Because the Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional eating and living habits of people from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea it is hailed as being possibly the world’s healthiest diet and can be a smart choice for women and men who are trying to conceive. Not only is the diet abundant in all the healthy foods we should eat more of, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and olive oil, but quality protein in the form of fish and poultry are favoured over red meats.
The Mediterranean diet has received much attention in recent months due to the fact that it has many health benefits, such as; better control of blood sugar levels, helping to sustain a healthy BMI and reduced inflammation. Research has shown that following a Mediterranean diet can reduce the chance of developing conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease.
Choosing to follow a Mediterranean diet may also help to reduce fertility issues in both men and women. Being either underweight or overweight affects hormone regulation, which in turn may affect ovulation in women, and semen quality and count in males.
The Mediterranean diet and fertility
Although there is no one ‘miracle’ fertility food, there certainly are essential fertility nutrients obtained through eating a variety of healthy foods that can support your reproductive health, such as folic acid, B6, B12, omega-3 essential fatty acids, zinc and antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E. One important benefit of the Mediterranean diet to fertility is its high vitamin B content. Optimal levels of B6 and B12 vitamins (including folate) are not only important for the prevention of neural tube defects, but these vitamins also help ensure that your body’s cells are strong and have healthy DNA – which, in turn, can influence your chances of conceiving.
In fact, research has shown that eating a Mediterranean style diet – categorised by consuming a high intake of fruits, vegetables, fish, chicken and whole grains and a low intake of red meats and processed foods – boosts levels of B vitamins in the body, along with the right kinds of fat (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), can lead to a higher success rate for women trying to conceive or those undergoing fertility treatment.
In a study conducted by Dr Jorge Chavarro and colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health in the US, they researched how an intake of different types of fats affected the success of IVF treatment in 147 women, mostly in their 30s. They found that women who ate the most monounsaturated fat had up to a three times improved chance of giving birth via IVF as those who ate the least. The top third, who derived on average 25 percent of their calories from mono-unsaturated fat, had three times the chance of success compared to the bottom third, who derived on average nine percent of their calories from it. In contrast, those women who ate the most saturated fat produced two fewer eggs suitable for fertilization than those who ate the least – nine compared to 11.
The Mediterranean diet is based on the following principles:
- Eat small amounts of low fat, dairy products.
- Consume a good variety of vegetables, legumes, fruits and whole grain cereals each day (ideally between 7-9 portions).
- Drink plenty of water each day and avoiding all sugary drinks completely.
- Eat fish and poultry and limit red meat consumption.
- Use monounsaturated vegetable oil, olive oil or rapeseed oil instead of animal fats, such as butter or lard.
- Do not add salt to your food at the table (cook with herbs and spices instead).
- Snack on fruit, dried fruit and unsalted nuts rather than cakes, crisps and biscuits.
- A Mediterranean diet advocates drinking red wine during meals – no more than two small glasses per day if you are a man and only one small glass per day if you are a woman. However, we know that drinking alcohol, even in moderation, affects fertility, making it more difficult to conceive. So we strongly advise that if you are trying to conceive naturally, or you are about to embark upon fertility treatment, all the advice, for both men and women, is to refrain from drinking alcohol completely.
- Avoid fast food or processed ready meals completely.
Tips for starting a Mediterranean diet which can help you makeover your meals and enjoy the benefits.
Forget the oils you have been cooking with until now, just make the switch to extra-virgin olive oil. The olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids which could improve HDL cholesterol, the “good” type of cholesterol. Add olive oil in your salad dressings or vinaigrettes, drizzle it on finished dishes like fish or chicken to boost flavour even add it to mashed potatoes, pasta, and many more meals.
This diet put emphasis on fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Even those leaner fish with less fat, like cod or tilapia, can also provide a good source of protein. Cooking fish in baking paper or foil packets is one no-fuss, no-mess way to put dinner on the table but there are many recipes to try.
A good way to add veggies in your diet is to eat one serving at snacktime, like crunching on bell pepper or carrot strips or having a smoothie with a handful of spinach, and add a side dish at your dinner menu. Try to have at least two servings per day.
Add in your meals “real” whole grains that are still in their “whole” form and haven’t been refined. A hot bowl of oatmeal is perfect for breakfast in the morning. Quinoa cooks up in just 20 minutes, making it a great side dish. Barley is full of fibre and it’s filling: pair it with mushrooms for a steamy, yummy soup. Even popcorn is a whole grain —simply keep it healthy by eating air-popped corn and replace the butter with a drizzle of olive oil instead. If you find it hard to make the switch from your favorite pasta and rice, mix your preferred pasta and rice with whole grains ones, like half whole-wheat and half white.
Nuts contain more fiber and minerals, such as potassium, than processed snack foods. Replace your snacks with a handful portion of any type of nuts, whether that’s almonds, cashews, or pistachios, you will be surprised on how satisfying this snack option can be.
Fresh fruits are a good source of fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants and a great way to indulge your sweet tooth. You can drizzle slices of pear, apple or banana with honey or sprinkle a little brown sugar on grapefruit. Better to place fresh fruit somewhere visible at home and take some with you at work so you have a healthful snack when your feel like it.
Eat Greek or plain yoghurt, and try smaller amounts of a variety of cheeses.
Change the way you think about meat. If you like meat, go for smaller amounts – choose poultry or have small strips of sirloin in a vegetable sauté, or even a dish of pasta garnished with diced prosciutto.
Our preconception nutrition and diet advice can go a long way to helping you to improve your fertility over the course of 6-12 months. However, if you have been trying to conceive for one year with no success, we would recommend undertaking fertility investigations to be sure there are no underlying health reasons as to why you are not conceiving. Our One-Stop Fertility Assessment checks your general well-being, as well as assessing your fertility.
Simply call us on 01992 78 50 60 to arrange an appointment or email email@example.com.
Further interesting reading:
The preconception Mediterranean dietary pattern in couples undergoing in vitro fertilization/intracytoplasmic sperm injection treatment increases the chance of pregnancy. Vujkovic M1, de Vries JH, Lindemans J, Macklon NS, van der Spek PJ, Steegers EA, Steegers-Theunissen RP.
Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, et al (2013). Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet. The New England Journal of Medicine. Published online February 25 2013.