The Best Fertility Diet

Helpful Advice From Hillary Wright, MEd, RD, LDN

The Director of Nutrition Counseling at the Domar Center and Boston IVF, Hillary is a registered and licensed dietitian with a Master’s degree in Health Education from Boston University, and has over two decades of experience counseling clients on diet and lifestyle change.

Hillary WrightThe best diet to maximize your fertility is one that sends the strongest message to your reproductive system that says “this is a healthy body that is a good place to reproduce”.

By definition, that means a well balanced diet that on a regular basis includes foods that meet our body’s requirements for the wide variety of nutrients needed to stay healthy.  That also means making efforts to eat adequately to avoid large swings in food intake ““ either over or under nourishing yourself.  If you don’t take time to eat throughout the day, is it possible you could be sending a “message” to your body that the food supply is scarce and maybe this isn’t the best time to be pregnant?  If you’re eating too much unhealthful food could it be changing the hormonal environment in your body that in some way could be affecting the exquisite hormonal balance needed to conceive?  Although much of this may still be in the realm of the “unknown,” we have some pretty good leads to suggest these factors may play a role in reproduction.  Certainly only good can come from eating as healthfully as you can during this time, and it’s good practice for learning to model good eating habits for any future children!

While eating as healthy as possible may be one way to “level the playing field” while undergoing fertility treatment, that doesn’t mean you need to swear off all “junk food,” become a vegetarian and cook everything from scratch.  Healthy eating is not an all-or-nothing proposition.  It’s what you eat most of the time that affects your health most.  That means no need for lists of “forbidden foods” that you need to learn to live without. That’s self-defeating “diet talk” that we know has a slim chance of lasting long term!

But given the state of our national health, it’s clear that most people’s day-to-day eating habits are in sore need of a tune-up.  Too much processed, high fat food, along with too little physical activity, are raising our rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes, starting younger in life than ever before.  On the other hand, reams of research tell us that many of these health problems are avoidable by eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly.

So where’s the middle ground?  It’s helpful to think about healthy eating according to the “80-20″ rule.  If 80% of the time you’re doing a pretty good job of eating a healthful diet, what you do 20% of the time doesn’t matter so much.  In other words, no one’s health will completely unravel if they occasionally eat pizza for dinner.  But if on a regular basis you’re skipping meals, grabbing take-out on the fly, and rarely working out, a lifestyle shake-up is in order.

What Does a Well Balanced Diet Look Like?

This may be a particularly tough question for you if you didn’t grow up in a house where healthy habits were emphasized.  Without knowledge of the basics, the tendency is to mistrust your judgment and see way too many foods as “bad.”  Keep in mind that healthy eating isn’t just about limiting the stuff that’s not so good for you ““ it’s also about going out of your way to eat nutritious foods.  Here are some general guidelines for making healthy food choices:

nutrition

Aim for more fruits and vegetables.  Studies show that eating more vegetables and fruits at meals and snacks helps displace higher calorie ““ and often less nutritious ““ foods, without leaving you feeling hungry.  They’re also packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and disease-fighting plant nutrients called phytochemicals.

Include healthful protein foods ““ like lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, reduced fat dairy foods, beans, soy foods, nuts and seeds ““ with meals and snacks whenever possible.   These foods will help you meet your daily protein requirements (minimum 50 grams per day for women, 63 grams for men), and provide many important vitamins and minerals.  Also, protein foods are more filling than carbohydrates and will help you stay feeling full longer throughout the day.

Trim the fat.  Most people ““ particularly those who eat out a lot ““ eat far more fat than is healthy.  Limit foods that are fried, prepared with a cream or cheese sauce, or have lots of added butter or oil.  Recent research has also tied intake of unhealthy trans fats found in processed foods (listed on food labels below saturated fat) to higher rates of infertility.

Opt for whole grains whenever possible.  Look for whole grain breads, fiber-containing cereals, brown rice and other unprocessed grains.

Limit your access to “junk foods.”  You greatly increase your odds of overindulging if they’re too easily available.

Don’t skip meals.  Give yourself every opportunity to get the “good stuff” in. Skipping meals during the day also often leads to overeating at night, which is not a healthy habit, particularly for those watching their weight.

Practice the “Healthy Plate Method,” covering about 25% of your plate with lean protein, 25% with unprocessed grains and about 50% from vegetables and fruits.  Above all, to make all this happen, it’s important to “set the stage” to up the odds good eating to occur.  That involves a little planning so that good food is available, and carving out time, a few times a day, to sit down and eat healthful foods.