One of the most commonly asked questions by women who are hoping to conceive is, “What can I do or eat to increase my fertility?” There are now multiple studies that may be providing some answers to this question. There is a growing body of evidence that shows that diets high in protein and low in carbohydrates may lead to higher pregnancy rates.
One U.S. trial of 120 women undergoing IVF showed a significantly higher pregnancy rate for women who consumed a low amount of carbohydrates and high amount of protein. The women in this study were asked to keep a three-day nutrition diary prior to embryo transfer. The patients were divided into 2 groups based on what percentage of their daily diets consisted of protein. Women whose protein intake was more than 25% of their daily diet were 5 times more likely to conceive than women whose protein intake averaged less than 25% of their daily diet. There was no difference in the body mass index (BMI) between the 2 groups, suggesting that nutritional components of a woman’s diet may play a greater role in fertility than overall BMI.
One of the largest studies to look at nutrition and fertility came from researchers at Harvard University. They used data from 18,000 women who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study, one of the largest and long running studies of women’s health in the U.S. Based on this data, the researchers concluded that women should avoid trans fats and focus on the quality of carbohydrates they consume. They suggested that women should opt for fiber-rich foods and avoid simple sugars rather than completely restricting the quantity of carbohydrates consumed.
Both studies had clear limitations, so I don’t think we can promote any particular “fertility diet” based on the results. What I do think though is that both studies provide evidence that the quality of food we consume impacts our fertility. And, unfortunately, high quality food is not always part of a typical Western diet. In the U.S., we often rely heavily on convenience foods, which are easy, fast, and inexpensive. These foods tend to be high in low-quality carbohydrates, which have very little nutritional value.
My suggestion for patients who are struggling to conceive is to pay attention to what you’re putting in your body. This is one thing you can do to be proactive about your fertility and it may improve your chances of conceiving. You don’t have to go on any extreme type of diet. Just try to follow a diet that is balanced and low in refined carbohydrates. This may result in improved fertility and will surely be good for your overall health.