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Can Your Diet Play a Part
By Michelle Maxwell, MS, RD
Several women dream about the day when they can say they are eating for two as they go through pregnancy. Unfortunately, some women experience difficulties with fertility. When that issue arises, it may be time to take a look at your diet while you’re just eating for one.
There are several factors that can contribute to infertility. While the list includes things we can’t control, like aging, there are lifestyle factors that we have a little more control over like smoking and diet.
Harvard researchers came up with The Fertility Diet, a book that summarizes information from the Nurse’s Health Study on how diet affects fertility. The recommendations within the book include lifestyle changes and health practices which can help with reducing the chance of infertility issues. Some suggestion include:
Maintain a healthy weight and exercise: According to the CDC, about 56.9% of African American women 20 years of age or older are obese. Women who are overweight are more likely to have imbalanced hormone levels and irregular ovulation schedules. On the opposite end of the spectrum, women who are underweight could also have irregular periods and could stop ovulation all together. A healthy weight is defined as having a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9. Exercising has so many benefits already, and now we can add improving fertility to the list. Physical activity can help get you to a healthy weight if you are overweight or help you to maintain a healthy weight. Be cautious to not go to extremes, because too much exercise, especially if you are underweight, can have negative effects and can actually lead to problems with ovulation.
Attain protein and iron from vegetable sources: Consider reducing the amount of meat in your diet. Studies have shown that ovulatory infertility increases with diets high in animal protein. Non-meat protein sources that can be consumed in place of animal protein include, but are not limited to beans, nuts, tofu, and peas. In addition, fortified cereals, whole grains, and other plant sources such as dark green leafy vegetables, are other options that can added to the diet in order to receive protein and iron.
Increase Water Intake: Water has zero calories and is the best beverage option anyone could make. One way to make drinking water more fun is to try adding different fruits to flavor your water. It’s a natural and healthy alternative to sugary beverages. To add, avoid sugary sodas, as they may increase issues with infertility.
Get Your Vitamins: The Fertility diet recommends including a multivitamin as a part of our health routine, while making note of the importance of folic acid in the diet. Multivitamins have their role as they are used to fill nutrient gaps that most people miss. If you would prefer to get your folic acid from your foods, some great sources include green leafy vegetables, broccoli, asparagus, fruits such as oranges and mangoes, and beans.
Preparing for your baby starts way before you get pregnant. To continue improving your health as you work towards starting a family, I encourage you to include more physical activity in your lifestyle, try a more plant based diet, and take your vitamins.
Other dietary recommendations that are beneficial for our health and fertility include choosing slow-digesting carbohydrates, also known as unprocessed carbohydrates. Whole grains and natural sugars, like those found in fruits, fall into this category and help to stabilize blood sugar. Carbohydrates are not all bad and are very key to having a well-rounded diet. The goal is to choose the right one type of carbs to eat. Additionally, avoid trans and saturated fats, and if you consume dairy products, when trying to conceive, choose whole milk over reduced options.
The CDC states that 12% of women aged 15-44 have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying pregnancies to term. Preparing for your baby starts way before you get pregnant. To continue improving your health as you work towards starting a family, I encourage you to include more physical activity in your lifestyle, try a more plant based diet, and take your vitamins. I look forward to our next talk on a healthy prenatal diet.
Michelle Maxwell is a registered dietitian. She received her B.S. in dietetics and M.S. in Nutrition and Food Science from The Florida State University. Originally on a pre-med track, she switched into this field after realizing how big of a role nutrition played in health, especially in preventing disease. Ms. Maxwell’s goal is to teach everyone how to make small changes that can lead to big results.
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