It’s widely known that nutrition and diet can affect your fertility. While there is no miracle food or diet that will cure all infertility issues, research indicates that there is one dietary change that you can make which may improve your chances of getting pregnant, with or without fertility treatment.
If you’re thinking you’ll need to stock up on fancy dietary supplements or expensive organic juices, think again! The “secret ingredient” is probably something you already consume as a part of your daily diet: protein.
Believe it or not, research suggests that a high-protein diet is an important factor for women who are trying to conceive.
So what’s the deal with protein?
A study led by researchers at the Delaware Institute for Reproductive Medicine (DIRM) analyzed the diets of 120 women going through IVF at the same clinic, all ages 36 and 37 and all with the same general BMI. Interestingly, patients whose daily diet included protein at over 25% of total intake had two times the number of embryos available for transfer and four times the pregnancy rates.1 Further research found that the optimum diet for increasing fertility (egg quality, embryo quality, pregnancy rates, birth rates) was 30% protein and less than 40% carbohydrates.1 Lead investigator Jeffrey B. Russell, MD expanded the study to 350 women and found the same results.
“Protein is essential for good quality embryos and better egg quality, it turns out,” said Dr. Russell. Dr. Russell also noted that traditionally BMI was a main factor of concern, but doctors were finding poor quality embryos among even thin and healthy women. When studying the nutritional journals of study participants, he was surprised by the large percentage of women who were eating more than 60% carbohydrates each day and 10% (or less) protein.1 These diets were associated with poor quality embryos.
When Should You Change Your Diet if You Are Planning on Trying to Get Pregnant?
Start soon! Dr. Russell now instructs his infertility patients maintain a diet comprised of 25% to 35% protein and 40% or less carbs for three months before they begin IVF treatment. Of course, you should speak with your own HCP before altering your diet significantly; he or she will be able to help you make healthy, safe changes to your diet based on your individual needs.
When choosing protein, consider the following:
- Focus on lean proteins: For the best sources of protein, alternate between poultry, fish, and non-meat options such as nuts, beans, quinoa, and peas.
- Look for plant-based proteins: Try to get some of your protein from plants and grains. Adding foods like beans, peas, soybeans or tofu, or nuts, whole-grain cereals, spinach, beans, pumpkin, tomatoes, and beets will help you create variety.
It’s OK to start slow! You don’t need to make a drastic change right away; start by slowly swapping out some carbs for proteins, giving yourself time to adjust. Find fun, easy recipes to create low-carb, high-protein versions of your favorite meals.
Most importantly, remember that this is not a weight-loss program – this is all about nutrition, and is designed to promote better eating habits, to help patients get healthier as they try to conceive.
- Russell, J. B. (2012). Does dietary protein and carbohydrate intake influence blastocyst development and pregnancy rates? [Abstract]. Fertility and Sterility,98(3), S233-S234. Available at: http://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(12)01583-X/fulltext. Published October 24, 2012. Accessed October 11, 2017.