As a nutritionist who specializes in fertility, I get this question a lot, “Michelle, should I eat vegan or vegetarian to cure my infertility?”
And while simply eating a more plant-focused diet or exclusively consuming plants can be beneficial (more on this later), infertility can be multi-factorial so JUST focusing on plants may not be the answer.
The causes of infertility for women are varied and factors like PCOS, endometriosis, stress, structural issues such as blocked tubes, and diet can all be culprits – among myriad others.
But let’s look at diet a little closer to find out if, in fact, being vegan or vegetarian can help support infertility.
A study by Chavarro et al published a “fertility diet” based within the Nurses’ Health Study II population. This study found that women who followed the fertility diet had a 66% lowered risk of ovulatory infertility and 27% lower risk of infertility.
This diet is characterized by:
- lower intake of trans fats
- more monounsaturated fats
- lower intake of animal proteins with greater intake of plant proteins
- high fiber foods
- low glycemic carbohydrates
- high-fat dairy vs low fat
- higher multivitamin use
- higher plant-based iron intake
We know that diet alone is not necessarily going to be the solution to everyone’s infertility; however, we do know from the Harvard Nurses Study (outline above), that a lowered intake of animal proteins did help reduce the risk of ovulatory infertility. Ovulatory dysfunction is characterized by absent or irregular ovulation and is the single most common reason for fertility challenges in women, affecting approximately 25% of couples.
Another really interesting study showed that “consuming 5% of total energy intake as vegetable protein rather than as animal protein was associated with a more than 50% lower risk of ovulatory infertility”. So what does this mean? Eating more plant protein than animal protein is preferred for those struggling with ovulatory infertility.
If you tend towards consuming animal-based proteins at most meals and not sure where to begin this new lifestyle, I’d start by incorporating more plant-based foods into your day over a few weeks vs. going cold turkey (pun intended J). By introducing this change slowly, it will give you time to play around with new recipes and really make this a part of your lifestyle, and not something you fight with day-to-day.
And, I should point out that when I say plant-based foods I mean, whole foods, not processed “foods” that happen to be made from plants. This includes items like chips and French fries (potato), and processed sugar-laden cereals (wheat). So when you are dialing in on exactly what types of foods to eat when incorporating more plants in to your diet – consider foods which are whole, fresh and haven’t been altered or processed in any way to be the gold standard. This includes fresh fruits and veggies, sprouted grains, beans and lentils and healthy fats like avocado, unrefined coconut oil and raw nuts and seeds.
So to get started…
For breakfast, consider using a clean plant-based protein powder (I use this one) in a delicious and nutrient-packed smoothie bowl instead of eggs and bacon.
At lunch a giant chop salad with hemp hearts, beans and tons of veggies with a heaping scoop of guacamole might hit the spot.
Need some inspiration? Check out these 10 new salad recipes you need immediately in your life!
For dinner this could be where you enjoy some wild cold water fish, grilled veggies and roasted beets – remember the more antioxidant-rich colour the better! (Don’t forget, both studies recommend more plant protein – not necessarily to exclusively eat plant-based proteins.)
So there you have it, to answer the question: “Should I be eating plant based or not?”. The answer for those women struggling with ovulatory infertility seems to have some pretty convincing evidence that points to yes!
Want more support on how and what to eat during infertility? Check out our nutrition and fitness guides – all customized towards the stage of fertility treatment you are in. We have created plans for Cycle Monitoring, IUI and IVF as well as plans for those just starting their journey and those women struggling with PCOS. Get started today with this gift of 25% off your purchase with code fruitfulfertility25