Health is not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Health is achieved by becoming aware of and making choices that balance your social, occupational, spiritual, physical, intellectual, and emotional components. Nowhere is this more important than when preparing to become a parent. Let's look at the evidence available to guide you in the right direction.
In anticipation of pregnancy, it's good to get in the habit of eating three healthy meals per day with snacks in between. But should you eat low-fat, high carb, vegetarian, Mediterranean … or what? It is so confusing! Fortunately, a lot of information is becoming available on dietary habits that significantly improve fertility.
According to a Harvard study of diet and fertility (also called The Nurses' Study), the more of the following changes you make, the more likely you are to improve your ovulatory function and fertility:
- Eat more complex ("slow") carbs (whole grains, fruits, nuts, legumes, vegetables) and limit highly processed ones (anything in a box or can) and foods with a high glycemic index (the so-called white foods or "fast carbs" such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, refined flour, potatoes, white rice, pasta, etc). In the Harvard study, women who ate the most fast carbs were 92 percent more likely to have infertility than women who ate the most slow carbs.
- Avoid caffeine. Even one cup of coffee a day dramatically increases the chances of miscarriage.
- Eat organic. This is a simple way to avoid chemicals.
- Get sufficient essential fatty acids. Omega-3s, found in salmon, flaxseed, soybeans, and walnuts, play an important role in the development of Baby's brain.
- Avoid all trans fats (fried foods, cakes, pastries, and chips), which can interfere with normal ovarian function, and eat more healthy unsaturated fats. Research results published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed the chance of becoming pregnant dropped by 73 percent for every extra 4 grams of trans fats—the equivalent of half a portion of takeaway fried chicken—eaten each day. That's the amount in two tablespoons of stick margarine, one medium order of fast-food French fries, or one doughnut.
- Eat whole milk products once a day and avoid low-fat products. A recent US study found that women who consumed a lot of low-fat dairy products, such as skimmed milk, were almost twice as likely to suffer fertility problems as those who did not.
- Get more protein from plant foods like beans and less from red meat. Women who ate the most animal protein were more likely to experience infertility whereas the reverse was true for women with the highest intake of plant protein (soy, legumes, nuts). Replacing 25 grams of animal protein with 25 grams of plant protein was related to a 50 percent reduction in infertility. (Read more about vegetarian diets here.)