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The Fertility Diet

Overview

The aim: Boost ovulation and improve fertility.

The claim: Changes to diet, weight and activity can increase ovulation and help you get pregnant faster.

The theory: Research from the Nurses’ Health Study – which began in 1976 and grew to include 238,000 female nurse participants aged 30 to 55 – has shown that tweaking aspects of your diet, from fats to beverages, can increase ovulation and improve your chances of getting pregnant. In “The Fertility Diet: Groundbreaking Research Reveals Natural Ways to Boost Ovulation and Improve Your Chances of Getting Pregnant,” Drs. Jorge Chavarro and Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health created a diet plan based on the study, which showed that women who consumed “good” fats, whole grains and plant protein improved their egg supply, while those who ate “bad” fats, refined carbohydrates and red meat may make fewer eggs, thereby increasing the risk for ovulatory infertility. They also suggest that full-fat dairy products are good for fertility compared with skim milk and sugary sodas. The doctors recommend a 10-step approach to improving fertility.

Rankings

The Fertility Diet ranked #8 in Best Diets Overall. 38 diets were evaluated with input from a panel of health experts. See how we rank diets here.

The Fertility Diet is ranked:

3.8

Overall

Scorecard

  • Weight Loss Short-Term
    3.1
  • Weight Loss Long-Term
    2.9
  • Easy to Follow
    3.7
  • Healthy
    4.3

Scores are based on experts’ reviews.

How does The Fertility Diet work?

There’s no guarantee you’ll get pregnant by following the Fertility Diet. However, the diet includes 10 research-backed steps that may boost fertility for women with conditions such as ovulation disorders, polycystic ovary syndrome, fibroids or uterine polyps, damaged fallopian tubes, endometriosis and immune system disorders. While male conditions such as low sperm count, sperm defects, twisted spermatic cords and immune disorders can also be factors for infertility, the diet is not designed to address male fertility issues.

You don’t have to follow all 10 steps at once. You can gradually tackle more when you feel comfortable. Start out by avoiding trans fats, which are found in refrigerated cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, cookies, crackers and ready-to-use frosting. In June 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration called for a ban on the artery-clogging fats.

The related second step instead calls for consuming more unsaturated vegetable oils, such as olive oil or canola oil, while the third recommendation is to incorporate more vegetable proteins in your diet, such as beans and nuts, but less animal protein.

It’s important to choose whole grains and carbohydrates that are not highly refined. “Good carbohydrates” include oatmeal, beans and vegetables, whereas “bad carbohydrates” include white bread, pasta, rice, cakes, cookies, pies and candy. The body turns bad carbohydrates into blood sugar quicker than it does their less-refined counterparts. Once excess insulin is dished out by these bad carbohydrates, more sex hormone proteins are released into the blood stream. This can trigger increased testosterone production, thereby halting ovulation.

Add a glass of whole milk or a small dish of ice cream or full-fat yogurt to your daily routine rather than skim milk and low- or no-fat dairy products. Findings from the Nurses’ Health Study indicate that one or two servings of whole-fat dairy foods improve fertility.

Also consider taking a multivitamin that contains folic acid and other B vitamins. Women of childbearing age are recommended to take at least 400 micrograms of folic acid per day in addition to what comes from their food intake. Pregnant women need 600 micrograms. Take a multivitamin that contains folic acid and other B vitamins like folate. Extra folate may increase a woman’s chance of getting pregnant and reduce the chance of miscarriage.

Iron intake – from fruits, vegetables, beans and supplements – is the seventh step of the Fertility Diet. In the Nurses’ Health Study, women who took an iron supplement regularly or a multivitamin or mineral with extra iron were 40 percent less likely to have trouble conceiving compared to women who did not take iron. But steer clear of red meat as your primary iron source. The study also found that a high iron intake from red meat increased the chances of developing infertility. Try to find a prenatal vitamin that has at least 400 micrograms of folic acid and at least 40 milligrams of iron.

A “diet” is often synonymous with food, but beverages are just as important when it comes to fertility. Water is a great way to stay hydrated, and women should drink a glass of whole milk each day to promote ovulatory function. On the other side of the spectrum, there are beverages to avoid or drink in moderation.

Soft drinks should be taken off the table entirely. Women in the Nurses’ Health Study who drank two or more caffeinated sodas a day were 50 percent more likely to have ovulatory infertility compared with women who drank these beverages less than once each week.

Coffee contains caffeine, but it’s also packed with water and antioxidants. Coffee drinkers in the study weren’t any less likely to have infertility compared with women who didn’t drink coffee.

Alcohol, on the other hand, is a gray area. Although there weren’t any harmful effects of alcohol on fertility in the Nurses’ Health Study, some women in the study argued they would rather abstain than risk it.

The ninth step in the Fertility Diet suggests aiming for a body weight within the “fertility zone,” aka the 7.5 percent solution. In the Nurses’ Health Study, women with the lowest and highest body-mass index, or BMI, were more likely to report problems getting pregnant compared with women somewhere in the middle. The “fertility zone” ranges from a BMI of 20 to 24. You can achieve this with small changes, like losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight. The middle ground – or 7.5 percent solution – can be more practical for most women. If you’re 160 pounds, aim to lose 12 pounds; if you’re 200 pounds, start by losing 15 pounds. Weight loss for those with a BMI of 25 to 29.9, as well as weight gain if you’re underweight, with a BMI below 18.5, can boost your chances for ovulation and menstruation and prevent diabetes.

As with any diet, you’ll need to start a daily exercise routine as an adjunct to your new eating habits. Exercise is the final step in the Fertility Diet. If you already exercise, that’s great. But don’t overdo it. Too much exercise can reduce body fat to a level that is incompatible with conception.

To boost your activity levels, walk to or from work or the store, and don’t forget to walk the dog. Everyday activities such as mowing the lawn or gardening can qualify as physical activity. Other activities such as roller skating, bicycling, aerobic dancing, water aerobics, yoga, weight training and ballroom or line dancing can be good workouts. Don’t write off golf, softball and baseball, doubles tennis or downhill skiing as well.

How much does it cost?

There are no special audio books or additional materials required beyond the book itself.

Will you lose weight?

Probably. Although this is a diet geared toward improving fertility, you’ll also notice weight loss as long as you follow the recommendations carefully and exercise regularly. It also depends on what kind of exercise you choose and whether your focus is weight loss. The authors suggest keeping the diet rich in plant protein, whole grains and healthful saturated fats, as well as having a serving of whole milk or other full-fat dairy food each day. You should also spend more than 30 minutes exercising daily.

How easy is it to follow?

The Fertility Diet is fairly easy to follow, based on its use-at-your-own-pace style. Suggested meal plans incorporate the 10 pregnancy-promoting steps. Women needn’t adhere to all 10 steps at once. Taking a couple of steps at a time may work better for some women.

Convenience: There are no niche or exotic ingredients to contend with. Still, the dietary changes will take some planning and getting used to, with attention paid to nutritional facts printed on food labels.

Recipes: The recipes and meal plans found in “The Fertility Diet” book do not contain any artificial trans fats. Instead of red meat, the book offers fish, eggs, beans, nuts and whole milk or full-fat dairy products as a source of protein. One example of breakfast includes oatmeal, almonds, blueberries and whole milk, while another consists of whole-wheat toast, almond butter, vanilla soy milk, yogurt, sliced peaches and coffee or tea. Other recommended items include salads packed with beans and peppers; smoothies with whole-milk vanilla yogurt, frozen bananas and honey; vegetables and fruit. Dinners include orange-glazed salmon, grilled Moroccan tuna, chili-spiced shrimp and more fish dishes.

Eating out: The book suggests eating a low-calorie snack such as dried cranberries, edamame, grapes or string cheese before going to a restaurant. If you’re not “starving,” you’re less likely to gorge on unhealthy choices. Avoid french fries, donuts and other fried foods. Ask the server if the fried foods are cooked with partially hydrogenated oils. If they are, choose roasted vegetables or pecan-crusted dishes instead. After dinner, order a coffee in place of dessert. For special occasions, decide ahead of time how much you should eat, stick with your plan and set practical limits. Another option? Offer to bring a side dish to the party; that way you and your friends can snack healthily.

Alcohol: Drinking alcohol is a personal choice and isn’t banned on the diet. Although there weren’t any harmful effects of alcohol on fertility in the Nurses’ Health Study, some women choose to abstain from it.

Timesavers: Making a list before you go grocery shopping will make meal planning easier. Avoiding the chip and soda aisles will save time.

Extras: Aside from the book, there are no companion items available. However, the authors suggest seeking support from friends and family to help you stick to the plan. Enlist an exercise buddy to keep you on track, or join a weight-loss support group to keep your motivation in check. Try keeping a daily log of what you’ll plan to eat and what you actually eat to see how far you’ve come.

Fullness: You should feel full after the diet’s prescribed three meals and two snacks a day, which should total approximately 2,000 calories. Slow down when chewing your food to prevent overeating. It takes a few minutes for your body to relay to your brain that it is full.

Taste: Although you may miss indulging in that juicy steak, your taste buds will thank you for introducing more hearty dishes, such as creamy parsnip-carrot soup, orange-glazed salmon and a vegetarian chili that packs a helping of bell peppers and beans.

Health & Nutrition

You can feel good about your choice if you adopt the Fertility Diet. It out-ranked most other plans in this category. “The diet is a generally healthy diet that can be followed by many people,” one expert says.


See all Health & Nutrition »

What is the role of exercise?

Exercise is one of the 10 steps recommended by the Fertility Diet. Adding 30 minutes of brisk walking to a modest daily reduction in calories has been proven to help ward off excess weight and improve fertility.

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