Relatively clear answers and quality research can be hard to come by in fertility research. However, when it comes to how food relates to fertility outcomes, there are some decent data! The short answer is: Avoid fast food, and instead embrace fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, whole grains, and foods high in omega 3, such as nuts. This goes not just for women undergoing fertility treatment, but also those hoping to conceive naturally. This “Mediterranean diet” has also been linked to higher sperm count and sperm quality in men. And yes, the literature actually refers to it as a “Mediterranean diet” – we swear we didn’t make it up because Ovally‘s partner clinics are in Spain :)!
In a study of almost 500 Spanish women, researchers examined their difficulty in getting pregnant and found that a “Mediterranean diet” is likely to enhance fertility. Other studies had already drawn a link between lack of ovulation (a common cause of infertility) and a diet high in animal proteins, dairy, trans unsaturated fats, and carbohydrates. Instead, eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and fish was associated with a higher likelihood of conceiving for the women in the study. A different study looked at Dutch women undergoing IVF and found that their likelihood of pregnancy was increased significantly if they consumed a diet focused on vegetables, oils, legumes, and fish. In a similar vein, higher fast food intake has been linked to longer time to pregnancy, based on a study of 5,600 women.
Another fertility study at Harvard of 400 IVF cycles found significantly higher rates of embryo implantation, pregnancy, and live birth for those eating more whole grains compared to those eating less. For women who tried to conceive naturally, eating more carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (e.g., white flour) was associated with higher rates of infertility.
A very recent study looking at omega-3 fatty acids found that couples who consumed eight or more servings of seafood per cycle had a significantly shorter time to pregnancy when trying to conceive naturally. Similarly, women with higher concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids in their system had better IVF outcomes based on a small study at Mass General Hospital with 100 women.
All of the above studies link diet to IVF outcomes such as likelihood of the embryo to implant, or to pregnancy outcomes such as natural conception. While researchers have hypotheses of what could be driving positive links between certain foods and fertility, exact mechanisms have not yet been fully established. That’s why it’s tough to say how relevant a “Mediterranean diet” would be for somebody undergoing egg freezing, which only involves the first half of IVF treatment. However, given what we know about beneficial nutrition in general, it doesn’t seem like there would be side effects of indulging in a “Mediterranean diet” leading up to and during any fertility treatment.