In my brief 29 years of experience, Fertility, Cycles and Nutrition by Marilyn Shannon is the best book I have come across on nutrition for the layperson. In the book, Shannon discusses the link between diet and fertility, AND encourages some basic dietary changes for women and men. I read this book as a newlywed, and I can honestly say that it changed my life. Her book had a huge impact on my diet, my female cycles, and our ability to conceive our children. My husband and I now teach Natural Family Planning classes, and I heartily recommend her book to our students and anyone else who will listen.
And if my own personal testimony isn’t enough for you, Drs. Jorge Chavarro and Walter Willet of the Harvard School of Public Health have confirmed much of what Shannon originally argued 15 -20 years ago. In their new book, The Fertility Diet, Chavarro and Walter compile information from the Nurses Health Study, and make dietary suggestions very similar to what Shannon argued for in her own book many years ago.
In the ongoing Nurses Health Study, started in 1989, thousands of nurses kept records of their diet, exercise, and other life patterns. Chavarro and Walter studied the data from participating nurses who wished to become pregnant. The data showed several correlations between diet and ovulatory infertility. In the latest issue of Family Foundations Magazine (put out by the Couple to Couple League, the largest provider of NFP services in the US), Shannon very humbly summarizes this new book and highlights some of Chavarro and Walter’s recommendations.
1. Avoid trans fats. The artery clogging fats found in many commercially prepared products and fast foods.
2. Use more unsaturated vegetable oils, such as olive oil and canola oil
3. Eat more vegetables protein, like beans and nuts, and less animal protein.
4. Choose whole grains and other sources of carbohydrates that have lower, slower effects on blood sugar and insulin rather than highly refined carbohydrates that quickly boost blood sugar and insulin.
5. Drink a glass of whole milk or have a small dish of ice cream or full-fat yogurt every day; temporarily trade in skim milk and low or no-fat dairy products like cottage cheese and frozen yogurt for their full-fat cousins.
6. Take a multivitamin that contains folic acid and other B vitamins.
7. Get plenty of iron from fruits, vegetables, beans, and supplements but not from red meat.
8. Beverages matter. Water is great; coffee, tea, and alcohol are okay in moderation; leave sugared sodas unopened.
9. Aim for a healthy weight.
10. If you aren’t physically active, start a daily exercise plan.
I find many of these recommendations a matter of common sense, but others are really interesting, particularly the go ahead for full-fat dairy products. The low-fat craze is most evident in dairy products, but natural fat as found in milk is actually very healthy. Our family traded in skim milk for full fat dairy years ago (and believe me this was difficult for me as I actually like the taste of skim milk better!). Plus full fat dairy products are really great for kids and their developing brains.
Ultimately, why is this so important? First of all, many painful infertility treatments can be avoided through dietary and lifestyle changes. But in a broader sense, our fertility is just another sign of our overall health. If a women has irregular cycles that can be aided through dietary changes, well then think of all the other things that might not have been working so well in her body. So the recommendations of this study are really good for everyone, even those not currently trying to add another little one to their family.