Studies show that a healthy diet can improve fertility and pregnancy health. But what does a healthy diet look like? Here are some hints from a recently published summary of studies looking at the effects of diet on female and male fertility.
There are two main messages. The first is to minimise the intake of fast food and sugary drinks. Fast food is high in so called ‘trans fat’ (trans fatty acids), which is considered a ‘bad fat’. Some examples of food with lots of trans fat are French fries, doughnuts, deep-fried fast foods, margarine, cookies, cakes, pastries, and processed snack foods such as crackers and microwave popcorn. The bad thing about sugary drinks is that, you guessed it, they contain loads of sugar which turns into fat when processed in the body. A 375 ml can of Coca Cola for example contains almost 10 teaspoons of sugar! And while we might think that fruit juices are healthy, a glass of orange juice has the equivalent of five teaspoons of sugar.
The second message is to stick as closely as possible to the Mediterranean-style diet. The Mediterranean diet has lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, legumes, fish and olive oil and very little red meat. It’s linked to good health and recommended by nutritionists. But research shows that it can also boost fertility and reduce the risk of gestational diabetes (diabetes that starts in pregnancy). To convert to the Mediterranean diet you need to:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. Aim for 7 to 10 servings a day of fruit and vegetables.
- Switch to whole-grain bread, cereal and pasta and try other whole grains, such as bulgur and farro.
- Use healthy fats wherever possible. Replace butter with olive oil in cooking and try dipping bread in flavoured olive oil instead of putting butter or margarine on it.
- Eat more seafood. Eat fish at least twice a week but avoid deep-fried fish.
- Reduce red meat and replace it with fish, chicken, or beans. If you eat red meat, make sure it's lean and keep portions small.
- Enjoy some dairy. Low-fat plain yogurt and small amounts of a variety of cheeses are allowed in moderation.
Grieger, J.A., Preconception diet, fertility, and later health in pregnancy. Curr Opin Obstet Gynecol, 2020. 32(3): p. 227-232.