DEAR DOCTOR K:
My husband and I have been trying to get pregnant for a few months without success. Could changing my diet help?
Yes, diet could be a factor. With one surprising exception, foods that are healthy for most people also seem to improve fertility.
You and your husband are not alone. It’s estimated that about 6 million couples in the United States are having trouble conceiving. For one thing, couples are delaying having kids until they are older and their own lives are more secure. However, older age reduces somewhat the chance of a pregnancy. Obesity and diabetes, both of which are epidemics, also decrease fertility at any age.
A healthy diet can improve both your health and your fertility, whether or not you’re experiencing fertility problems. Boosting your health before pregnancy will make it easier for you to conceive, reduce pregnancy complications and improve your baby’s health.
The following recommendations can help increase your chances of conceiving:
- Include high-quality carbohydrates in your daily diet. Good carbohydrates are less processed and don’t cause a sudden spike in your blood sugar. They include whole grains, beans and legumes, and fruits and vegetables. They are better for fertility than refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta or rice, soda, fruit juice and candy. Good carbohydrates also have more fiber, vitamins, minerals and protein than their refined counterparts.
- Pick plant proteins. Replace many animal proteins (particularly red meat) with plant proteins. Aim for at least half of your protein to come from nuts and nut butters, beans and legumes, edamame, tofu and eggs.
- Choose fertility-friendly fats. Avoid unhealthy trans fats. These fats include hydrogenated oils found in many baked goods, crackers and cookies. Replace trans fats with mono- and polyunsaturated fats (such as olive or canola oils). Avocados and nut butters are another source of healthy fats.
- Skip the skim. One kind of fat, saturated fat, is unhealthy for most people. I generally recommend that most people avoid whole milk and whole-fat dairy products.
- Take a multivitamin. You need extra folic acid and iron to conceive. Folic acid is also essential to prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord in the baby. Choose a prenatal vitamin that contains non-heme iron (from plant sources), which appears to help fertility more than heme iron.
However, for women seeking to get pregnant, research studies from Harvard have shown that women who drink one serving of whole milk a day have an easier time getting pregnant than those who do not drink milk or who choose low-fat dairy foods. Just don’t overdo it. Whole milk has almost double the calories of skim milk.
Click here to see some recipes that fit the fertility diet principles recommended by expert nutritionists here at Harvard.