When it comes to in vitro fertilization (IVF), you want to do everything you can to maximize your chances of a healthy pregnancy. Unfortunately, new claims about supplements, the best IVF diets, and complementary treatments are often simultaneously supported and refuted by conflicting scientific studies. While there may not be many definitive ways to enhance the outcome of your fertility procedure, there are some good guidelines to follow. These are the IVF diet tips we tell our patients at The Fertility Insitute of New Orleans, including what foods to eat, which ones to avoid, and other ways to increase success rates.
What to eat during IVF treatment
First and foremost, eat a healthy, balanced diet centered around whole foods. The healthiest diet for IVF patients is one that fuels your body for conception, in all the ways it needs. This is true for both men and women.
Numerous scientific studies have found improved fertility rates with an IVF diet centered around:
- Plant-based proteins
- Whole grains
- Monounsatured fats
In fact, a 2018 survey from Frontiers in Public Health noted that women who followed a similar diet (after controls) were “found to have a 66% (95% CI, 52, 77%) lower risk of infertility related to ovulatory disorders and a 27% (95% CI, 5, 43%) lower risk of infertility due to other causes compared to women with the lowest intake of this diet pattern.”
Simply put, unless an underlying disease or medical condition prevents you from doing so, eat whole, healthy foods and try not to rule out any specific foods. With that said, research suggests incorporating the following into your IVF diet.
A Mediterranean diet
This diet focuses on vegetables, whole grains, fish, healthy fats like olive oil, and nuts (sound familiar?)
A study of 244 non-obese women assessed the impact of a Mediterranean diet on pregnancy rates. They found that compared to women who most closely stuck to a Mediterranean diet, those in the lowest compliance group had “significantly lower rates of clinical pregnancy (29.1 vs 50% P = 0.01) and live birth (26.6 vs 48.8%, P = 0.01).”
As noted, a Mediterranean diet is simply one that focuses on whole, fresh foods. You can estimate your own compliance to the Mediterranean diet with this quiz.
Foods that are high in folic acid are positively linked to fertility rates, by reducing ovulatory infertility, increasing progesterone levels, and lowering your risk of irregular ovulation. They can also support a healthier pregnancy, reducing birth defects and other risks.
Folic acid is an important nutrient for men who are trying to conceive too. Studies have suggested that folic acid supplementation could help increase sperm number.
To increase folic acid in your diet, consume daily servings of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and enriched whole-grain cereals and breads. Since Hispanic women are less likely to get their recommended daily value of folic acid, the FDA recently allowed voluntary fortification of corn masa flours as well.
Other foods that are rich in folic acid include:
- Black-eyed peas
- Kidney beans
- Brussels sprouts
- Oranges and other citrus fruits
If you’re still concerned about your folic acid intake, talk to your doctor about supplementation. They can suggest the highest-quality supplement that could work for you.
Those who consume a generous amount of protein per day tend to have higher levels of fertility, especially when protein is consumed in place of an abundance of carbohydrates.
Leaner plant-based sources of protein are best. Look to lentils (also high in folic acid!), quinoa, walnuts, hemp seeds, and chia seeds.
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish also provide benefits during pregnancy. For your animal-based proteins, stick to leaner options like chicken, turkey, cottage cheese, or Greek yogurt.
Proper hydration is a key factor of good general health, fertilization and pregnancy included. Drink plenty of water and avoid beverages that dehydrate you.
Food to avoid during IVF cycle
There are a few foods and nutrients that play a more important role than others when it comes to fertilization. Likewise, those undergoing IVF treatments—both men and women—should avoid certain foods during IVF.
Trans and saturated fats
Consuming monosaturated fats may lower your LDL cholesterol and improve your fertility. These form the bulk of fats in a Mediterranean diet and are often found in olive oil, seeds, nuts, fish, and avocados.
Saturated fats, on the other hand, can have a negative effect when consumed too often. These are found in red meat, whole milk, and butter. Limit your intake of these.
Trans fats are typically found in fried foods, processed foods, baked goods, and margarine. If possible, avoid these altogether during IVF treatments and pregnancy.
Try not to consume more than 200mg of caffeine per day during IVF. This amounts to roughly two cups of coffee. If you can, avoid it completely.
A recent meta-analysis found an increased rate of spontaneous abortion with more than 300mg caffeine/day. Another study suggested that high rates of coffee consumption (five or more cups per day) could reduce pregnancy rates by 50%.
Studies are mixed on whether minimal alcohol intake impairs fertility, but limiting or avoiding alcohol altogether is certainly a good idea when undergoing IVF. Even if it doesn’t affect fertility, women should avoid alcohol while trying to conceive due to the risks during pregnancy.
Although vitamins can be useful for filling gaps in dietary needs, herbal supplements generally do not have a positive effect. In fact, some herbs may interact negatively with your fertility medications.
Always consult your fertility specialist before taking any medicinal supplements, prescription or otherwise.
Some books or websites may claim that certain foods have the ability to increase fertility. These sources should be taken with a grain of salt (and no, sodium won’t help either). Most of these miracle foods do not hold up to rigorous scientific scrutiny. They also don’t take into account differences between each person’s own nutritional needs.
You can add these miracle foods into your diet sparingly, but eating a diet only of oysters, avocados, and pomegranate juice won’t increase your fertility chances. Anything short of a complete diet will be doing your body a disservice.
What about the role of weight?
Body mass index (BMI) and more specifically, body fat percentage, plays a role in the fertility of men and women alike.
Women should bear in mind that obese or underweight BMIs may decrease their fertility and could lead to irregular ovulation. Male obesity can also impact success rates. These effects are most pronounced at the highest and lowest BMI scores.
As a general rule for those trying to conceive, it’s best to maintain a healthy yet stable weight. If you want to start a family, getting to a healthy BMI before trying is your best option. Since IVF diet and exercise questions are often related, we also encourage you to read our post on IVF exercise for more information.
Learn more about your IVF diet needs
Everyone’s diet needs are different. It’s best to work with a fertility team who can help you design a diet that works for your unique needs and habits.
If you would like to learn more about getting started with IVF, we welcome all of your questions at The Fertility Institute of New Orleans. Contact us today to start your IVF journey!