Guest blog by Sylvia Kang, co-founder, and CEO of Mira. Mira is the first FDA and CE registered comprehensive women’s health monitoring platform with 99% of accuracy in clinical trials.
For many of us, the idea of changing our diets is disappointing, since it might mean cutting out our favorite comfort foods, salty snacks, and desserts. But because nutrition can play a key role in priming your body for pregnancy, it’s important to make adjustments to your diet when TTC.
Thankfully, if you aren’t looking forward to giving up your favorite foods, the Fertility Diet is an approach to eating for fertility that doesn’t require you to follow strict rules. Instead, the Fertility Diet is a list of nutritional guidelines to follow most of the time — with room for your favorite treats in-between!
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about dieting to improve fertility, including what to eat and what to limit when you are TTC.
How does the Fertility Diet work?
The Fertility Diet is named for the book of the same name, written by Jorge E. Chavarro, M.D., Walter C. Willett, M.D., and Patrick J. Skerrett. This book recounted the results of the largest study of fertility and dietary choices to date, called the Nurses’ Health Study.
The study followed more than 18,000 women for eight years and uncovered ten evidence-based suggestions for eating for fertility. The strategies outlined in the Fertility Diet don’t guarantee pregnancy, but they are free, accessible to everyone, and worth trying if you are struggling to get pregnant.
Getting to Know the Fertility Diet
The diet emphasizes heart-healthy fats, plant-based foods, slow-digesting carbohydrates, vegetable sources of iron, and vegetable sources of protein. Unlike some other diets, it also found that eating whole-fat dairy, as opposed to skim, can improve fertility. Unsurprisingly, the diet also suggests taking a prenatal vitamin with at least 400 mcg of folic acid each day when TTC.
When it comes to what you should avoid on the Fertility Diet, trans and saturated fats should be limited whenever possible to protect your fertility and your overall health. These fats launch an inflammatory response in the body that can be detrimental to conception.
Foods to Eat to Help Fertility
You know generally what to eat and what to avoid on the Fertility Diet — but which foods are best to incorporate into your pre-pregnancy diet? Here are five foods that are great for the Fertility Diet.
While the Fertility Diet recommends avoiding bad sources of fat, some types of fat are actually good for you — and may boost your fertility. Unsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease inflammation throughout the body. Two servings of fatty fish, such as salmon, per week, is enough to improve your fertility. If you don’t eat fish, aim to eat plenty of olive oil, nuts, and seeds for a plant-based source of omega-3s.
Women who are pregnant need significantly more iron per day than women who are not. If you don’t eat enough iron while TTC, you may raise your risk of developing iron-deficiency anemia during pregnancy. That’s why the Fertility Diet recommends eating plenty of plant-based sources of iron and taking a prenatal vitamin that contains your daily iron needs.
Spinach is a great source of plant-based iron because it is nutrient-dense without being calorically-dense — in other words, it is low-calorie, but it packs a nutritional punch! A 3.5-ounce serving of raw baby spinach contains 15% of a non-pregnant woman’s daily value of iron. It also contains vitamin C, which helps your body absorb non-animal sources of iron more easily, allowing you to get the most benefit from your meals.
The study upon which the Fertility Diet is based on found that ovulatory infertility was 39% more likely in women who ate high levels of animal protein, such as chicken and red meat. Switching to plant-based sources of protein, such as tofu, tempeh, and other soy products, may help you ovulate more regularly, letting you conceive faster. The Fertility Diet study concluded that you need at least one serving of plant-based protein per day to reap the benefits. Tofu is an excellent choice because the soy it contains has been shown to improve pregnancy outcomes in women using assisted reproductive technology.
Beans are a superfood when it comes to fertility. Not only do they offer a source of plant-based protein, but they also have a myriad of other nutritional benefits that align with the goals of the Fertility Diet. For example, beans are a good vegetarian source of iron. Chickpeas and black-eyed peas, in particular, offer up to 29% of the recommended daily intake of iron for a non-pregnant woman. One cup of cooked chickpeas or black-eyed peas contains between 4.6 and 5.2 mg of iron. They are also a good source of slow-digesting carbs, which help you stay full and get enough fiber in your diet.
5. Ice Cream
It may shock you that ice cream can be part of a healthy diet — but it’s true! The Fertility Diet recommends getting at least one serving of full-fat dairy per day to reduce your risk of ovulatory infertility. This could be a container of full-fat yogurt, or, yes, even a small dish of ice cream. If you’re going to go with the ice cream, the key is portion control: try to stick to the recommended ½ cup serving on the nutrition label to avoid too much of a good thing (and keep from eating too much sugar).
Foods to Limit for Fertility
The Fertility Diet doesn’t ask you to completely cut out the foods you love, but it does suggest that you limit some of the following options that aren’t as healthy for your body when TTC. Here’s what you should try to eat less of when sticking to the Fertility Diet.
1. Deep-Fried Foods
Foods that are deep-fried contain high amounts of trans fats, which can clog arteries and promote inflammation in the body. If you are TTC, the Fertility Diet recommends avoiding deep-fried foods whenever possible, along with other sources of trans fat, such as conventional (versus natural) peanut butter and palm oil. Instead, opt for sources of healthy unsaturated fats, which are rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Some of these food sources include fatty fish, olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
2. Sugary Sodas
If you’re addicted to Coca-Cola, we have bad news: the study of the Fertility Diet is based on discovered that sugary sodas promote ovulatory infertility. It’s well-known that added sugars are generally bad for you. Foods with lots of added sugar, like soda, ignite the body’s inflammatory response and encourage your cells to hang onto excess fat. Instead of drinking soda, choose water, which is the best option for keeping your body hydrated and fertile. If you must drink soda, limit the amount of soda you drink to one can per week or switch to a sugar-free version made from a natural sweetener like stevia.
3. Skim Milk
The Fertility Diet study also found that skim milk appears to promote infertility. This might be because low-fat and fat-free dairy products are processed. The manufacturing process strips them of the natural fats found in cow’s milk. Oftentimes, low-fat or fat-free dairy products add excess sugar to make up for the taste and texture lost from the fat they removed, which may also contribute to inflammation. As a result, the Fertility Diet recommends incorporating at least one serving of whole-milk dairy per day, such as a cup of full-fat yogurt or a small bowl of ice cream.
4. White Carbs
You don’t need to follow a low-carb diet when eating for optimal fertility, but you should try to decrease the amount of quick-digesting, or “white,” carbohydrates you consume. Processed carbs like white pasta, white bread, and white rice, are stripped of their fiber content, which means your body digests them much faster. As a result, they can raise your blood sugar and won’t keep you full as long as other slow-digesting types of carbohydrates. The Fertility Diet recommends you limit white carbs. Instead, opt for slow-digesting carbs like beans, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, and quinoa to regulate blood sugar and stay full for longer.
5. Coffee, Tea, and Alcohol
If you’re following the Fertility Diet, you don’t need to completely cut out coffee or tea (though you should definitely abstain from alcohol when TTC). However, you should try to limit these beverages, as consuming them in excess — especially caffeinated types of coffee or tea — can negatively impact your fertility. Studies show that female fertility doesn’t appear to be affected by caffeine, as long as you stay under 200 mg per day. That’s the equivalent of one to two cups of black coffee. So, if you’re trying to get pregnant, consider cutting back or switching to decaf for now.
Where to Start When Considering the Fertility Diet
First thing’s first: if you’re TTC and aren’t tracking your hormones yet, you should start keeping track of your cycle immediately. Tracking your hormones will help you pinpoint when you are ovulating so you can time sex with your most fertile time of the month. It’s more precise than over-the-counter ovulation predictor kits (OPKs), in that it still works with 99% accuracy if you have irregular cycles.
After you’ve started tracking your cycles and are TTC, you may want to consider making some of the dietary changes discussed in this blog post. If you struggle to make big changes all at once, start with one small switch each week and gradually work your way up to eating according to the full guidelines of the Fertility Diet. It may also help you to purchase the book, The Fertility Diet, that these guidelines are based on and read what it has to say about food and fertility.
Sylvia Kang is the co-founder and CEO of Mira. Mira is the first FDA and CE registered comprehensive women’s health monitoring platform with 99% of accuracy in clinical trials. Mira tracks cycles, predicts ovulation, monitors fetal health, measures ovarian reserve, and detects menopause at home, using the hospital-leveled technology within a palm-sized device. The data automatically syncs to the Mira app. The AI learns personal health patterns. The telemedicine connects users with doctors.
Sylvia has significant general management background. Before she started Mira, she was on business director roles in a Fortune 500 life science company, running a $100M global business. Sylvia holds an MBA from Cornell University, and a MS in Biomedical Engineering from Columbia University. Sylvia is also a Concert Pianist. She has won multiple international piano competitions in France, China, and Hong Kong.