By Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapist)
A Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional eating and living habits of people from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
What does the Mediterranean diet consist of?
The Mediterranean diet plan consists mostly of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, pasta, rice and olive oil, with a moderate amount of cheese, wine, yogurt, nuts, fish, eggs, poultry and pulses, and meat. This diet plan includes more ‘healthy’ fats such as oils from nuts, seeds, oily fish and plants.
The Mediterranean diet has received much attention in recent years for it’s benefits to many aspects of health. Research has also shown that following a Mediterranean diet can reduce the chance of developing conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and there is ongoing research into this and ‘diet’ plan and Alzheimer’s disease.
The Mediterranean diet and fertility
Although there is no single ‘miracle’ fertility food, there certainly are nutrients that can support your reproductive health, such as folic acid, B6, B12, omega-3 essential fatty acids, zinc and antioxidants including vitamin C and vitamin E. Optimal levels of B vitamins (including folate) are not only important for the prevention of neural tube defects, but these vitamins also help ensure that your body’s cells are strong and have healthy DNA – which, in turn, can influence your chances of conceiving. Following the Mediterranean way of eating has also been linked to a higher success rate for women undergoing IVF.
In a study conducted by Dr Jorge Chavarro and colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health in the US, conducted research into how the intake of different types of fats affected the success of IVF treatment in 147 women, mostly in their 30s. They found the women who ate the most monounsaturated fat had up to three times the chance of giving birth via IVF as those who ate the least. The top third, who derived on average 25 per cent of their calories from monounsaturated fat, has three times the chance of success compared to the bottom third, who derived on average nine per cent of their calories from it. However, those who ate the most saturated fat produced two fewer eggs suitable for IVF than those who ate the least – nine compared to 11.
A more recent study led by Professor Nikos Yinnakour at the University of Athens, found that consuming a Mediterranean diet may significantly boost women’s chances of becoming pregnant through IVF. This study recorded and analysed the diet of 244 women for the immediate six months before they underwent IVF treatment for the first time.
The findings indicated that the women who ate more fresh vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, fish and olive oil while undergoing the treatment had a 66 per cent better chance of conceiving than women eating less healthily.
The Mediterranean diet is based on the following principles:
- Enjoy a small amount of dairy products- full fat.
- Enjoy extra virgin olive oil drizzled on salads
- Eat plenty of and a good variety of vegetables, legumes, fruits and whole grain cereals each day (ideally between 7-9 portions).
- Drink plenty of water each day and avoid sugary drinks where possible
- Eat fish and poultry and limit red meat consumption.
- Do not add salt to your food at the table (use herbs and spices instead).
- Snack on fruit, dried fruit and unsalted nuts rather than cakes, crisps and biscuits.
- Drink (red) wine during meals, but no more than three small glasses per day if you are a man and no more than two small glasses per day if you are a woman (maybe skip this one if trying to conceive!).
- Try to avoid fast food or processed ready meals wherever possible
Further interesting reading:
Chavarro, J., Rich-Edwards, J., Rosner, B. and Willett, W. (2007) Dietary fatty acid intakes and the risk of ovulatory infertility. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 85, No. 1, pp231-237.
Dimitrios Karayiannis, Meropi D Kontogianni, Christina Mendorou, Minas Mastrominas, Nikos Yiannakouris. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet and IVF success rate among non-obese women attempting fertility. Human Reproduction, 2018; DOI: 10.1093/humrep/dey003