Fertility and Diet for Females

Diet alone is not clinically proven to lead to improved fertility, yet researchers have found promising evidence that nutrition can have a positive impact on fertility.

The largest research study done to date was based on surveys completed by thousands of women as part of the Nurses’ Health Study. These findings were the basis of the book The Fertility Diet by Jorge Chavarro, Walter Willett, and Patrick Skerrett. Here are some of the tips that experts have for women who are looking to improve their fertility.

Avoid trans fats

Trans fats are linked to many health conditions, including heart disease and diabetes. It also appears that a correlation exists between these dangerous fats and ovulation disorders. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition stated that eating just 2% of total calories from trans fat was associated with a doubled risk of infertility. Each 2% increase in calories from trans fat was correlated with a 73% increased risk of ovulatory infertility.

Fast food and snack foods are the most commonly eaten foods that are high in these fats. A food labeled as “trans-fat free” still can contain up to 0.5 grams (g)/serving of food. This does not sound like much, unless you consider that experts recommend that we eat no more than 2 g/day. The only way to ensure that a food is truly trans-fat free is to check to make sure that partially hydrogenated oil is not listed on the ingredient list.

Choose unrefined sources of carbohydrate

Of the nearly 18,000 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study, those in the highest glycemic load group were 92% more likely to have ovulatory infertility than women in the lowest category.

Instead of reaching for white bread or pastas for carbohydrate, aim to eat more:

  • Brown rice
  • Whole-grain pasta
  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Barley
  • Bulgur
  • Beans
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit

Get your protein from plants, instead of animal foods

Research from the Nurses’ Health Study found that ovulatory infertility was 39% higher in women with the highest intake of protein. However, women with the highest intake of protein from plant foods were substantially less likely to have ovulatory infertility. 

Examples of plant foods that are rich in protein include:

  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Peas
  • Soy

Choose whole-milk products

Researchers found that participants in the Nurses’ Health Study were less likely to have ovulatory infertility if they ate at least one serving of whole milk or dairy foods, such as cottage cheese or ice cream made from whole milk, each day. Skim and low-fat dairy products had the opposite effect on fertility. Experts point out that this is not a dietary change you would want to stick with for a long time and that you only need eat one serving/day to benefit.

Aim for a healthy body mass index (BMI)

It appears that infertility is less common in women with a BMI of 20-24, with the ideal BMI at 21.

Take a prenatal vitamin containing folic acid

In addition to taking a prenatal vitamin containing folic acid, make sure to eat plenty of foods rich in folic acid, such as:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Liver
  • Fortified cereal
  • Citrus fruits
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Wheat bran
  • Whole grains
  • Tomatoes

Get enough iron

It is important to get enough iron, but not from red meat. Instead, choose:

  • Whole-grain cereals
  • Spinach
  • Beans
  • Pumpkin
  • Tomatoes
  • Beets

Avoid sugary sodas

Sugary sodas appear to increase the risk of infertility.

Increase your intake of monounsaturated fatty acids

Monounsaturated fatty acids are found in:

  • Olive oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Canola oil
  • Fatty fish, such as tuna and salmon

References and recommended readings

Barclay L, Lie D. “Fertility diet” may improve fertility outcomes in women. Available at: http://cme.medscape.com/viewarticle/565607. Accessed August 17, 2010.

Harvard Medical School. Follow the fertility diet? Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mental_Health_Letter/2009/May/Follow-Fertility-Diet. Accessed August 17, 2010.

Kotz D. The fertility diet: eat right to get pregnant. Available at: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/womens-health/articles/2007/11/30/the-fertility-diet-eat-right-to-get-pregnant.html. Accessed August 17, 2010.

Newsweek. Fat, carbs and the science of conception. Available at: http://www.newsweek.com/2007/12/01/fat-carbs-and-the-science-of-conception.html. Accessed August 17, 2010.

Pacific Fertility Center. Trans fat’s role in infertility. Available at: http://www.pacificfertilitycenter.com/fertilityflash/vol5_issue8.htm. Accessed August 17, 2010.