It’s not unusual to be concerned about your diet when it comes to fertility. You may be wondering which foods are best to eat, which you should avoid and whether meat or plant-based diets are better.
When it comes to science, it’s thought that the best diet for fertility is the Mediterranean diet, one that’s rich in natural produce and moderate meat consumption.
Here we share why the Mediterranean diet is good for fertility and how to follow it.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
A Mediterranean diet comes from the regions and countries that surround the Mediterranean sea. Each are slightly varied, however, they are all abundant in a variety of fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and pulses, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, and olives and olive oil.
The Mediterranean diet also only has a moderate consumption of fish and dairy based products whilst limiting red meat consumption. Lastly, it traditionally encompasses eating together with family and friends at the table.
Why is the Mediterranean a good diet for fertility?
There is no perfect diet to follow whilst trying to conceive but based on current research, the best dietary pattern for fertility is the Mediterranean diet.
The evidence of following this dietary pattern has demonstrated an improvement in female and male fertility and chances of pregnancy after assisted conception. This is due to various components of the Mediterranean diet which have been demonstrated to increase fertility.
For example, the diet is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which support ovulation, egg and sperm quality. It also contains less saturated fats where high levels are shown to impair fertility yet is still rich in monounsaturated fats which have been shown to also impact fertility levels.
One of the main elements in the Mediterranean diet is its focus on fruit and vegetables which are high in antioxidants. These are substances which can slow down or prevent cell damage caused by environmental toxins like polluants. Whilst there is weaker evidence in women compared to men, antioxidants have still shown promise in improving fertility and also play a major role in general health and wellbeing.
Lastly, the Mediterranean diet places more emphasis on consuming plant based protein sources, such as legumes and pulses, and fewer animal proteins which have also been linked to improve fertility.
What foods can you eat in a mediterranean diet?
- Variety of fruits such as apples, pears, cherries and berries
- Variety of vegetables in particular onions, tomatoes, courgette, aubergine and beetroot
- Wholegrains such as oats, wholegrain bread and pasta, brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat
- Beans and legumes such as kidney beans, butter beans, chickpeas, edamame beans (aim to include these the diet at least twice a week)
- Nuts and seeds such as linseed/flaxseed, almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds and walnuts (it is advised to aim for around 25-30g portion per day)
- Herbs and spices such as garlic, oregano, basil, turmeric, pepper, paprika, cumin and ginger
- Moderate consumption of egg and dairy products for example greek yoghurt, cheese and cow milk
- Moderate consumption of fish - aiming for two portion per week in which one should to be an oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout
- Moderate consumption of lean poultry - no more than two portions a week such as chicken or turkey breast
- Red meat is advised to have once a week such as beef, lamb, pork
What foods should you limit on a Mediterranean diet?
- Processed meats such as chicken nuggets and sausages should be avoided
- Foods high in trans fats such as pastries, cakes and baked goods
- Refined carbohydrates such as white pasta, rice and bread
- Foods which are high in saturated fats like butter, margarine or lard
- High fat and sugar processed foods like crisps, chocolate (if choosing chocolate the higher the cocoa content the richer it is in antioxidants so choose 70% + variety), and cakes
Whilst these foods aren’t healthy, it’s important to allow yourself to eat the ones you enjoy rather than restrict them out of your diet completely. This may help you to adhere to the diet as a whole in the long term.
Mediterranean diet recipes
Mix oats with milk or a milk alternative until the oats are covered. Add 1 tbsp of flaxseed or chia seeds and 1-2 tbsp of yoghurt. Leave overnight in the fridge and add your favourite fruit and a sprinkle of nuts or nut butter and you have a balanced breakfast ready to go as you are leaving the door.
Avocado on toast
Mash 1 avocado with a squeeze of lime or lemon juice and a little salt and black pepper. Top it on some whole grain toast and top with either 1 poached egg or sprinkle of sunflower seeds to increase your protein content.
Grilled mushrooms and tomatoes on toast with homemade baked beans (which can be made by adding tinned butter or cannellini or haricot beans to tinned tomatoes and adding a small amount of sugar with salt and pepper and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes until thickened).
Measure out a suitable portion of couscous or bulgur wheat as an alternative and add an equal measure of stock or water. Once cooked add in red kidney beans or butter beans, with chopped tomatoes, cucumber, half a red onion and chopped pepper and mix. Finish it off with a drizzle of olive oil or tahini and add a spoonful of hummus.
Heat olive oil in a pan and add 2 red onions, garlic, chilli and herbs like coriander or parsley. Once translucent, stir in 1 can of chopped cherry tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes. Then make a well in four sections and add a cracked egg to each one and then cover with the lid. Cook for a further 8 minutes on a low heat and serve with whole grain sourdough bread. (You could add spinach or pepper to increase your antioxidant and fibre content too)
Salmon or tuna wrap
Add a drained tin of salmon or tuna to a bowl and ensure all the fish is separated and mixed. Add half a small red onion, half a pepper, cucumber, around 2 tbsp of plain yoghurt, squeeze of half a lemon, black pepper and optional herbs and mix together. Add to a whole grain wrap or pitta bread with optional addition of lettuce/spinach or tomatoes.
Grilled stuffed peppers
Line peppers (halved and deseeded) on a baking tray coated with olive oil and season with pepper and salt and cook for around 15 minutes at 200 degrees fan until they are softened but holding their shapes. Whilst they are cooking, mix mushrooms, onion and garlic and fry. Add additional kidney beans or feta with tomatoes and herbs such as parsley or basil and combine. Remove the peppers from the oven and divide the mixture into each half and cook for further 10-15 minutes. You could always add a little cheese on top at this point too. Serve with some salad and roasted salmon fillet.
Cod and vegetable traybake
Add cubed butternut squash to a baking tray and coat in olive oil. Add to an oven at 220 degrees and bake for 20 minutes. On a separate tray, add cod fillets which can be wrapped into a foil parcel and seasoned with olive oil, parsley and salt and pepper. Add aubergine, courgette, tomatoes and pepper to the tray alongside the butternut squash, add an additional drizzle of olive oil and roast for another 15-20 minutes alongside the cod parcels. Remove from the oven once the vegetables are soft and serve with a portion of hummus. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you could roast chickpeas as a replacement.
- Greek yoghurt and fruit of your choice
- Medjool dates or banana with nut butter
- Hummus and carrot, cucumber or pepper sticks
- A handful of nuts like almonds which could be mixed with dried fruit to create a trail mix
The Mediterranean diet can be one of the many components to help improve your fertility. There are many simple swaps that could be made which may have a positive impact.
It has also been seen to reduce your risk of heart disease, depression and type 2 diabetes so therefore why would you not want to incorporate more elements of this diet into your everyday life.
If you’d like personalised advice about how nutrition can affect your fertility, book a one to one appointment with a registered fertility nutritionist here at Naytal. Our team of friendly experts will provide a tailored nutritional assessment and help you to improve your diet for your best chance of conceiving.
Ellie, Naytal Dietician
Ellie is a qualified HCPC registered Dietitian and a member of British Dietetic Association. She's passionate about helping women use food to improve the health and wellbeing of themselves or their baby.