Many people ask what they should be eating when trying to conceive. It is true that changing your dietary habits can help improve your chances of success with IVF treatment and to prepare your body for a successful pregnancy. So what is this IVF diet? We dig:
Adopting an IVF diet, one which is balanced and nutritious, can have a significant impact on not only your general health, but also on your fertility.
Given how emotionally and financially draining IVF treatment can be, making some small adjustments to your diet in advance could really be worthwhile for you.
Benefits of eating healthy for IVF success
In a comprehensive study involving 18,000 women over eight years, Harvard researchers found that eating healthy can boost our fertility and chances of having a healthy and safe pregnancy.
There are numerous benefits to adopting a healthy IVF diet prior to and during your treatment, these include:
- Providing vitamins and minerals needed for optimum health of the egg and sperm
- Providing antioxidants which can protect the egg and sperm from damage induced by free radicals
- Providing essential fats which enable the proper production and function of reproductive hormones. This ensures optimal hormone balance in the body and can be particularly beneficial in cases of hormone imbalance, such as infertility in PCOS patients.
- Ensures optimal general health by providing anti-inflammatory and anti-ageing effects
- Ensures the body is healthy and strong in preparation for the early stages of pregnancy
When should I start my IVF diet?
In order to get the most out of its effects, it is important that you start following your IVF diet several months before you begin your IVF treatment.
The usual recommendation is to start the IVF diet about 2-3 months before treatment.
This is to ensure that your body is of optimal health and strength and there is time to stabilize any hormonal imbalances, which may affect the success of your treatment.
But what should you be eating in this fertility diet?
Foods that can increase your chances of IVF success
So now that you know the benefits of a balanced IVF diet when trying to conceive, where exactly do you start?
Well, research supports the idea that a ‘Mediterranean’ diet, i.e. one high in healthy fats, vegetables, fish and legumes increases the chances of IVF success. Therefore, foods commonly consumed in a ‘Mediterranean’ diet usually form the basis of a good pre-conception diet.
Here we provide a brief overview of the types of foods that may prove beneficial to you as you embark upon your IVF journey.
IVF diet for women
Water is important for the function of all organs in the body, including the reproductive organs. Therefore, it is very important to drink enough water whilst trying to conceive. It is recommended that you drink between 8 and 10 glasses of water a day.
- Healthy fats
Healthy fats are important for supporting hormone balance and immune function, as well as controlling inflammation. Foods that are beneficial to eat include oily fish, nuts, eggs and avocado. Olive oil in your cooking also provides healthy fats.
Protein is essential for cell growth and repair, as well as balancing the body’s blood sugar level. Protein is also important for the manufacture of hormones.
Plant protein is considered healthier and fertility researchers at Harvard advise to replace meat with peas, beans, nuts, tofu, and soybeans.
Fiber helps to remove toxins from the body; this includes the removal of excess reproductive hormones, therefore helping to balance these levels. Fiber-rich foods include fruit, vegetables, oats, cereals and nuts.
- Fertility superfoods
There are several foods which are classed as fertility superfoods. These have a very high nutrient content and provide high levels of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants which are beneficial to fertility.
These can be taken as a supplement, or if preferred, incorporated into a healthy diet.
These superfoods include maca, royal jelly, bee propolis, bee pollen and whey protein powder.
- Avoid trans fats
The fats that clog your arteries are also a threat to your fertility, so avoid low quality fats
- Low carb diet is helpful
British fertility experts found in a recent study that your chances of conceiving improve as you cut down the carbs in your diet. IVF success rates in women having low-carb diet were higher by almost 50 percent, as compared to those having a carb-rich diet.
- Don’t skim the milk
Whole milk, cottage cheese, and full-fat yogurt are good for your fertility as they contribute good fat to your diet. Don’t buy skimmed milk if you are trying to conceive.
IVF diet for men
Men may also benefit from following an IVF diet as optimal sperm count and health is important for the success of IVF. There are many reasons for low sperm count in men and a healthy, nutritious diet can improve both sperm count and quality.
The life cycle of a single sperm is typically 74 days; therefore, men should look at following a healthier diet for at least 2-3 months prior to providing their sperm for IVF treatment.
Men should follow a similar IVF diet plan to women, eating a balanced diet containing lots of nutrient dense food, as highlighted above.
Research has shown that men undergoing IVF who followed one of two distinct diet plans the ‘Health Conscious’ or the ‘Traditional Dutch’ diets had better quality semen.
The ‘Health Conscious’ diet – consisted of mainly whole grains, fish, fruit and vegetables
The ‘Traditional Dutch’ diet – included whole grains, meats and potatoes, with sweets and alcohol completely excluded
Sperm count can be boosted by eating lots of spinach, eggs, bananas, dark chocolate, asparagus and nuts. Foods that contain zinc and selenium are particularly beneficial for optimal sperm health.
Supplements that may also increase IVF success
Besides adjusting your diet to improve your fertility, you may also wish to add in some fertility-specific supplements. Pre-conception supplements that you should consider include the following:
Additional supplements for women on a fertility diet
- A good prenatal multivitamin
- L-Arginine – a study has shown that this may improve endometrial receptivity, ovarian response and pregnancy rate in IVF patients with a poor response
- Coenzyme Q10
- Resveratrol – acts as antioxidant
- DHEA – known to be a precursor to sex hormones
- An omega 3 fish oil, for example, DHA or EPA
- 400mg of folic acid/ a day is often given to prepare for pregnancy
Many of these supplements are also recommended by fertility clinics to try and improve the chances of IVF success in patients who are poor responders to treatment.
However, you need not have them all. Just discuss with your gynecologist to see which ones are recommended.
Supplements for men
- A good multivitamin
- Folic acid – research shows that combining folic acid and zinc supplementation can improve sperm count in both fertile and subfertile men
- Zinc (if not included in the multivitamin)
Foods to avoid on an IVF diet
Certain foods and beverages are detrimental to your fertility and should therefore be avoided in the IVF diet of both men and women. These include:
- Processed foods
- Too much sugar
- Fish high in mercury, for example, swordfish, shark and tuna steak
Incorporating these diet suggestions into your lifestyle may help to increase your chances of IVF success and also help you to have a healthy pregnancy.
Talk to a dietician and check with your fertility specialists before starting any supplements, so they are safe and meet your individual requirements.