Q: I’m 32 years old and I want to get pregnant. Is there a fertility diet that can help me have a successful pregnancy?
A: Maybe, especially if you usually have irregular periods and have been diagnosed with problems related to ovulation.
The Nurses’ Health Study II, which started in 1989, followed more than 116,000 female registered nurses (remember, there can be male nurses, too) who ranged in age from 25 to 42 years old. The diet and exercise regimens of 17,544 married women in this group who were trying to become pregnant or became pregnant from 1991 were studied over the next eight years.
Every two years these women were asked if they had tried to become pregnant without any success for more than one year (which pretty much defines infertility). They were also asked to indicate if their inability to conceive had been diagnosed and found to be due to fallopian tube blockage, endometriosis, their husband’s low sperm count, problems related to ovulation, or if no problems were found.
The researchers did find a relationship between diet, exercise, weight and successful pregnancy. They found that the lowest risk of ovulation problem-related infertility occurred in women who exercised vigorously (at least 30 minutes per day) and had a body mass index (BMI) of between 20 and 24.9. These women’s diets also had a ratio of monounsaturated fats to trans fats of at least 10%, animal protein made up less than 10% of their energy and calories, vegetable protein made up more than 7% of their calories, iron intake was greater than 40 mg, and their diets had a low glycemic load (less than 107 grams of processed carbohydrates). These women also ate less than one serving a week of low-fat dairy, had one or more servings a day of high-fat dairy (the authors don’t understand this particular result), and consumed six or more multivitamin tablets a week.
The difference in “ovulation disorder” infertility between women who didn’t attain these criteria compared to the women who did was sixfold. The author’s conclusion was that infertility cases due to ovulation disorders may be prevented through modification of lifestyle: Eating vegetable protein versus animal protein, complex, rather than processed carbs, the right fats and increasing physical activity (while maintaining adequate body weight) made a huge difference. In other words, before and while getting pregnant, eat and do what your doctors have been advocating all along for your heart and body health!
Dr. Reichman’s Bottom Line: If you’re looking to maintain a “fertility diet,” take a multivitamin (remember that taking folic acid before getting pregnant is important to prevent neural tube defects in the early fetus), eat a diet rich in vegetable protein, low in animal protein, moderate processed starches and ... make sure you exercise.
Dr. Judith Reichman, the TODAY show’s medical contributor on women’s health, has practiced obstetrics and gynecology for more than 20 years. You will find many answers to your questions in her latest book, “Slow Your Clock Down: The Complete Guide to a Healthy, Younger You,” which is now available in paperback. It is published by William Morrow, a division of .
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician.