The evidence we currently have assures us that having a balanced diet can positively affect fertility both in men and women. However, there is not enough evidence to recommend a single dietary protocol as part of a fertility treatment plan. Various diets (e.g. high protein, low carbohydrate, keto, etc.) have been researched for potential benefits. The Mediterranean diet has been identified as one that includes a considerable number of fertility-friendly foods.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
- Regular consumption of plant foods, including unprocessed cereals and whole grains as bread, pasta, couscous and rice
- Variety of fruits
- Variety of vegetables raw or cooked
- Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, and beans;
- Assortment of nuts (pistachios, hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, and pine nuts) as well as seeds
- Mediterranean herbs and spices (basil, marjoram, thyme, clove, cinnamon etc.)
- Olive oil as the primary source of fat used for dressings or in cooking
- Moderate consumption of fish and seafood, eggs, and fermented dairy products such as yoghurt, kefir, and sheep’s and goat’s cheese
- Low consumption of red meat and a preference for poultry or rabbit
- Low consumption of processed foods (industrial bakery products, processed meats, sugary drinks, creams, and butter)
- Moderate consumption of red wine at mealtimes by adults
Fruit and vegetables
Eat a wide variety of fruit and veg to get all the essential vitamins, minerals and fibre. Aim to have at least 5 portions of fruit and veg every day. An excellent way to meet your 5 a day would be by splitting your 5 portions of fruit and veg over your daily meals and snacks. Aim to eat different colours regularly. Also, do not forget to include frozen varieties of fruit and veg because they are as good as fresh in terms of nutrients.
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy and fibre in our diets. Therefore, there is no need to cut them out but try to focus on the ones that are less processed and higher in fibre. Eat more whole grains, including brown rice, quinoa, pearl barley. Furthermore, aim to include specific starchy vegetables into your diet. These are called low GI because they are broken down into sugars slowly:
- Sweet potatoes
Beans and pulses would be another good source of slow absorbing carbohydrate and fibre. Please include these daily because they also contain a good amount of protein and vitamins vital for fertility.
Have the full-fat dairy
The recent evidence suggests that including full-fat milk, yoghurts and cheeses in moderation may help boost your fertility by improving ovulatory issues. If you prefer to have dairy alternatives, please aim for Calcium and Iodine fortified and unsweetened options. You don’t need much dairy to meet your nutrient requirements; please aim to have two to three portions of different full-fat dairy products every day.
Eating plant-based proteins on a regular basis can help your fertility too. Aim to have varieties of beans, lentils, pulses, seeds and nuts in your diet. These examples are excellent sources of protein, fibre and other important vitamins and minerals. A practical way to eat more plant-based protein is by designating one or two days a week for meat-free meals.
Eating foods rich in healthy fats may boost your fertility. Healthy fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated types. Regular consumption of good fats is proven to reduce the risk of heart disease and improve fertility rates. Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, rapeseed oil, avocados. Polyunsaturated fats – in oily fish, walnuts, chia and flax seeds.
Are there any foods I need to avoid?
Yes, there are some eating behaviours that you need to be mindful of if you are trying to conceive or if you are already pregnant.
Unhealthy fats (Trans fat)
Having a high amount of trans fats in your diet is not good for your health in general and may also harm your fertility. Trans fats are found in deep-fried foods, some ready-made cakes and biscuits. It may be challenging to track the foods that contain these fats as they don’t clearly appear on the food labels. Our tip for spotting them on the label is to look for “partially hydrogenated oils or fats” and minimize the products containing these fats in your diet.
A quick word about caffeine and alcohol
It is currently recommended to minimize alcohol intake if you are trying to conceive. Most people choose to avoid alcohol altogether in the 3 months before they start trying or before their fertility treatment because it is more practicable. On the other hand, you don’t need to stop having caffeinated drinks completely. It is recommended not to exceed 200mg of caffeine a day, equivalent to 2 cups of coffee a day.
Do I need vitamin supplements?
The usual approach is to get all your vitamins and minerals from a balanced diet. However, current evidence shows that specific supplements can improve sperm and egg quality in some individuals. We will cover these in our following blogs.
Take home message:
A healthy diet resembling a Mediterranean diet has been shown to have various health benefits, including better fertility in men and women. Therefore, we recommend the above approach despite your cause of infertility. However, if you suffer from a chronic health condition or allergies or food intolerances, please seek individual dietary advice from a health care professional.
Written by Nourhan Barakat, Registered Associate Nutritionist, reviewed by Eugenia Grand, Specialist Fertility Dietitian Nutritionist.