If you regularly scan health news headlines, you’ve likely seen articles professing the nutritional benefits of the Mediterranean diet. It’s known to keep your brain, heart and metabolism healthy. It’s been linked to a lower risk of cancer and may even extend your lifespan. And now, you can add improved fertility and pregnancy outcomes to the list. There’s no single fertility diet, but this pattern may come pretty darn close.
The primary reason the Mediterranean diet is so helpful for just about any health condition is that it lowers inflammation in the body. Researchers suggest that following the Mediterranean diet for fertility is a simple way to improve your chances of conception—even benefiting sperm health.
The good news is that following the Mediterranean diet for fertility has nothing to do with counting calories or removing entire food groups. You can even adapt it to include foods that may be important for you culturally. It’s a win-win for women trying to become pregnant and better their health before, during and after pregnancy.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
If diet is a four letter word you’d like to avoid, think of a Mediterranean diet as more of an eating style or pattern. The Mediterranean pattern emphasizes plants—animal products are included, but they aren’t the priority. It includes nourishing fats like olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids, minimally processed ingredients, and foods high in polyphenols (chemicals found in plants with health benefits).
Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory fats found in fatty fish like salmon, walnuts, chia seeds, and flax (and are also associated with improved fertility). Polyphenols give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors, like blueberries, oranges, spinach and purple cabbage. Research links polyphenols with lower inflammation, reduced oxidative stress, and hormone balance—all factors important for fertility.
The Mediterranean diet could boost fertility for both partners
Studies on fertility and nutrition often focus on inflammation because of its close tie to reproductive health. Sperm and egg cells are particularly vulnerable to damage from inflammation and oxidative stress, so anything that cools things down could support fertility.
Chronic inflammation in the body can stem from a range of causes (think illness or environmental exposures, for example), but diet is a major culprit. Diets high in saturated fat, refined sugars and red meat while low in fruits, vegetables and fiber are all linked to menstrual irregularities and infertility.
Following the Mediterranean diet for fertility has been shown to increase the chances of conception, improve sperm health, and even improve outcomes for assisted reproductive technology (ART). It’s naturally high in foods that lower inflammation and keeps foods that may cause problems to a minimum—making diet a non-intrusive way to enhance fertility.
The Mediterranean lowers gestational diabetes and preeclampsia risk
Gestational diabetes (GDM) is a complication where blood sugar levels get too high while pregnant, and preeclampsia causes high blood pressure during pregnancy. Both can be serious and scary for mama and baby if not controlled.
A study that examined more than 7500 pregnant women found that following the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of developing preeclampsia by 28%. The risk reduction was even higher for women over 35, where advanced maternal age (the phrase no pregnant woman wants to hear) can increase the risk of both conditions. GDM risk also dropped by 37%, and the odds of adverse pregnancy complications decreased by 21%.
Another study found women who followed a Mediterranean diet reduced preeclampsia risk by 20%. In this study, Black women—who are more likely to be diagnosed with preeclampsia—saw even more benefit with a 26% reduced risk.
Here’s what to eat on a Mediterranean diet
Whether you’re following a Mediterranean diet for pregnancy or just want to boost your health in general, here are the foods to add to your grocery list:
- Fiber-rich grains like quinoa, oats and brown rice
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Legumes and beans
- Lean proteins like fish and poultry
- Healthy fats like olive oil, avocado and nuts
- Herbs like oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary
And maybe just as important is that food on the Mediterranean diet is meant to be enjoyed, especially with friends and loved ones. It’s about nourishing your body with healthy foods you love and savoring every bite.
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