Infertility can be primary, where a couple has never conceived, or secondary, where conception has occurred but is not possible thereafter. In India, the prevalence of infertility ranges from 3% to 16.8%, according to the NHP India. Common causes of infertility in women include excess weight, ovulation disorders, endometriosis, early menopause, or primary ovarian insufficiency. To address these issues, Dr Jorge Chavarro and Dr Walter Willett, both from the Harvard School of Public Health, developed a diet based on data analysis from the Nurses' Health Study, one of the largest and longest-running studies of women's health in America. The resulting book, "The Fertility Diet: Groundbreaking Research Reveals Natural Ways to Boost Ovulation and Improve Your Chances of Getting Pregnant," suggests that a healthy diet and exercise pattern can improve fertility.
Experts agree that obesity leads to imbalances in insulin and hormone levels, which can negatively affect follicle growth and ovulation. Therefore, it's essential to supply the body with nutrients that support good health, in addition to losing weight.
The Fertility Diet recommends the following guidelines:
- Avoid trans fats, which are unhealthy, and read labels to avoid foods made in reheated oils.
- Use more unsaturated vegetable oils and nut oils, such as olive oil, peanut oil, or canola oil.
- Eat more vegetable protein, such as beans and nuts, and less animal protein.
- Choose whole grains and other sources of carbohydrates that have a slower effect on blood sugar and insulin, rather than highly refined carbohydrates that quickly boost blood sugar and insulin.
- Drink a glass of whole milk or full-fat yogurt every day and temporarily trade in skim milk.
- Take a multivitamin that contains folic acid and other B vitamins. Consult with your doctor for the correct amount.
- Get plenty of iron from fruits, green leafy vegetables, beans, and supplements, but not from red meat.
- Beverages matter: water is great; coffee, tea, and alcohol are okay in moderation; stay away from sugared sodas.
- Aim for a healthy weight. If you're overweight, losing between 5% and 10% of your weight can jump-start ovulation.
- If you aren't physically active, start a daily exercise plan. If you already exercise, pick up the pace of your workouts. But don't overdo it, especially if you're quite lean, as too much exercise can work against conception.
- Stop smoking if you smoke.
In addition to these guidelines, incorporating specific foods into your diet can help balance hormones, improve gut health, and boost overall health. These foods include:
1. Beans and Lentils
These plant proteins have a positive effect on ovulation and are rich in protein, vitamins, complex carbohydrates, fiber, and folic acid, a critical nutrient.
They're rich in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A, folic acid, and antioxidants, reducing oxidative stress and helping in ovulation. They're also perfect snacks and dessert replacements for weight management.
3. Nuts and Seeds
They contain healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber, and protein. Sunflower seeds add vitamin E, a potent antioxidant.
4. Whole Grains
They contain complex carbs and add fiber, minerals, and polyphenols to the diet, supporting lower insulin resistance, delayed food digestion, and lasting satiety.
5. Whole Milk
Full-fat dairy provides calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D, which are all essential for fertility. Additionally, dahi, or natural yogurt, is a natural probiotic that will assist with gut health and weight management too.
These foods and guidelines are supportive to infertility related to ovulation. Most of the claims have stated that up to 10% of women benefit with these changes. However these are the basic guidelines for an overall healthy lifestyle and will assist in overall health. In addition, as both over weight and underweight are detrimental for conception, these guidelines will also support this aim.
About Rupali DattaRupali Datta is a Clinical Nutritionist and has worked in leading corporate hospitals. She has created and lead teams of professionals to deliver clinical solutions for patients across all medical specialties including critical care. She is a member of the Indian Dietetic Association and Indian Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.