Given food and diet is so important for fertility, we have turned to our expert fertility nutritionist partner, Milena Mastroianni from Root and Leaf Nutrition, to hear about the importance of a Mediterranean diet when trying to conceive.
Over to Milena
www.rootandleafnutrition.com | @rootandleaf.nutrition
The Mediterranean diet has been the subject of many nutritional studies over the years. No wonder it has also been found to be beneficial in relation to fertility. A 2018 study concluded that ‘greater adherence to the Med Diet… was associated with a higher likelihood of achieving clinical pregnancy and live birth among non-obese women <35 years of age (who had undergone IVF treatment)…’
Then another earlier study in 2016, found that the same diet ‘was (also) significantly associated with higher sperm concentration, total sperm count and sperm motility.’
So, What Makes the Mediterranean Diet So Special?
Spoiler alert: it’s not eating pasta and pizza every day. In fact, having been brought up in Italy, I can personally say that those don’t feature on a Mediterranean plate as often as we may think. I may sound a little biased, but I am glad there are plenty of science-backed reasons to associate the Mediterranean diet patterns with a healthy fertility diet. Before diving into the reasons why, here are the foods that feature strongly on a Mediterranean plate:
- Variety of vegetables
- Whole grains
- Seasonal fruit
- Olive Oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Pulses and legumes
- Fish and seafood
- Poultry of any kind (chicken, but also turkey, quail)
- Dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt
Foods and drinks that appear in moderation are red meats, sweets, red wine (with meals mostly) and let’s be honest, a bit of coffee too.
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Why are there So Many Fertility Benefits to a Mediterranean Diet?
To keep things simple, here are just a few of the many benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet and its promotion of health and fertility. You may have heard the Mediterranean diet being touted as a good example to follow for cardiovascular health. The reason for this is that it is primarily anti-inflammatory in nature, but also promotes effective weight management and blood sugar balance. Inflammation, being overweight and uncontrolled blood sugar have been linked with endocrine (hormonal) conditions, such as PCOS and Endometriosis, which unfortunately disrupt our fertility potential.
Also, diets across the Mediterranean countries (just as many traditional diets), have a big focus on whole, unprocessed food – as close to nature as possible and in sync with the seasons. This allows our bodies to obtain the highest amount of nutrients from foods, as their vitamins and minerals are more readily available when foods are fresh and unadulterated with preservatives and additives. The abundance of fruit, vegetables, as well as whole-grains, pulses, nuts and seeds, provide a considerable amount of fibre and polyphenols (colourful plant compounds) to the diet that has been shown to have a beneficial impact on our gut microbiome, i.e. the beneficial bacteria residing in our gut. It is the balance and diversity of our gut bacteria that are at the foundation of our gut health in terms of being able to digest and absorb nutrients from food, as well as regulate many hormonal functions in our body. Looking at your gut health is important for fertility, when trying to conceive.
Moreover, research in the last 10 years is telling us that there are many microbiomes in and on our body: on the skin, in our respiratory tract, as well as in the reproductive organs. And the health and balance of our gut bacteria is highly correlated to the health of the microbiomes in all of the other parts of our body, especially the one of the genital tract, given their proximity. Balance in the reproductive microbiome also means better fertility, with disruptions to this ecosystem showing links not only with annoying symptoms such as thrush and UTIs, but also to infertility and risk of miscarriage.
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Foods That Improve Fertility for Men and Women
Besides the Mediterranean diet featuring a vast array of anti-oxidants (thanks to its major focus on quality and seasonality), there are some gems amongst these foods that are worth a special mention:
- Tomatoes > in this case, cooked tomatoes, found in sauces, roasted tomatoes or tomato puree, contain an anti-oxidant called Lycopene. Lycopene has been shown to boost male fertility by improving sperm morphology. All you need is a portion of cooked tomatoes or two tablespoons of tomato puree a day to achieve better sperm quality.
- Olive oil > this is the holy grail of healthy fats. It has also been shown to improve fertility due to its high amounts of polyphenols, mentioned above as preferred food for our gut bacteria, and anti-oxidants, including the wonderful vitamin E. The latter has been associated with better endometrium function, including the production of healthy cervical mucus which in turn helps sperm stay alive for longer.
- Nuts and Seeds > for example hazelnuts and walnuts, and sunflower and pumpkin seeds, are high sources of vitamin E.
- Fish and Seafood > this is enjoyed two or three times a week especially in the coastal regions. In particular, oily fish and seafood provide a high amount of omega 3s. Studies have shown repeatedly that these are so important for fertility because omega 3s may have a positive impact on ovulation, with DHA in particular promoting healthy progesterone production. Progesterone is implicated in the health of the lining of the uterus and is essential especially in the first trimester of pregnancy.
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It’s Not Just About Food
If you have ever come across an image of the Mediterranean diet pyramid, one thing that is often shown to be the foundation of the Mediterranean way of living is community. This is accompanied by daily physical movement. Whilst the importance of exercise has been continuously acknowledged over the years, the community aspect and all the support that comes from family and friends have inevitably taken quite a blow in 2020.
That’s why it’s fundamental to try to build and maintain networks in the best way we can. It’s these networks (often found also through social media and online communities like the Fertility Help Hub), that often provide a place for us to be heard, to feel connected and understood – therefore more secure and less isolated. This goes to show that healthy living does not only consist of good nutritious food, but the people we surround ourselves with are essential and fundamental to our physical and mental well-being, therefore also our fertility.
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Milena is a UK Registered Nutritional Therapist working with women and couples while they are trying to conceive and throughout pregnancy. She does this by providing personalised nutritional and lifestyle advice, to optimise their chances of a healthy pregnancy. She offers fertility help to couples struggling on their journey to parenthood, by rediscovering the healing and nurturing power of real food.
Contact Milena here for a consultation and an expert, individualised plan.