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Low Carb Fertility - Fertility Food Plan

Low Carb Diet & Fertility 

By Rebecca Hyett - Fertility Chef. Published April 2018

Whether you want to lose weight or are just trying to eat more healthily, the wealth of diet programs and diet advice in the world often makes it difficult to choose how to eat. And while it's true that different types of diets tend to work well for different people, most of the current research points toward a low carb diet as the best dietary choice for those looking to conceive.

While more research is necessary in order to help discover why, exactly, a lower-carbohydrate diet helps with fertility, recent studies have indicated that diets lower in carbohydrates (and in particular, low-carb diets that also are high in protein) may be more likely to help women become pregnant. In fact, a study done in the United Kingdom found that low carb diets almost doubled women's chances of pregnancy.

While the exact reasons a low carb diet helps fertility may be unknown, there are plenty of reasons that this type of diet helps both fertility and general health. Later on, we'll explore how eating a low carb diet can support fertility. But first, we'll examine what exactly it means to eat a low carb diet.

salad low carb diet fertility food fertility diet

1. What is a Low Carb Diet? 

You probably already know that eating low carb simply means eating a small amount of carbohydrates. But when translating theory into practice, not everyone knows what to do. A low carb diet, unlike some other types of diets, isn't necessarily focused on calorie counting.

Rather, it focuses on percentages of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) and making sure that a relatively small percentage of your total nutrition comes from carbohydrates.

Macronutrients: a Primer

Macronutrients (often commonly called "macros") are the three major nutrient types. While most foods contain some of each macro--that is, some protein, some carbohydrate, and some fat--most contain more of one macro than the others.

Before we delve into the specifics of low carb dieting and why it helps fertility, it is important to understand each macronutrient type and why it is necessary for optimal functioning:

  • Protein: This macronutrient's main function is the building and repair of body tissues. For those trying to lose weight, it is also important because it tends to help you feel more full, even when restricting calories.

  • Carbohydrates: This macronutrient is typically the body's primary source of energy. However, as we will see later, not all carbs are equal in this respect. Simple carbohydrates are turned to energy quickly and used soon after eating. Complex carbs take longer to break down and provide sustained energy.

  • Fat: This macronutrient helps to fulfill metabolic needs that aren't being met by carbohydrate and protein consumption. Interestingly enough, your body can survive without consuming carbohydrates, but it cannot survive without fat.

If I'm Not Counting Calories, What Am I Doing? 

For many people, their idea of dieting involves restricting calories. This approach may seem simple and foolproof: you set a calorie goal, and then make sure you don't eat over your allotted amount of calories. While you certainly can restrict calories while also eating a low carb diet, eating low carb simply means that you are eating a lower percentage of carbs than you did before.

For some people, this means just lowering the amount of carbohydrates (especially simple carbohydrates) they consume. For others, it may mean following a strict ketogenic (or keto) diet, in which dieters usually consume 20 grams or fewer of carbohydrate.

For each person, a low carb diet may look slightly different. Many people opt to experiment with macronutrient ratios until they find a combination that allows them to lose weight (if needed), feel healthy, and have enough energy to go about their daily lives.

If you are working on finding the right macronutrient ratio for you but are having trouble, be sure to consult a doctor, registered dietitian, or other health professional.

Why Does This Diet Work? 

You may remember when "diet" foods started to flood supermarket shelves. All too often, these foods were called "healthy" because they were low in fat. But they often were loaded with sugar, meaning that they often had a high glycemic index and may have even contributed to obesity.

However, current research suggests that eating low carb foods may help you to lose weight. The reason behind this has to do with the hormone insulin. This hormone signals to your body that glucose needs to enter your cells.

Of course, this is necessary to an extent. But eating many carbohydrates means that your blood sugar and insulin both spike. And while some insulin is needed to ensure you have enough energy to function, too much insulin means extra glucose is stored as fat.

Therefore, eating a diet that avoids having your blood sugar spike is very beneficial when it comes to both avoiding fat storage and keeping blood sugar levels constant.

And thus far, eating a low carb diet (and especially eating a diet low in simple carbs) appears to be one of the best ways to keep blood sugar constant and avoid fat storage.

When you eat a diet low in carbohydrates, you are primarily getting your calories from sources of sustained energy. This means that you avoid sudden spikes in blood sugar and insulin. 

Without these spikes, it becomes more difficult for the body to store glucose as fat, and it also becomes easier to burn stored fat for energy. 

The result, in terms of day-to-day functioning, involve having more energy (without feeling sudden crashes), losing weight more easily, and even having less brain fog.

Therefore, eating a diet that avoids having your blood sugar spike is very beneficial when it comes to both avoiding fat storage and keeping blood sugar levels constant.

And thus far, eating a low carb diet (and especially eating a diet low in simple carbs) appears to be one of the best ways to keep blood sugar constant and avoid fat storage.

When you eat a diet low in carbohydrates, you are primarily getting your calories from sources of sustained energy. This means that you avoid sudden spikes in blood sugar and insulin. 

Without these spikes, it becomes more difficult for the body to store glucose as fat, and it also becomes easier to burn stored fat for energy. 

The result, in terms of day-to-day functioning, involve having more energy (without feeling sudden crashes), losing weight more easily, and even having less brain fog.

What's Wrong With High-Carb Diets? 

In the past, mainstream dieting wisdom held that eating a low-fat diet was key to weight loss and good health. However, more recent research has revealed that low-fat diets are not the only way to weight loss. And in fact, they may even do harm--one study found that those who ate very low-fat diets tend to die earlier.

How Does a Low Carb Diet Compare to a Low Fat Diet? 

It may come as a surprise that low-fat diets have been connected to a higher risk of death. But the authors of the study linked above found some possible explanations as to why a low-fat diet may be detrimental.

In particular, study authors found that many people who cut back on fats in an attempt to be healthier ended up increasing carbohydrate intake as opposed to protein intake. And since carbs have a higher glycemic index, this may lead to blood sugar irregularities and the consumption of more total calories.

However, this consequence may depend on the types of carbohydrates used to make up the diet--as we will see in the next section, not all carbohydrates are created equal.

2. Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs 

You probably know that a balanced diet doesn't contain high volumes of candy, cookies, soda, and other types of sugary foods. And brown rice and sugar are both carbohydrates, but most people would describe brown rice as being better for you.

This begins to touch on the divide between "good" and "bad" carbs. Since a high protein low carb diet still involves consuming some type of carbohydrate, it is important to understand what makes good vs bad carbohydrates.

complex carbohydrates for fertility

What are Good Carbs?

When you hear the phrase "good carbohydrates," it typically is in reference to complex carbohydrates. Carbs come in two broad categories--complex carbohydrates (also called starches), which provide more sustained energy and are broken down more slowly, and simple carbohydrates (also called simple sugars), which break down quickly and provide shorter bursts of immediate energy.

The reason complex carbohydrates are often called "good carbs" is because they provide sustained energy, which avoids drastic spikes in blood sugar. As mentioned above, blood sugar spikes often make you want to eat more, and they can also lead to crashes. Stable blood sugar will help you maintain a stable mood and energy level.

Many good carbs are also high in fiber. Because fiber helps you feel fuller for longer periods of time, it often helps in weight loss. Plus, high-fiber diets may also reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease.

What Are Some Examples of Good Carbs? 

While your first priority when switching to a low carb diet is probably going to be finding low carb foods, you also will need to be able to select good carbs that are compatible with your low carb lifestyle.

Many good carbs are vegetables that have some carbohydrates but a high concentration of fiber. And while whole fruits are unprocessed and tend to contain a good bit of fiber, some people on strict low carb diets tend to avoid them.

Here are some good carbs to balance out your low carb diet:

  • Broccoli
  • Greens (including kale, collard greens, mustard greens)
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Quinoa (this is also the only plant that is a complete protein)
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Lentils (these are slightly higher in carbs, but they also are high in protein and fiber)
  • Squashes
bad carbohydrates for fertility

What Are Bad Carbs? 

"Bad carbs" are those that cause spikes in blood sugar. Because they digest quickly and sugar tends to be the body's preferred energy source, you may initially feel energized after eating them.

However, they often lead to crashes in energy as well. It's important to remember that, while white flour is technically a starch, it is a refined starch, which digests quickly like simple carbohydrates.

Below are 10 examples of bad carbs, or those you want to avoid when switching to a low carb lifestyle:

  • Cakes
  • Candy
  • White breads
  • Sugary beverages
  • Fruit juices
  • White pasta
  • White rice
  • Pastries
  • French fries

3. What is the Best Diet for Fertility? 

For many women, fertility is a major challenge. And as with many medical issues, the research around infertility has shifted somewhat over the years.

The comprehensive Nurses' Health Study, which was conducted through Harvard University, led to the development of a book called The Fertility Diet. This book, which was written in a way that was easy to understand, put forth several recommendations for those wanting to conceive.

The major recommendations were as follows:

  • Eat "good" carbs but avoid "bad" carbs
  • Avoid trans fats, and eat very little saturated fat
  • Consume plant proteins
  • Be mindful of micronutrients
  • Keep weight in a healthy range
  • While The Fertility Diet offered a good start in terms of healthy dietary recommendations, more recent research has given us additional insight into the low carb fertility connection. Specifically, the groundbreaking research of Dr. Jeffrey Russell, director of the Delaware Institute for Reproductive Medicine.

    Dr. Russell's early research involved young healthy women who were unsuccessful in trying to conceive naturally and also unsuccessful at IVF. In one of his early studies, Russell and his colleagues found that most of these women ate a high volume of carbohydrates (75-80% of their diet was made up of carbohydrates).

    The women in the study were instructed to eat more protein and fewer carbohydrates. The results were stunning--the women in the studies went from producing very poor quality to eggs to producing high-quality eggs and even having successful pregnancies.

    After this initial study, Dr. Russell and his colleagues expanded the study. They found that women who ate less than 40% of total calories from carbohydrates and approximately 30% of calories from protein were the most likely to be able to conceive and have a successful pregnancy.

    Thus, Dr. Russell found that a high protein low carb diet (even if that diet was high in calories) was the most effective for conception. And while this study started out as a study for those seeking in vitro fertilization, some patients ultimately conceived naturally after merely changing their diet.

    When it comes to low carb diet fertility, Dr. Russell notes that the type of carbs eaten matter. He says he encourages patients to eat whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in addition to proteins, and he encourages patients to adopt low carb eating as a lifestyle change rather than a quick, temporary way to get pregnant.

    Of course, it takes time for the lifestyle change to have an impact--Dr. Russell Explains that it usually takes 2-3 months for the patient's dietary changes to have an impact on eggs and embryos.

    What Steps Should I Take if I Want to Get Pregnant? 

    Currently, the evidence strongly supports the low carb diet fertility connection. But depending on your current diet, undergoing a lifestyle change may seem to be overwhelming or difficult.

    Dr. Russell notes that, when prescribing healthier diets for his patients, he worked to find protein sources that agreed with those patients. While some of the patients in the studies chose meats and fish, others opted for soy proteins, plant proteins, and dairy.

    Essentially, the low carb fertility connection comes down to being a lifestyle change. If you want to move towards better fertility but feel daunted by the prospect of changing diet drastically, even making small changes may make a difference.

    Then, as you make more changes, you will be able to move closer to the ideal protein/carbohydrate ratio.

    4. Why Are High-Carb Diets Bad for Fertility? 

    As we saw in the previous section, Dr. Russell's research found that many women having trouble conceiving ate diets high in carbohydrates. And while high-carb diets are often linked to weight gain (and being obese will often impair fertility), many of the women Dr. Russell has worked with had low body-fat percentages and low BMIs.

    Thus, the connection between carbohydrates and weight gain may be part of the issue, a high-carb diet alone may jeopardize fertility. But why? A high-carb diet may impair fertility in both women and men, but for different reasons. For women, it has more to do with insulin. For men, it has more to do with oxidative stress.

    High-Carb Diets and Female Fertility 

    Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is an endocrine disorder that is the number one cause of female infertility, and looking at PCOS may give us some insight into why a high-carb diet may impact fertility.

    Women with PCOS tend to be less sensitive to the hormone insulin. Insulin signals to cells to open up and take in glucose from the bloodstream. But when cells are less sensitive to insulin, the body tends to produce more insulin. This is a phenomenon known as insulin resistance, and even some women who do not have PCOS have insulin resistance.

    If insulin is typically high, androgen levels increase, and this also often impairs fertility. Eating a high-carbohydrate diet, even for women without PCOS, will cause spikes in blood sugar. As blood sugar remains high, the body produces more insulin. And in the presence of excess insulin, you may start to experience insulin resistance, which in turn tends to cause fertility issues.

    High-Carb Diets and Male Fertility 

    Oxidative stress refers to inflammatory damage to cells while several things can contribute to oxidative stress, a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can cause increased oxidative stress.

    In turn, this leads to poorer sperm quality and general fertility issues. Additionally, a diet high in carbs may cause weight gain, and men, like women, tend to suffer fertility issues when they are overweight.

    Do All Studies Really Support Low Carb Lifestyle Changes?

    While much of the evidence we have supports the idea that low-carb diet is best for fertility, it's important to consider the breadth of studies being done. A 2017 meta-analysis of several studies on how low carb lifestyles affected both fertility hormones and pregnancy outcomes had promising results.

    This analysis, which was conducted by Dr, Melanie McGrice and Dr. Judi Porter, examined several databases to find relevant studies. The researchers found seven separate studies investigating low-carb diet and their impact on fertility.

    Of these seven studies, six of them found that a low-carb diet had an effect on reproductive hormones. Five of these six studies reported positive changes in reproductive hormones--that is, they reported changes that may make pregnancy more likely.

    Essentially, since most of the low carb intervention studies found reported positive outcomes, this meta-analysis suggests that low carb lifestyle changes are likely to help women struggling with fertility issues. The authors of the meta analysis add that more research needs to be done in order to better understand and evaluate the influence of low carb on fertility, but the results as of now are very promising.

    The findings from the studies covered in this meta analysis and the findings from similar studies have been reported in several news outlets, too, with fertility experts adding their own input. For example, The Telegraph reported that women who eat low carb may be five times more likely to become pregnant if they are trying to conceive.

    low carb diet for fertility

    5. What Does a Typical Low-Carb Diet Look Like?

    Eating low carb may be something you're ready to do in theory, but if you're like many people, translating that to actual practice may prove difficult. However, with the help of low carb recipes and meal plans, you will be well on your way to a low carb lifestyle change.

    Generally speaking, our low carb dinners and recipes follow the recommendations of Dr. Russell and The Fertility Diet. This means that they are low carb and high protein (This is different from the keto diet, which focuses primarily on low carb but high fat foods) And since some evidence suggests that trans fats contribute to insulin resistance, which may negatively impact fertility, a low carb, high protein diet is best for fertility purposes.

    Our low carb recipes include healthy fats and are high in protein, and they are designed to help ensure you get to your daily protein requirements. Of course, following our easy low carb recipes will require cutting out simple carbs like pasta, white breads, and white rice. But they will be replaced with delicious, varied, and balanced meals. And if you have trouble making your protein goals, our low carb plan also offers delicious high-protein smoothies.

    What Types of Foods Will I Be Eating?

    While you can choose your favorite individual food items within reason, our easy low carb recipes and low carb meal plans primarily contain the following food items:

    • Plant and Animal Protein - This is an important macronutrient. And there are more protein sources than you might think. Possible sources include lentils, legumes, fish, turkey, soy, and even the high-protein Ezekiel bread.
    • Fats - Our low carb plan emphasizes healthy fats in moderation. These fats may include found naturally in nuts and seeds as well as fish, such as salmon.
    • Vegetables - Leafy veggies and those that grow above the ground tend to have fewer carbs, but nutrient-dense root vegetables can be eaten in moderation.
    • Dairy - Some women with fertility issues prefer to avoid dairy, but for those who still want to consume it, dairy is often a good source of protein.
    • Drinks - Instead of sugary drinks, low carb plans focus on water drinks or those sweetened with stevia or small amounts of lemon or lime juice.
    fertility diet low carb diet recipe chicken salad

    6. How to Change to a Low Carb Diet

    If you're ready to make the low carb switch, congratulations! What's really exciting is that going low carb is a lifestyle change that will make you feel awesome - you do not need to count calories and because low carb food items are often helpful in regulating appetite, you can eat low carb until you're full. And even with this type of guilt-free eating, you are likely to have embryos that are four times the quality of those produced with a high-carb diet, according to Dr. Russell's research.

    Planning your meals ahead can help you avoid cravings--when you have a plan you're committed to sticking to, you're much less likely to give in to cravings. And we have plenty of meals, snacks, and recipes to make your transition enjoyable!

    That said, there are plenty of common low carb pitfalls that those new to the low carb lifestyle tend to fall prey to. Here are some common pitfalls--be sure to stay on the lookout for them!

    • Forgetting the benefits of complex carbs--some low carb newbies cut carbs to the extreme, ignoring the health benefits of good carbs.

    • Not taking activity levels into account--if you are very active, you will need more carbs than sedentary low-carbers.

    • Reaching for processed low-carb foods - these often have additives that make them less healthy. Whole low carb food items are best.

    • Getting discouraged by the early side effects - the initial sluggishness wears off as your body adjusts, leaving you with improved clarity

    If you are concerned about staying committed and motivated, our 'Getting Started' two week challenge may be for you! With the challenge, you get daily emails, complete meal plans, and even shopping lists. It's enough to keep you motivated and moving toward better health and better fertility.

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    Through my own journey I learned that a low carb high protein diet helps restore hormonal balance and reproductive health. Now I empower and challenge women who are finding it hard to have a baby to look past the ovulation predictor kits and expensive and aggressive medical procedures and instead start looking at nutrition and what they eat as a source of healing.

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    Through my own journey I learned that a low carb high protein diet helps restore hormonal balance and reproductive health. Now I empower and challenge women who are finding it hard to have a baby to look past the ovulation predictor kits and expensive and aggressive medical procedures and instead start looking at nutrition and what they eat as a source of healing.

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