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Diet, Weight and Fertility

As the saying goes, you are what you eat. When trying to get pregnant, diet plays an important role.

Ob/Gyns have long advocated for future moms to start eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables before becoming pregnant, and to bump up their intake of iron and folic acid (a B vitamin to help prevent neurological birth defects that may occur in the first three months of pregnancy). Now, there is a strong case to be made that couples struggling with infertility can benefit from dietary changes.

Diet’s Role in Fertility

One of the most common factors affecting ovulation in women is body weight, whether the woman is overweight or underweight. Health problems can occur if the body fat drops too low or is too high. Women stop ovulating and menstruating. Men experience a decline in testosterone and a drop in sperm count. The Nurses’ Health Study, which reviewed more than 116,000 women, found that those with better dietary habits were more likely to get pregnant.

For men, a safe and healthy body fat percentage ranges between 18 percent and 25 percent. For women, a safe and healthy body fat percentage is 25 percent to 31 percent.

Because of the negative effects of trans fats — which raises cholesterol and the risk of heart disease, strokeand diabetes — all foods with trans fats now have to identify it on food packaging. These foods are not just bad for overall health — the Nurses Health Study found that the women eating just a modest amount of trans fats (2 percent of calories) witnessed significant increases in infertility.

Fertility Boosters

The Nurses Health Study found that when women added a serving of protein in the form of red meat, chicken or turkey once a day, nearly a third had an increased risk of infertility. However, when the source of protein came from vegetables, nuts and legumes, infertility dropped slightly.

Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston also studied foods and fertility, creating “The Fertility Diet.” The diet found that women eating a full-fat, lowered carbohydrate, organic diet had noticeable increases in fertility, and it encourages women to eat foods that regulate insulin levels to combat Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

A study from Spain found that there is a link between the Mediterranean-style diet — high in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains — and fertility. Scientiests looked at nearly 500 women with fertility problems and more than 1,600 women of the same age who had at least one child. Based on questionnaires, they measured how closely women followed either a Western-style (red meat, fast food, refined grains, sugar) or a Mediterranean diet. While 26 percent of the women who followed the Mediterranean diet least closely said they'd had trouble getting pregnant, only 17 percent of those who stuck to it meticulously did.

An Australian study uncovered that garlic, already used to treat endometriosis and as an anti-inflammatory, was a stimulant for male and female reproductive organs. Oysters, a known aphrodisiac, are rich in zinc, which is important for the production of healthy eggs in women and increasing sperm count in men.

The power of dairy for women is most evident in the Nurse’s Health Study. Those eating a half cup of ice cream two or more times a week lessened infertility levels 38 percent more than women eating ice cream just once a week. With a few small adjustments to your daily diet, you may be able to boost your fertility and have your ice cream, too!