Mediterranean diet

There are now many studies which show that a Mediterranean-style diet increases the chance of pregnancy after IVF treatment and reduces the time to achieve pregnancy in people who conceive naturally.

There are also studies that show a diet high in fast foods reduce fertility in women and in men.

So what is a Mediterranean diet?

Think Italy, minus the wine. Lots of: 

  • Vegetables and fruit
  • liquid plant oil
  • fish
  • chicken
  • nuts and seeds
  • legumes
  • some dairy products.

So far we don't know how long you need to be on this sort of diet to have a benefit, but we do know that sperm and eggs both take about 3 months to develop.

What is the size of the benefit?

It differs between studies, but the subjects with the best adherence to a Mediterranean pattern often have pregnancy rates up to 20% higher than the others.

Which would translate to a 35% chance of a child instead of 30% in a 37-year old starting an IVF cycle at Fertility Associates. Similarly, a poor diet could
reduce pregnancy rates by up to 20%.

What’s Alice’s advice?

  • Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day
  • Meals don’t need to be perfectly balanced - a piece of fruit, a yoghurt or a couple of pieces of brown toast are better than skipping meals or buying something less healthy.
  • Include wholegrain high-fibre carbohydrates - these are crucial for a healthy gut.
  • Lots of fruit and vegetables
    • Eat two handfuls of fruit and three handfuls of coloured vegetables a day.
    • Different antioxidants give the vegetables their various colours, so ‘eat a rainbow’ every day to consume plenty of antioxidants.
    • You don’t need to buy organic produce - just make sure you wash all your fruit and vegetables thoroughly.
    • Frozen fruit and vegetables are an excellent choice.
  • Eat some lean protein daily - Most New Zealanders eat plenty of protein. 
    • Everyone (even meat-eaters!) should be regularly eating vegetarian proteins such as legumes (e.g. chickpeas, beans and lentils), tofu/tempeh, nuts and seeds.
    • A typical Mediterranean diet includes red meat only occasionally (e.g. 2-3 times a month), so using less red meat and more fish and seafood is a good start. Oily fish is the main source of omega-3 fats, which have a variety of health benefits including evidence of higher pregnancy rates in IVF. 
  • Dairy: Lower fat options are best 
    • Dairy is our main source of calcium - Lower fat milk varieties such as calci-trim/ trim/reduced-fat are higher in calcium and protein than standard (blue top) milk.
    • If you choose not to use cows milk products or are lactose intolerant, the best nutritional substitute is calcium-fortified soy milk (rather than almond, oat, rice, or coconut
    • People with lactose intolerance are often able to eat regular yoghurt and cheese which are great sources of protein and calcium.
  • Switch to healthier fats
    • Use liquid plant oils for cooking and use a plant-based spread instead of butter.
    • Include 30g of mixed raw nuts daily; these are excellent for overall health and male fertility.
    • Healthy spreads include avocado, nut butters, olive oil, hummus, cottage cheese, relish, or pickle.
    • Lower your saturated (unhealthy) fat intake by reducing your intake of takeaways, bakery foods, processed snacks (crisps, high-fat crackers, lollies and chocolate), meat fat,
      chicken skin, pastry, butter, and high-fat dairy products. 
  • Eat more whole foods
    • Choose foods that are in their natural state (e.g. nuts instead of nut bars) and cut down on highly processed foods with long lists of ingredients. 
    • Choosing simple wholesome food is better for us and the environment. 
  • What to drink: water and reduced-fat milk are the healthiest drinks.
    • Regular town supply water is fine.
    • Juice is not a healthy drink - it contains lots of sugar.
    • Caffeine and alcohol have been shown to reduce fertility in some studies. We recommend reducing coffee intake to 1-2 per day. Be mindful of other caffeine sources too; energy drinks are very high in caffeine while tea, green tea, cola and kombucha can still contain significant amounts.
    • Chocolate and drinking chocolate contain much less.
  • Vitamins and supplements
    • Nutritional supplements are usually not required, apart from folic acid and iodine. You will get an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals from a balanced diet, and nutrients
      are better absorbed from food than pills. The Ministry of Health recommends 800 micrograms of folic acid a day for at least a month before fertility treatment and for the first three months of pregnancy.
    • The Ministry of Health also recommends taking 150 micrograms of iodine daily throughout pregnancy and while you are breast feeding. You can choose to take separate prescriptions of 800 mcg folic acid pills (Apo-folic) and 150 mcg iodine pills (Neurokare) or a combined supplement with the recommended amounts, such as ‘Elevit with Iodine’.
    • Vitamin D is also important, though most people will get enough from being outside in sunlight.
    • Women with low iron should make specific dietary changes and take a combined iron and Vitamin C supplement. There is no evidence that omega-3 fish oil or B vitamin
      supplements improve fertility status; it is much better to get these from eating oily fish and wholegrain carbohydrates.
    • Many New Zealanders have a low selenium intake - just 1-2 Brazil nuts each day will give you the recommended amount; other dietary sources include chicken, meat, eggs, seafood and
      imported legumes.