The registered dietitians behind the new cookbook Fertility Foods explain the links between fertility, nutrition and exercise.
Although it’s rarely discussed, infertility affects one in eight couples (or 12 percent of married women). On top of that, 7.4 million women (11.9 percent) have received infertility services in their lifetime. These shocking statistics hit home for some, like the authors of the new cookbook Fertility Foods: 100+ Recipes to Nourish Your Body While Trying to Conceive. Authored by Elizabeth Shaw and Sara Haas, two dietitians who have both struggled with infertility, this book features simple and healthy recipes that are rich in foods that may help with conception. I chatted with the authors about the book; here’s what they had to say.
What prompted you to write a cookbook about fertility?
Liz: Honestly, I was about to go on a trip and went to the bookstore to find a book written by a registered dietitian [RDN] about foods that can increase your fertility. While there are some great books by RDNs on the entire conception process and specific disease conditions, I couldn’t find one on unexplained infertility. Thus, the void in the market led me to write an email to Sara, a friend who had shared her similar struggles with infertility. I asked her if she thought a book about infertility, specifically with recipes, might be a good idea. She responded, “Heck yes, and I’d like to write this with you!”
Sara: I like to call it destiny. I had struggled for years with infertility and was disheartened by the lack of “conversation” surrounding it. I even started a side blog chronicling my journey with infertility. Then, one day, I saw an email come in from Liz about infertility. After some great conversation, she said she wanted to write a book about nutrition and fertility. I said, “Me too!” and I pretty much invited myself to write the book with her.
How much of a role does diet really play in trying to conceive (TTC)? What about exercise?
Liz: Diet and exercise are both very important factors to consider when TTC. While the scientific literature does support that dietary measures can help with ovulatory infertility and increase one’s likelihood of conception, there is no magic superfood for fertility. And, unfortunately, what works for some will not work for others.
With that said, one of the main factors that interferes with fertility is stress! And those who struggle with infertility often times have no control over their medical situation, but they can control what they do with their body. By eating a predominately plant-forward diet with whole grains and healthy fats, one will inevitably feel better, making them less stressed and decreasing their circulating levels of cortisol (that stress hormone that can disturb your hormonal balance, which can affect your fertility). As a patient who’s been through multiple assisted reproductive technology (ART) cycles, the combination of exercise and diet has helped me stay sane in some of the most insane situations. For those who are underweight or struggle with disordered eating, your doctor may ask you to stop exercising until normal menstruation ensues.
Sara: I personally think diet plays a huge role. Research also supports that eating the right balance of foods will naturally help your body run at its best and function properly. When you eat the right foods, you will also feel better, and so much of the struggle with infertility is mental. As for exercise, it’s absolutely important. As long as you have the go-ahead from your doctor, do it! Again, infertility is a real roller coaster and you need an escape or a healthy way to manage the stress and anxiety. Exercise can help you manage those feelings.
Are there any special dietary considerations for someone going through IVF?
Liz: Each individual’s infertility diagnosis will dictate their diet. However, a small body of research has shown that higher intakes of whole grains during in vitro fertilization (IVF) may help with implantation. Now, as an Italian carboholic who amped up the whole grains during my last two frozen embryo transfers (FET), I can say this didn’t have an effect on my outcome personally. But I am never going to turn down a delicious whole grain and would never advise my clients to, either. Basically, it can’t hurt you in the long run!
Do you have anything else to add?
Liz: Stop reading the clickbait on the Internet! Use resources written by reputable professionals to get your information. Infertility is stressful and tiring enough; try to lean on friends who can help during this time. Focus on fueling your body with energy fueling foods and take each day as it comes!
Learn more about Fertility Foods online, or make this delicious Shakshuka recipe from the book.
Shakshuka (Eggs In Tomato Sauce)
Makes 4 servings, 1⁄2 cup portion each
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1⁄2 cup (2 oz.) onion, chopped
- 1 medium (5 oz.) bell pepper (any color), chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1⁄2 tsp. black pepper
- 3⁄4 tsp. Italian seasoning
- 1⁄8 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes, no salt added
- 4 large eggs
- Red pepper flakes (optional garnish)
Place a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil, onion and bell peppers. Cook five to seven minutes, or until softened. Add the minced garlic, black pepper, Italian seasoning and kosher salt. Stir and cook for two to three minutes, then add the tomatoes. Turn heat to medium, cover and let cook for five minutes.
Remove lid and create four small holes in the tomato mixture. Crack an egg into each hole, then cover and cook for an additional six minutes, until white is firm and yolk is set but still able to be punctured with a fork. (If you prefer a set egg with a firm yolk, cook for eight minutes.)
Crack each egg into a small dish before adding to each hole. This makes it easier to pour and to remove any rogue shell pieces.
Nutrition Information (Per Serving):
170 Calories, 9g fat (2g saturated fat), 9g protein, 15g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 66mg calcium, 1.4mg iron, 200mg sodium, 42mcg folate.