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Special Fertility Diet
Multiple studies have concluded that having a body mass index (BMI) that is too high (> 30) or too low (< 18.5) can lead to hormonal imbalances and is therefore considered a major cause of infertility. However, my BMI has always been normal (around 20) and I believe I am generally very healthy, but I have struggled with infertility for many years. It wasn't until I met a reproductive endocrinologist that I finally started questioning whether my diet was healthy.
I know that too much exercise can negatively affect my ability to conceive, so for the past 10 to 15 years I’ve been careful to only get moderate exercise. I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. I consider my diet to be pretty healthy – lots of fiber, fruit, nuts, seeds, bran, oatmeal, lean meats (if I decide to). I also eat potatoes, feta, and the occasional veggie to add some variety to my menu.
While I never buy candy and rarely buy bread, I have to admit that I’ve never turned down the occasional bagel or donut a co-worker brings to share. I didn’t just take a bite or two, either. Still, I managed to maintain a weight of 115-120 lbs by eating only fruit at home to offset those high calorie splurges at work. Weight was never an issue.
So I was surprised when my reproductive endocrinologist diagnosed me with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). After all, this is obesity. Or so I thought. I quickly learned that PCOS had more to do with insulin resistance than actual body weight. I eat sugar a lot, no wonder I get it too.
One of the first things my doctor did after hearing me describe my meals for the week was to suggest dietary changes. He advised me to avoid sweets, rice, bread, pasta, tortillas, corn, potatoes, and fruit at least six days a week. That way I can eat whatever I want one day. (He doesn’t believe in the sustainability of an overly restrictive diet.) Realizing that fruit played an important role in my original diet, I haven’t known what to eat since then. My doctor assured me that I had plenty of options: meat, veggies, and legumes of all kinds.
My doctor felt that my eating habits directly affected my chances of conceiving a successful pregnancy and urged me to follow his eating plan carefully. I did it. It’s been weeks. I lost weight without even trying – just substituting salad for fruit. Eventually, the cyst disappeared and I was finally able to conceive.
While following this simple fertility diet, I did some research on my own. One of the studies I read discussed the findings of Jeffrey B. Russell, MD, of the Delaware Institute for Reproductive Medicine, who evaluated the diets of various women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF). He found that most people whose diets contained less than 10 percent protein and more than 60 percent carbohydrates produced embryos of lower quality. Conversely, eggs and embryos were of better quality in people who ate a lot of protein (at least 25 percent of their diet) and relatively low carbohydrates (no more than 40 percent of their diet).
Other research confirms that a low-carb diet is a viable option for treating conditions like PCOS (at least in reducing symptoms) because it lowers insulin levels and helps normalize weight. Controlling blood sugar through a healthy diet and exercise can also help manage gestational diabetes. Whether or not you’re at risk for these conditions, you may need to rethink your diet if you want to increase your chances of getting pregnant. If you eat too many carbs, reducing your carb intake could be the secret to better fertility.
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