Do superfoods like berries and kale boost fertility? It is estimated that 10% of the population struggles with infertility. Superfoods seem to promise a solution to the problem of chronic disease and poor health.
The term superfood refers to nutrient packed foods such as salmon, kale, avocado, pumpkin, and salmon that are reported to have significant health benefits. These beneficial nutrients include vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The term superfood is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but health claims made by these superfoods are regulated by the FDA. While many of these foods are healthy, they are not miracle foods. Superfoods are popular because there are numerous publicized claims surrounding their health benefits and their ability to prevent disease. Just take a look at the controversy in recent years surrounding the questionable marketing claims made for the superfoods acai and pomegranate. In reality, there is very limited science to back-up many of the miracle claims made by superfood manufacturers.
The truth is that a well-balanced diet is the key to being healthy and fighting off chronic illness. Many of the vitamins and antioxidants in so-called superfoods are also in many other fruits and vegetables. Studies looking at antioxidant use in infertile or subfertile women show mixed results around the benefit of antioxidants to increase pregnancy rates. A well-balanced diet should not include too much of one food. And, keep in mind that eating one or two superfoods will not make up for an overall poor diet.
For couples that struggle with infertility or couples who are healthy but want to increase their chances of conception, superfoods may seem to be an answer to their problems. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends having a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight to prepare the body for pregnancy. These recommendations include avoiding “fad diets.” The goal of being a healthy weight before or during pregnancy means avoiding body weight extremes (too thin or too heavy) that can negatively affect fertility. A healthy diet should be one component in a series of lifestyle choices such as physical activity that includes strength training, balanced calorie intake to calorie burn ratios, and reduced consumption of added sugar.
The “Fertility Diet” is a diet developed by Harvard researchers based on data from large population studies including the Nurses’ Health Study. This diet claims to create an easy and healthy foundation for pregnancy. Here is a summary of tips recommended by the “Fertility Diet”:
- Avoid trans fats which harm the heart and can cause infertility.
- Use more unsaturated vegetable oils and reduce saturated fat to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation.
- Eat more vegetable protein in place of meat protein (ex. beans, peas, soybeans, tofu, nuts).
- Choose slowly digested carbs (ex. whole grains, vegetables, whole fruits, beans)and do not eliminate carbs from your diet.
- Drink more whole milk and eat more full fat dairy products over skim milk, which is linked to infertility.
- Take a multivitamin with extra folic acid (400 micrograms daily).
- Get plenty of iron from plant-based foods (ex. whole-grain cereals, spinach, beans, pumpkin, tomatoes, beets).
- Drink more water. Moderate amounts of coffee, tea, and alcohol are fine. Avoid sugary drinks such as sodas.
- Maintain a healthy body-mass index (BMI) of 20 to 24.
- Exercise daily, but don’t overdo it.
The most popular superfood changes daily. Manufacturers may promote the benefits of their superfoods, but it is important to read product labels and be wary of miracle foods. It may be beneficial to talk with a dietitian if you need advice on eating a healthier diet to improve fertility.