How to Follow The Fertility Diet to Increase Your Chances of Getting Pregnant

In "The Fertility Diet: Groundbreaking Research Reveals Natural Ways to Boost Ovulation and Improve Your Chances of Getting Pregnant," Drs. Jorge Chavarro and Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health created a diet plan based on the study, which showed that women who consumed "good" fats, whole grains and plant protein improved their egg supply, while those who ate "bad" fats, refined carbohydrates and red meat may make fewer eggs, thereby increasing the risk for ovulatory infertility. They also suggest that full-fat dairy products are good for fertility compared with skim milk and sugary sodas. 

What Can I Eat on The Fertility Diet?

Unsaturated vegetable oils (second step)

  • Olive oil and canola oil

Vegetable proteins

  • Beans and nuts

Whole grains

  • “Good carbohydrates” that aren’t highly refined like oatmeal, beans and vegetables

Full-fat dairy

  • Whole milk, yogurt, a small bowl of ice cream

Lots of water

  • A "diet" is often synonymous with food, but beverages are just as important when it comes to fertility. Water is a great way to stay hydrated, and women should drink a glass of whole milk each day to promote ovulatory function. Have this rather than skim milk and low- or no-fat dairy products. Findings from the Nurses' Health Study indicate that one or two servings of whole-fat dairy foods improve fertility.

What Can't I Eat on The Fertility Diet?

Trans fats (first step

  • Found in refrigerated cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza cookies, crackers and ready-to-use frosting

  • In June 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration called for a ban on the artery-clogging fats.

Also avoid soft drinks. Women in the Nurses' Health Study who drank two or more caffeinated sodas a day were 50 percent more likely to have ovulatory infertility compared with women who drank these beverages less than once each week

What Foods Should I Limit on The Fertility Diet?

Animal protein (third step)

  • Red meat

Low or no-fat dairy

“Bad carbohydrates”

  • White bread, pasta and rice

The body turns bad carbohydrates into blood sugar quicker than it does their less-refined counterparts. Once excess insulin is dished out by these bad carbohydrates, more sex hormone proteins are released into the bloodstream. This can trigger increased testosterone production, thereby halting ovulation.

Also consider taking a multivitamin that contains folic acid and other B vitamins. Women of childbearing age are recommended to take at least 400 micrograms of folic acid per day in addition to what comes from their food intake. Pregnant women need 600 micrograms. Take a multivitamin that contains folic acid and other B vitamins like folate. Extra folate may increase a woman's chance of getting pregnant and reduce the chance of miscarriage.

Iron intake – from fruits, vegetables, beans and supplements – is the seventh step of the Fertility Diet. In the Nurses' Health Study, women who took an iron supplement regularly or a multivitamin or mineral with extra iron were 40 percent less likely to have trouble conceiving compared to women who did not take iron. But steer clear of red meat as your primary iron source. The study also found that a high iron intake from red meat increased the chances of developing infertility. Try to find a prenatal vitamin that has at least 400 micrograms of folic acid and at least 40 milligrams of iron.

Along with other beverages to consider, coffee contains caffeine, but it's also packed with water and antioxidants. Coffee drinkers in the study weren't any less likely to have infertility compared with women who didn't drink coffee.

Alcohol, on the other hand, is a gray area. Although there weren't any harmful effects of alcohol on fertility in the Nurses' Health Study, some women in the study argued they would rather abstain than risk it.

The ninth step in the Fertility Diet suggests aiming for a body weight within the "fertility zone," aka the 7.5 percent solution. In the Nurses' Health Study, women with the lowest and highest body-mass index, or BMI, were more likely to report problems getting pregnant compared with women somewhere in the middle. The "fertility zone" ranges from a BMI of 20 to 24. You can achieve this with small changes, like losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight. The middle ground – or 7.5 percent solution – can be more practical for most women. If you're 160 pounds, aim to lose 12 pounds; if you're 200 pounds, start by losing 15 pounds. Weight loss for those with a BMI of 25 to 29.9, as well as weight gain if you're underweight, with a BMI below 18.5, can boost your chances for ovulation and menstruation and prevent diabetes.

As with any diet, you'll need to start a daily exercise routine as an adjunct to your new eating habits. Exercise is the final step in the Fertility Diet. If you already exercise, that's great. But don't overdo it. Too much exercise can reduce body fat to a level that is incompatible with conception.

To boost your activity levels, walk to or from work or the store, and don't forget to walk the dog. Everyday activities such as mowing the lawn or gardening can qualify as physical activity. Other activities such as roller skating, bicycling, aerobic dancing, water aerobics, yoga, weight training and ballroom or line dancing can be good workouts. Don't write off golf, softball and baseball, doubles tennis or downhill skiing as well.

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Michael Hickey