should aim to eat at least 5 servings of vegetables per day. This can be hard to do without including some vegetables at breakfast and snack time. Why not try adding a couple of handfuls of spinach to your morning smoothie, snacking on carrot sticks at morning tea or replacing toast with some vegetable frittata.
Hopefully these tips give you five relatively simple ways of making changes to your everyday eating habits – research shows that they may help increase your chances of getting pregnant.
Eat well and all the best for your fertility journey.
Teresa Gudex is a fertility and women’s health dietitian at Repromed. Her passion is evidence-based nutrition treatment, specialised in the optimisation of fertility and fertility treatment.
Don’t know where to start or want to make sure you are on the right track with your pre-conception diet? Teresa holds consultations to work with clients to optimise diet for fertility, pregnancy and beyond. Get in touch for more information or to book a virtual appointment with Teresa by emailing or calling 0800 483 105.
1. Chavarro, JE., Rich-Edwards, JW., Rosner, BA., & Willett, WC. (2007). Diet and lifestyle in the prevention of ovulatory disorder infertility. Obstet Gynecol, 110 (5): 1050-8.
2. Chavarro, JE., Rich-Edwards, JW., Rosner, BA., & Willett, WC (2011). Protein intake and ovulatory infertility. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 198(2): 210.e1-210.e7.
3. Gaskins, AJ., Sundaram, R., Buck Louis, GM. & Chavarro, J (2018). Seafood intake, sexual activity, and time to pregnancy. JCEM, 103(7): 2680-2688.
4. Hatch, EE., Wesselink, AK., Hakn, KA., Michiel, JJ., Mikkelsen, EM., Sorensen, HT., Rothman., KJ. & Wise, LA (2018). Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and fecundability in a North American preconception cohort. Epidemiology: 29(3): 369-278.
5. Setti, AS., Braga DPAF., Halpern G., Figueira, RCS., Iaconelli, AJ.& Borges, E (2017). Is there an association between artificial sweetener consumption and assisted reproduction outcomes? Reprod Biomed Online, 36(2):145-153.
6. Grieger, JA., Grzeskowiak, LE., Bianco-Miotto, T et al (2018). Pre-pregnancy fast food intake is associated with time to pregnancy. Human Reproduction: 33(6): 1063-1070
7. Jahangirifar, M., Taebi, M., Nasr-Esfahani, MH. & Askari, GH (2019). Dietary patterns and the outcomes of assisted reproductive techniques in women with primary infertility: a prospective cohort study. Int J Fertil Steril (12(4):316-323
8. Gaskins AJ., Nassan FL.,, Chiu YH et al (2019). Dietary patterns and outcomes of assisted reproduction. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 220(6): 567.
9. Gaskins, AJ., Chavarro, JE (2018). Diet and fertility: a review. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 218(4):379-289.