Eating an ‘IVF Diet’ is a minefield. Eat organic, don’t eat sugar, eat brasil nuts, don’t eat soy – no wait, DO eat soy, eat pineapple – but don’t eat it before transfer, drink raspberry tea, avoid peppermint tea.
It does NOT STOP!
And here is one more. But this one is really promising and has some good elementary science to back it up.
Looking at the amount of carbohydrates and protein in the diets of women doing IVF, researchers where able to provide some suggested guidelines on the ratios of how much of these foods you should be eating to best increase your chances of IVF success. As always though, make sure you check with your fertility specialist before making any major changes to your diet to ensure it is right for you and your unique situation.
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THE IVF CONNECTION
In 2013 in a fertility clinic in the U.S, fertility doctors were noticing that young women (aged 36 and 37) of normal weight and no obvious reason for it where getting eggs of poor quality.
Although these women were eating what some would consider a healthy diet – oatmeal for breakfast, bagel for lunch and pasta for dinner it was observed that there was no protein in their diet. It was believed that the lack of protein was contributing to the poor results.
A low protein, high carbohydrate diet potentially has negatives on two fronts. One, carbohydrates essentially convert to sugars which can fuel the insulin resistance cycle and hormonal disturbances (not only in women with PCOS, 1) but proteins are the building blocks of the body – and hence our eggs. If we are missing out on them, it makes it harder for the supercharged process our ovaries are going through to make high quality eggs.
120 of these women were split into two groups, one group who ate over 25% of their diet as protein and the other that ate under 25%. They had three outcome measures: 1. Blastocyst formation (that is the embryo could make it to day 5) 2. Clinical pregnancy rates and 3. Take home baby rates
Here are the results
My excel spreadsheet skills aside, you can see that those women that had over 25% protein had higher rates of blastocyst formation, higher rates of clinical pregnancy and higher rates of a take home baby. Much higher rates. And with the statistical p values ranging from .002 to .0005 there is only quite a small chance that these results were due to coincidence.
BEFORE YOU START THE ATKINS DIET
Have you heard of the Atkins diet? It’s that one that says to eat ONLY meat effectively letting your body go into ketosis to burn lots of fat.
We don’t want that. Eating before going into IVF shouldn’t be about a going on a particular fad diet and if you are just about to start a cycle the goal isn’t to lose weight. You don’t want to shock your body or do anything like that. Eating sensibly is the goal. Additionally, it takes 3 months for an egg to form so any dietary changes that you are doing to increase egg quality should be done this far out from your planned IVF cycle.
THE ISSUE OF PLANT PROTEIN
If you have read The Fertility Diet you would know that not all proteins are considered equal and they recommend eating plant protein over animal protein.
They go as far as to say if you add animal protein instead of carbohydrates this causes even more disruption to normal ovulation.
But combining these two pieces of research and eating 25% of your diet in plant proteins is HARD. I’ve been trying to do it for awhile now and it seems to be impossible. Unless it seems you eat a ton of eggs (one serving a day of fish and eggs didn’t influence ovulatory functioning apparently) and effectively cut out grains and potatoes, but then that seems like too much of a fad diet to me. There must be a happy medium.
And for me, that is sticking as close as possible to the 25% protein intake and eating as much plant proteins as possibly but inevitably there is a bit of animal protein in there as well. Also, we have to remember that The Fertility Diet is for women who wish to conceive naturally . For women doing IVF that dream has long sailed. So in my opinion, The Fertility Diet is not always going to be relevant to women doing IVF and I think it is more important to make sure you get proteins in, while following those rules of not eating too much red meat and avoiding the transfats that meat contains as much as possible.
Dairy products also contains a healthy amount of proteins. Some women would have heard that dairy is one of those inflammatory foods that should be avoided during IVF. Personally, I have not seen enough research to validate this claim and believe that dairy foods should be one of those things consumed in moderation. Or maybe its just that I love cheese too much. If you have ovulatory dysfunction as your reason for all this mess, when I say ‘mess’, I mean infertility and everything that comes after, The Fertility Diet recommends full fat varieties citing that the process of producing the skim milk and making it look creamier adds substances that disrupts hormonal and ovulatory functioning.
Oh, and just lastly, if you have access to Lupin Flakes, these bad boys are a whopping 40% protein. That’s pretty high for a plant based protein that is also gluten and soy free. You can use them as a breakfast cereal, make it up to be like a cous cous, a substitute for breadcrumbs, the list goes on. Check out their facebook page for details.
THE MAIN POINTS
Try and eat 25% of your diet as protein – there are free apps around that you can download onto your phone to help you monitor this. They are way easier and quicker to use than what you think. At the moment I’m using ‘My Fitness Pal’.
When increasing protein, try and make it a plant based protein (or at least not traditional meat type protein all the time). This includes fish (but remember to eat the right type of fish to avoid mercury), eggs, lentils, beans and peas.
Cheese and dairy is also high in protein (make sure the added sugar, such as in yoghurts is kept low).
Don’t make it a faddy diet and don’t lose too much weight with it (unless of course your doctor has advised you to).
Most importantly, if you are looking to make major changes to your diet make sure you consult a qualified dietitian before doing so. We all have different medical needs and histories and what is going to benefit one woman may not benefit another.
Well, I hope that is all just a little bit clearer than mud. Good Luck!
P.S If you have liked this article don’t forget to download your free guide to find 19 different ways that are easy to action that will hopefully improve your egg quality, implantation and ultimately IVF success.
- Chavarro, J. & Willett, W. 2009. The Fertility Diet. McGraw Hill
- Johnson, Kate (2013). Low Carb Diet Improves In Vitro Fertilisation. www.medscape.com