Unlike coffee and intense exercise, which have conflicting evidence on the impact on fertility, weight has a clear impact not only on fertility, but also pregnancy and even the future health of your baby. For women with a BMI in the overweight or obese category, it is highly recommended to lose weight before becoming pregnant (source).
If you have unhealthy eating habits and you have decided to make some healthy changes before getting pregnant, congratulations for taking the first step towards taking control of your health! By adopting a healthy diet and exercise program you may not only lose weight, but you may also feel better, have more energy and yes, become more fertile. To top it off, you may have a healthier pregnancy and baby. Here is a guide on what to eat to maximize your fertility health and prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy and baby.
To find out if you in the fertility zone for healthy weight calculate your BMI here. P.S. Men's sperm health is also significantly impacted by weight and diet. Check out research recommendations for your partner's diet here .
Is Weight Affecting my Fertility?
Studies reveal that there is a 'fertility zone' for healthy weight, which is a BMI range of 20-24. If you fall under or over the BMI 'fertility zone' your weight could be affecting your ability conceive. Please note that this can be misleading because even if you do fall in the BMI range of 20-24, eating a poor diet and having lack of physical activity, can still be impact your fertility, hormones, pregnancy and future health of your baby.
Weight is most likely affecting your ability to conceive if you have an irregular cycle. The National Infertility Association reports that 30 percent of infertility cases are due to weight extremes, which can alter hormone levels and throw ovulation off schedule. It's also important to know that about 75 percent of overweight women who struggle with fertility have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) (source). If you have irregular cycles and/or are overweight, consult with your doctor about plan that may be needed to balance your hormones.
How Much Weight do I Need to Lose?
You may not need to lose as much weight as you think to create positive health changes. Research shows that losing just 5 to 10 percent weight can positively impact fertility. To calculate how many pounds you would need to loss to achieve a 5-10% weight loss try this formula:
Percent you want to lose = how many pounds you need to lose/your current weight.
For example, if you want to lose 5% weight and you weight 150 pounds, the formula looks like this:
Will Losing Weight Really Help?
In a review of 11 studies, 8 of them showed that weight loss translated into significantly increased pregnancy rates and/or live brith weights in both overweight and obese women (source).
Here is what happened in another study with women that where infertile and overweight with anovulatory cycles:
A group of women given a behavioral change program in exercise and diet were compared to a comparison group of women who were not enrolled in the behavioral change program. The program lasted 6 months and the women in the behavioral change program lost an average of 13 pounds. Out of the 13 women in the behavioral change group, 12 women resumed ovulation and 11 became pregnant. Fitness, diet and psychometric measurements all improved. Fasting insulin and testosterone concentrations dropped significantly, while sex hormone binding globulin concentrations rose. None of these changes occurred in the comparison group (source).
How to Lose Weight Safely and Effectively
For those who would like to lose weight, even though you may wish to lose weight quickly to get pregnant sooner, this is not the time for fad diets and extreme caloric restriction. Losing weight too fast may deprive you of key nutrients needed for pregnancy, so plan on losing no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week.
Your best source for losing weight safely and effectively is your doctor or a registered dietitian. And your best bet for losing weight is not to go on a diet, but to change your eating habits. They can give you guidelines for your individual caloric intake and meals. For more information on your dietary and nutrient needs try this interactive tool that will calculate your needs for you here.
Tip: For many women, getting hyper focused on losing weight can lead to undue stress and even overeating. Instead of thinking of losing weight, think about gaining health. There are many online resources and apps to help with meal planning. Having support is huge. Consider asking your doctor for local support groups or online support groups.
Foods to Eat:
The dietary recommendations below are based on the information Harvard researchers concluded based on the 18,000 women from the Nurses Health Study, all with the intention of having a baby.
The Nurses' Health Study found that fertility increased in women who ate more protein from plant protein rather than meat protein. In fact, ovulatory infertility was nearly 40% higher in women with the highest intakes of animal protein. Women with who had higher than 100 grams of protein where less fertile than women who had around 77 grams of protein per day. This does not at all mean you need to become a vegetarian, but try replacing a serving of meat each day with plant protein. Protein rich foods to add are fish, legumes, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds.
Carbohydrates have gotten a bad reputation that is for sure. Turns out it's not carbohydrates that decrease fertility, it's the type. Make yourself familiar with fast carbs vs. slow carbs. Eating slow carbs such as legumes, vegetables, and whole grains, that are rich in fiber, can also prevent gestational diabetes.
The only fat that is found to be incredibly unhealthy is man-made trans fat found in processed foods. It is so unhealthy, in fact, that the FDA has deemed it unsafe and told the food industry they are no longer allowed to add Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHOs) (source). This will not be effective, however, until June 2018.
Trans fat can also be found naturally in meat and dairy products which is why it is essential to stick to healthy portion sizes.
The following foods and nutrients have been found beneficial for both fertility and pregnancy:
Iron rich foods are found to help with fertility and cell health. Examples include lean meats, beans, eggs, lentils, spinach, fortified cereals, long-grain enriched rice and whole grains.
Vitamin C is important to enhance iron absorption and can be found in foods such as citrus fruits (ie: oranges and grape fruit) and red bell peppers.
B vitamins promote a healthy metabolism, growth and blood. There are 8 B vitamins and they can be found in foods such as eggs, spinach, parsley, beets, lentils, sunflower seeds, nuts, fish, beef, and avocados.
Zinc is a key player in cell division and can be found in foods such as fish, figs, and whole grains.
Folic Acid is essential for the health your baby. It is highly recommended to take folic acid supplements to prevent birth defects. In addition to your supplements add leafy green vegetables (ie spinach and kale), citrus fruits, beans and whole grains.
Whole milk took researchers by surprise. They found whole milk to have more protective power over fertility than low fat or skim milk. As long as you are not lactose intolerant, try adding 1-2 servings of full fat diary (milk, yogurt, cheese) in place of low-fat and skim milk products.
Anti-Fertility Foods: What to Avoid in your Diet:
As hard as it may be at first, try and refrain from sugary and starchy foods (ie: white bread and pasta). One does not have to deprive themselves entirely of dessert. There are many desserts you can make that with healthier ingredients but with honey instead of sugar. Try this cookie recipe.
- Replace white bread, bagels, rice, cakes, cookies and pasta with slow carbohydrates.
- Replace sodas (both diet and regular), juice with tea or sparkling water
- Replace processed foods with whole foods and home cooked snacks and meals
- Replace artificial sweeteners and sugar with honey
It's best to not have the foods you should avoid in the house at all. When you are tired, hungry or bored, it's natural to grab the most sugary foods first. Don't play will power games with yourself that are sure to end with sugar winning. Instead, stock your kitchen with fresh fruit, whole milk yogurt (with no added sugar), and nuts and throw out the sugary, fast carb foods. Stock your kitchen with snacks to curb cravings include nuts, seeds, nut butter, fruit and even a cup of hot tea.
Now that you have a better idea of what you need to do for your dietary needs, the other half of the equation is exercise.
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Cheers to your health! Feel free to share some of your favorite recipes and submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, in reference to the opening sentence, since research shows conflicting evidence on coffee and intense exercise for fertility, moderation is advised. For coffee, it is advised to have no more than 200kg in a day. As for exercise, please check out this article on how much exercise is safe while trying to get pregnant.
References and Resources:
- Despite decreased odds of LGA, increased odds of SGA and a lack of information on preterm birth indicate that GWL should not be advocated in general for obese women.