For anyone trying to get pregnant, whether you’re trying naturally or going through IVF or other Assisted Reproduction, nutrition and diet are really important.
These days the internet is a seemingly endless source of information, and anyone seeking the magical ‘fertility diet’ will find a plethora of complex, confusing and at times misleading information. Forums and websites are full of diet tips and tricks which promise to solve all medical issues. But it’s not all accurate, and sometimes the internet is just wrong.
So what should you really be eating if you’re trying to conceive? The best eating plan for general fertility is one that includes plenty of whole foods, preferably home cooked from fresh ingredients. The diet should be high in vegetables and complex carbohydrates, and should include some good quality lean protein from both plant and animal sources (pulses, fish, lean meats and eggs). Small quantities of good quality monounsaturated fats such as avocado, olives and olive oil, and some nuts is also really important. These foods provide the essential nutrients to encourage fertility, and to support a pregnancy if conception occurs.
Some medical conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) show strong benefit from specialized diets. The best diet for someone with PCOS varies depending on individual requirements, for example some people with PCOS are overweight, some are insulin resistant and so on. People with PCOS should seek advice from a qualified dietitian to ensure that they get the best advice for their individual needs.
Being overweight (BMI>25) or underweight (BMI<20) can significantly affect both general fertility and the success rate of IVF treatment, and this applies to both women and men. For women, being overweight has adverse effects on ovulation and can impair response to assisted reproduction treatment. The good news is that losing even a few kilos can have a very positive effect, so it is well worth trying. Fertility in men is also affected by body weight, with semen quality being affected by being overweight or underweight.
If you do need to lose weight, it is important to do that in a healthy manner, aiming for a loss of no more than 0.5 – 1kg each week. Crash diets are a really bad idea at this time. Crash diets not only make the body think it is starving, they also fail to provide the correct nutrition to support fertility and healthy foetal development if conception does occur.
Being underweight also affects hormones and fertility. If you are underweight it is important that you gain some weight using healthy foods such as healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils) such as avocadoes, olives, olive oil and nuts and low-moderate GI carbohydrate foods.