So you want to have a baby. What should you eat?
Many nutritional experts say follow the "fertility diet." The plan is based on research from the landmark Nurses' Health Study — one of the largest and most comprehensive studies on women's health — which informed 10 steps for improving fertility through changes in diet, weight and activity. This January, U.S. News and World Report, which evaluated 40 of the most popular diets with health experts, ranked the "fertility diet" as its 10th best diet overall.
The average couple only has a 25% chance of getting pregnant each month, according to the American Pregnancy Association. About 12% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Research shows if you're trying to conceive (TTC), the "fertility diet" can increase ovulation, which in turn increases a woman's chances of getting pregnant. The Nurses' Health Study, upon which the plan's recommendations are based, found a diet high in vegetables and fruit, whole grains and beans, healthy fats, certain protein-rich foods, and full-fat dairy was related to a 66% lower risk of anovulatory infertility (when ovulation doesn't occur) and a 28% lower risk of other causes of infertility.
"This was a cohort study, meaning the women were followed over time and links were made between what they reported eating and their fertility," said Christy Brissette, a registered dietitian and president of 80 Twenty Nutrition, a nutrition and food communications company. "As such, the findings aren't cause-and-effect, but they are healthy recommendations that could be helpful in boosting fertility."
It's important to note that there are many reasons why a woman may have trouble getting pregnant, and this diet won't address all of them.
If you're a woman who has an ovulation disorder like polycystic ovary syndrome, this diet may help you boost fertility. If your infertility issues stem from a partner with a sperm defect, for example, this diet won't address that.
In their book, The Fertility Diet: Groundbreaking Research Reveals Natural Ways to Boost Ovulation and Improve Your Chances of Getting Pregnant, authors Jorge Chavarro, Walter C. Willett and Patrick J. Skerrett synthesize the Nurses' Health Study's findings into 10 steps they say "offer a powerful boost in fertility for women with ovulation-related infertility."
Avoid trans fats. Eating trans fat raises the level of your LDL (bad) cholesterol, according to the Food and Drug Administration. It's one of the reasons the FDA has ordered food manufacturers to phase them out. Trans fats are found in fried foods (like french fries) and in baked good (like cookies and cakes).
Consume more unsaturated vegetable oils. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated may help improve your blood cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association. Add more olive oil and canola oil to your diet, and try to consume healthy fats from foods like fish and avocados.
Get more protein from vegetables. Instead of a serving of steak, consider a serving of lentils.
Eat slow carbs. Choose whole grains, oatmeal and vegetables, which are are not highly refined, over carbs like white bread and pasta, which can increase ovulatory infertility, which Brissette said can mean irregular ovulation or lack of ovulation.
Make it whole milk. If you're trying to get pregnant, whole-fat diary is the best choice. Opt for whole milk over skim, and enjoy a small dish of ice cream or full fat yogurt each day.
Take a multi-vitamin. Folic acid (400 mcg) and vitamin B are essential. The CDC says folic acid helps prevent birth defects.
Don't neglect iron intake. Get plenty of iron, but not from red meat. Eat vegetables high in iron, like spinach, and consider taking an iron supplement.
Drink water. Skip the soda. Everything else (coffee, alcohol) in moderation.
Get to a "fertility zone" weight. Being in the "fertility zone" means achieving a BMI of 20 to 24. Weighing too much or too little can affect your menstrual cycle.
Be active. If you don't exercising regularly, starting could help your fertility. If you're already active, be careful not to overdo it. According to Resolve, low body fat can affect ovulation and fertility.
Many Americans dream of one day having a child, but for those who have infertility, the road to parenthood is riddled with financial and emotional strain.