One of the most frequent questions I hear from patients as a dietitian is what is the best diet to boost fertility. Whether they’re trying to conceive naturally or going through ART, I recommend they follow a less meat, plant foods diet. This means developing healthy eating with mostly fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and lesser amounts of clean animal products. I personally believe following a strictly plant-based diet has the most health benefits, including reduced cholesterol and inflammation, stabilized blood-sugar, and enhanced fertility. But, I completely understand that this pre pregnancy diet does not work for everyone and I support what works best for the individual.
Struggling With Infertility
Many patients ask if it’s really worth it to make such a change to their eating habits. I tell them the story of “Keri”. After a year of her and her husband trying to conceive on their own with no outcome, they decided to seek the help of a fertility specialist. Keri and her husband found out she had an extremely diminished ovarian reserve and were told that even with IVF, conceiving was going to be a challenge. They went through two cycles of IVF and they didn’t have any embryos. Because they were so devastated, her doctor recommended she take a short break from IVF and see me during that time. She started seeing me and was open to making any changes that may help her increase fertility. I remember one of the first things she said to me was “why can’t I get pregnant?”.
Plant-Based to Boost Fertility
The first thing we looked at was her eating habits. It turned out that Keri ate a lot of meat, simple carbs and sugar. We decided it would be best to clean up her diet and I guided her in how to eat plant-based for the two months before her next IVF cycle. During this time, she discovered that she had more energy, improved digestion, felt more clear-headed and became a believer in the power of food. When Keri started her next IVF cycle, she was really scared that maybe even with making changes they would still have no results. But, they ended up with 1 genetically normal (PGS tested) embryo. They decided to move forward with an embryo transfer right away. She got pregnant and they now have a healthy 8-month-old son!
Though it may seem daunting to overhaul your diet/lifestyle, to vegetarian diet, it is actually simple and there are countless options for delicious and nutrient-rich meals. Remember, you don’t have to be strictly plant-based to be healthy. It’s ok to include whichever clean animal products you feel you need. Pay attention to how you feel when you eat; gravitate to the foods you feel energize and invigorate you. Listen to your body and stay away from the foods that make you feel sluggish, bloated and/or foggy. Here are some answers to common questions from patients when they decide to make this change.
I personally believe following a strictly plant-based diet has the most health benefits — but I completely understand that this diet does not work for everyone.
What is clean animal protein?
Whenever choosing foods that are sourced from animals, you want to make sure they are as clean as possible. Organic is great and if you can get it from a local farm, even better! Wild game, organic chicken, wild-caught, cold-water fish, and grass-fed beef, dairy, and eggs are all considered clean sources.
What are the sources of plant-based protein?
Consumption of plant protein has been associated with improving fertility and getting enough protein. Eating a variety of vegetables and combining them with a whole grain brown rice and/or legumes will ensure you’re getting protein for each meal. Some food sources that pack a protein punch are chickpeas, avocado, broccoli, kale, collard greens, spinach, zucchini, sweet potatoes, lentils, black beans, kidney beans, quinoa, teff, steel cut gluten-free oats, chia seeds, hemp seeds, nuts, cashews, tempeh, veggie burgers, and nutritional yeast to name a few.
How do I include healthy fats?
Fat used to be the “enemy,” but research has shown that unsaturated fats are actually important components of a healthy diet. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. They nourish the cell membranes of cells and assist in the absorption of Vitamin D. Some sources of unsaturated fats include avocado, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, and seeds. Trans fats such as fast food and french fries should be avoided. They are unhealthy because they increase cholesterol, blood pressure and reduce fertility.
Will I be getting enough nutrients to support fertility?
Yes, studies have shown that eating a whole food, healthy plant-based diets increase fertility. You want to eat fruits and vegetables rich in color because they are full of nutrients. The more colorful your meal, the more nutrient-dense it is. All of the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in fruits and vegetables provide the essential building blocks needed to support a healthy, balanced body and promote fertility. Because fruits and veggies are low in calories and have no cholesterol, you can consume to your taste to feel full and satisfied.
Changing your diet and meal plans to elevate your health can feel quite empowering. Whether you ease into the change over time or do it all at once, eating a plant-based diet can help you feel more energy, improve digestion and it is a natural fertility booster. If it helps to see a dietitian or nutritionist, do that too! Find your rainbow of foods, reap the benefits and try some new recipes!