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The Famous Fertility Diet: What It is and How to Follow It

Everywhere you go, there are women who swear by the power of fertility-boosting diets. There are books, blogs, and entire communities devoted to their efficacy. But, there is one diet that has reigned supreme for over ten years: The Fertility Diet. 

March 1, 2021
Nora Tomer

Everywhere you go, there are women who swear by the power of fertility-boosting diets. There are books, blogs, and entire communities devoted to their efficacy. But, there is one diet that has reigned supreme for over ten years: The Fertility Diet

Let’s take a look at this famous diet and decipher whether it can improve your fertility by the leaps and strides it claims.

A woman in a purple shirt sits outdoors, eating with a smile on her face.
Altering your diet may be an everyday way to improve your fertility.

What is the Fertility Diet?

The titular fertility diet is the ten step program proposed by Drs. Jorge Chavarro and Walter Wilett from Harvard School of Public Health as well as Patrick J. Skerrett in their book The Fertility Diet: Groundbreaking Research Reveals Natural Ways to Boost Ovulation and Improve Your Chances of Getting Pregnant. The diet is believed to benefit women attempting to conceive, including those with certain fertility conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome, damaged fallopian tubes, endometriosis, and uterine polyps. 

Although the book is over a decade old, it remains a staple in the world of fertility boosting regimes and is recommended by doctors and mommy bloggers alike. 

Using data from the Nurses’ Health Study, Drs. Chavarro and Wilett followed 18,000 women for eight years. During this time, they monitored each subject’s nutrition and exercise routines, as well as when/if they became pregnant. It is important to note that while the study hoped to find beneficial information for women experiencing infertility, not all of the women who took part in the study had these conditions

The Results

By the end of the study, the team felt as though they found a strong connection between better nutrition and fertility. To quote Dr. Chavarro, “What we found is that, with a handful of exceptions, the same things you would recommend for the prevention of cardiovascular disease or for overall longevity or for general healthy eating vastly overlaps with what we would recommend to prevent risk factors for infertility.”

In terms of creating a specific diet for women interested in boosting their fertility, the research showed that meal plans chock full of healthy fats, whole grains, plant-based protein, along with supplemental vitamin B-12, vitamin D, and folic acid increased ovulation. On the other hand, women who consumed refined carbs, red meat, coffee, soda and saturated fats experienced a higher risk for ovulatory infertility. 

The study also recommended that women increase their daily amount of high-fat dairy products, but this conclusion has been reconsidered. Dairy products high in fat can lead to cardiovascular issues if consumed too often and any connection between dairy and fertility is believed to be tenuous at best.

A closeup of toast with an avocado spread, spinach leaves, and seeds on top.
Leafy greens like spinach are a great source of folic acid.

The Steps

Here are the major steps of The Fertility Diet recommended by Drs. Chavarro and Wilett:

Avoid trans fat

Trans fats, sometimes referred to as hydrogenated oils, have been linked to a variety of health problems so it is best to avoid them at all costs. Trans fats are processed products that are added into liquid vegetable oils to alter their consistency. Trans fats are often present in fried or processed foods, so you’ll want to avoid fast food and, when cooking at home, use unsaturated vegetable oils like olive or canola oil.

Eat plant protein rather than animal protein

Examples of plant based protein sources are tofu, edamame, chickpeas, quinoa, peanuts, and more.

Eat whole grains and fewer processed carbs

Instead of choosing white bread or pasta, opt for the brown varieties instead. These “slow carbs” take your body longer to process, are more filling, and much healthier

Consume high fat dairy products

Originally, The Fertility Diet recommended women try to have a glass of whole milk, a serving of ice cream, or yogurt everyday, but, as mentioned above, this may not be the best choice. It is better to treat these foods, especially whole milk and ice cream, as a treat rather than a staple.

Eat more foods containing B vitamins and folic acid

B vitamins are found in foods such as salmon, eggs, legumes, and sunflower seeds while folic acid is located in leafy greens, asparagus, beets, brussel sprouts, and more. But if you can’t seem to reach the recommended amount per day, you can always supplement your diet via store-bought pills and powders.

Get your iron intake from fruits, veggies, and beans rather than red meat

Iron is an essential mineral that your body requires to stay healthy. However, it is not naturally produced by the body and is replenished through eating iron-rich foods. The Fertility Diet recommends patients maintain their iron levels through plants rather than meat. 

Make water your go-to drink

When reaching for a beverage, it is always better to choose water. While tea and coffee are okay in moderation, sugary drinks like soda are to be avoided.

Make exercise a daily habit

Exercise is vital to your health. Going for a brisk walk, doing light weight lifting, or even yoga are all great ways to begin integrating exercise into your daily routine. 

Consult with your doctor

When looking to improve your health and fertility, it is always a good idea to consult with your doctor. What may benefit one person’s health may not be helpful for another, especially weight loss. Your doctor may also have specific recommendations for dietary improvements based on your personal health record.

A black woman in grey exercise clothing stands outside with one leg balanced on a railing.
Whether you are looking to improve your fertility or simply your general wellness, exercise will help keep your body healthy and happy.

But Does it Really Work?

Despite the rave reviews The Fertility Diet has received since its publication, some experts wonder if its claims are a tad misleading. Their data does show improvement in fertility via their recommended diet, but the foods and methods they promote aren’t necessarily “fertility boosting.” Instead, they lead to an improvement in nutrition which, by making the entire body more healthy, can result in an eventual rise in fertility. 

Doctors have found that imbalances in insulin, blood glucose, luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), estrogen,and testosterone, can all result in decreased fertility. Some of these imbalances can be brought on by obesity. Additionally, other studies have found that if an obese patient loses 10% of their body weight, there is often a improvement in their frequency of ovulation. So, because The Fertility Diet focuses on healthier eating and more regular exercise, patients often find themselves losing weight and thereby experiencing a slight rise in their fertility. 

But fertility issues do not always correlate with obesity. Some infertility disorders are genetic or cannot be influenced by the loss of weight. It is also important to note that this diet was designed to help those without fertility disorders and those with specific ovulatory conditions. Dr. Amanda Kellen, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the Yale Fertility Center, has also claimed that the results of The Fertility Diet can be considered questionable. The data used was collected via self-reporting, a method that suffers from human error. Dr. Kellen also points out that the data reflects on the relationships between different factors rather than direct cause and effect. 

Some doctors have expressed similar concerns as Dr. Kellen, worrying that patients may rely too much on The Fertility Diet and will expect certain results should they follow it. It can be comforting for a patient to feel more in control of their treatment by following a diet, but it can become stress inducing if expectations are not managed. 

The Fertility Diet is one of the many nutrition and exercise routines that can be used to improve your fertility. As Dr. Marie Menko of UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital said, “If you are going to be searching for a fertility diet, this is a good place to start.” And although there are no guarantees that this diet may boost your fertility, there is never a bad time to improve your eating and exercise habits. 

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