Many factors, both natural and environmental, can affect your fertility. Some things you get little say over, such as genetic predispositions or medical conditions. Others, such as your diet and lifestyle, are completely under your control. Many studies have shown that a woman’s dietary choices can have an impact on her chances of getting pregnant. In fact, a recent article discussed how eating fast food can increase the amount of time it takes a woman to conceive. Below, we’ll take a look at how fast food impacts your fertility, along with the best and worst food choices for women who are trying to conceive.
Just how bad is fast food for your fertility?
It’s no secret that fast food isn’t great for your body. We’ve long known that a quick trip for an inexpensive burger and some fries can come at a cost to your overall health but can it actually hurt your chances of getting pregnant? A recent study suggests that the relationship between fast food and infertility might be a lot stronger than you think.
The study recorded the eating habits of around 5,600 first-time mothers along with the length of time that it took for them to get pregnant. What they found might be enough to make you skip that next trip to to the drive-through. Women who ate fast food four or more times a week took, on average, a month longer to conceive than women who typically avoided fast food restaurants. Even more striking, among the women in the study, those that consumed fast food at least four times a week had double the risk of infertility than women who didn’t eat fast food at all. It’s safe to say that steering clear of fast food could help you get pregnant faster (and be healthier during the process).
Why does fast food have a negative effect on fertility?
Jessica Grieger, the study’s lead author, suggests that the nutritional components found most commonly in fast foods—high levels of saturated fat, sodium, and sugar—could contribute to altered ovarian function in women trying to conceive. While her theory hasn’t yet been specifically studied, the measured effects of fast food consumption on fertility is enough to make you reconsider your eating habits.
We don’t yet know the effects of specific fast food ingredients on ovarian function, but studies have abundantly shown that both saturated fat and sodium intake have been linked to obesity in adults. In fact, fast food consumption in general can be related to obesity, especially in women. Obesity greatly increase your risk for a wide range of medical conditions, including infertility. For this reason, doctors often recommend healthy weight loss to increase the likelihood of getting pregnant, both naturally and using assisted reproductive technology.
Could a change in diet actually increase your likelihood of getting pregnant?
A Harvard research study found that women who made dietary choices specifically focused on fertility were able to increase their fertility by 80 percent. The study assigned fertility diet scores based on a woman’s risk for infertility caused by ovulatory disorders. The women with the lowest risk of infertility chose diets rich in fiber, iron, and vegetable proteins. They avoided trans fat and sugar from carbohydrates.
Of the women that participated in the fast food study, those that ate fruit at least three times a day became pregnant half a month sooner than women who ate fruit less than once a month. It’s unclear whether the fruit itself aided with fertility, or if fruit consumption was an indicator of overall healthier lifestyle choices. Either way, it’s clear that your diet can impact the length of time that it takes to conceive.
Are there foods that can improve your fertility?
As a general rule, eating healthier can have a positive impact on fertility. However, there are some foods that can help more than others. Less calories doesn’t always mean that a food is better for your reproductive health. Being aware of the nutritional content of the foods that you eat can help you make the best dietary choices when you’re trying to conceive.
- Dairy—Whether you’re trying to lose weight or simply eat healthier, making the switch from full-fat to low-fat dairy products can seem like a no-brainer. As it turns out, that might not be such a good idea. Research has shown that frequent consumption of low-fat dairy foods—such as skim milk and low-fat ice cream—can contribute to infertility. Women who regularly consume low-fat dairy foods were found to be 85 percent more likely to experience infertility caused by ovulatory disorders.On the other hand, women who eat full-fat dairy foods may have a decreased risk for ovulatory disorders. In the study, women who consumed full-fat dairy foods at least once a day were 27 percent less likely to experience ovulatory infertility than women who only had one serving of full-fat dairy each week. The researchers suggest that a fat-soluble substance present in full-fat dairy foods may actually improve ovarian function.
- Carbohydrates—Many popular diets throughout the years have disagreed on the impact of carbs on weight loss and overall nutrition. According to research gathered from the long-term Nurses’ Health Study, the amount of carbohydrates in your diet isn’t nearly as important as the type of carbs you eat. Eating complex carbohydrates, such as those found in whole grains, beans, and vegetables can decrease your risk of infertility. These types of carbs take your body longer to digest than “fast carbs” such as white bread, instant oatmeal, and soda. When your body has to spend more time digesting the carbohydrates that you eat, it helps regulate your blood sugar and insulin levels. This is called lowering your glycemic load and it can actually help you lose weight and get pregnant faster.
- Protein—The Nurses’ Health Study also gives us some helpful insights into the role of dietary proteins in infertility. Consumption of protein from animal sources, such as red meats and poultry, was associated with higher risks of ovulatory infertility. On the other hand, consumption of protein from vegetable sources was shown to actually increase fertility. This is great news for women who are vegetarian or vegan but it doesn’t mean you have to be. Just consider switching out some of your animal proteins for vegetable proteins, such as those found in black beans, lentils, and chickpeas. Meatless Monday, anyone?
- Iron—Iron is an important part of your diet, both when you’re trying to conceive and during pregnancy. In the early stages of pregnancy, a developing child will need a lot of iron from their mother and an iron deficiency could put you at risk of anemia. While you’re trying to conceive, you might consider adding an iron supplement to your diet. Women who boost the iron in their diets with multivitamins and iron supplements have been shown to decrease their risk of infertility due to ovulatory problems. However, you should always ask your doctor before you start taking any supplements.
When you’re trying to conceive, you want to do everything you can to increase your chances of becoming pregnant. Changing your diet is an affordable, natural way to improve your fertility. Take into account the factors outlined above next time you go to the supermarket or consider stopping for some fast food on your way home from work. Little steps, such as trying out a veggie burger, or indulging in some full-fat ice cream, could have a positive impact on your fertility. It’s also a good idea to discuss your personal nutrition with your doctor before you make any major changes to your diet while you’re trying to get pregnant.