If you’re having trouble conceiving a child, the answer may be as simple as changing your diet and exercising more. Find out how what you eat can affect fertility.
Can what you eat truly help your chances of becoming pregnant? Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health say yes. And that’s welcome news to those one in six American women who suffer from infertility.
According to the Harvard study, women who follow a healthy diet and get regular exercise could be almost 70 percent less likely to have ovulation problems – a primary cause of infertility.
The study involved 17,544 married women who were all trying to conceive. The team assigned a “fertility diet” score of one to five points for each of several diet and lifestyle factors. The risk of infertility decreased with every added strategy.
If you are struggling to get pregnant and have ruled out physical problems (such as blocked fallopian tubes), consider the following nutrition tips. At the very least, you will improve your eating and exercise habits, which will only benefit you in the long run.
Eat more whole-food carbs
Carbs affect your blood sugar and insulin levels. Abnormal levels of blood sugar or insulin can cause an imbalance in hormones related to pregnancy.
- Whole-food, high-fiber carbs that are low on the glycemic index
- Brown rice, whole-grain breads and cereals, whole-wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, barley, vegetables
- Processed carbs: white flour (white breads, cold breakfast cereals), white rice, white potatoes
- Doughnuts, cookies, soda, sweets
Eat fewer trans fats
Different types of fats have an effect on your weight, hormones and overall health.
- Heart-healthy fats, such as olives, avocado, olive oil, trans-fat-free margarine, fatty fish, nuts and seeds
- Trans fats, which are found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, chips, cookies, snack foods, fries, doughnuts or any food made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils
Eat more plant versus animal protein
- Beans, peas, tofu or soybeans, nuts, seeds
- Red meat, chicken, turkey
- Fish and eggs. Use to substitute for meat and poultry.
Increase dairy fat
Removing fat from milk changes the balance of sex hormones in a way that could tip the scales against fertility.
Increase: (one to two servings a day)
- Whole milk
- Ice cream (keep to 1/2 cup serving one to two times a week)
- Full fat yogurt and 4 percent cottage cheese
- Low-fat and nonfat yogurt, skim and low-fat milk, low-fat cottage cheese, sherbet
If you include more fat from dairy, cut back on other sources of saturated fats, like red meats and butter. After the pregnancy, go back to low-fat dairy. It’s clearly more beneficial for weight, heart disease and cancer.
Take a multivitamin and increase iron
- Take a prenatal multi-vitamin and iron supplement.
- Choose foods rich in non-heme (plant sources) of iron, such as green leafy vegetables and beans/legumes.
Maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI)
Women who are underweight or overweight will have more trouble with fertility than those in the mid-range. Ideally, aim for a BMI of 20 to 24.
- Women who are very lean may have too little body fat, which often halts their menstrual cycles. Just a 5- or 10-pound gain can often bring back ovulation.
- Overweight women may have fertility success by losing 5 percent to 10 percent of their current weight.
Get regular exercise
For most women, this means getting at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise every day. Aim for a mix of flexibility and strength training, plus aerobic exercise. Increased physical activity will also help:
- Control weight
- Control insulin levels and blood sugar
- Relieve stress
- Improve flexibility and strength
Check with your doctor before you increase your activity.