One in eight couples today has trouble conceiving, according to Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health. Many turn to expensive medical interventions. But if the women followed the guidelines laid out in his new book The Fertility Diet, Willett estimates more than half of those couples could significantly improve their chances of success.
Coauthored with Dr. Jorge Chavarro, a researcher in Willett's lab, the book gleans advice from studies that Chavarro and fellow researchers conducted, based on the experiences of 18,000 women trying to get pregnant. Most of the advice is predictable: Avoid trans fats, eat many servings of fruit and vegetables, limit red meat, increase protein from beans and nuts, cut down on sugar, and eat whole grains. (Regular, vigorous exercise is also advised.) But then there's the ice cream recommendation.
The authors suggests eating one or two servings of full-fat dairy a day and avoiding skim or low-fat products. Willett says hormones in low-fat or skim milk might be hampering ovulation, while whole-fat milk contains hormones attached to fat molecules that may modulate that action and potentially aid ovulation. "But this is a whole new area that no one has looked into before," Willett says, "and there's a lot more work to do."
Worldwide, very little effort has been put into understanding the effects of diet on fertility. "The premise of the book makes sense," says Dr. John Petrozza, division chief of the Fertility Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. "The most common question I'm always asked is 'Is there anything I can do?' We've always just shrugged our shoulders, and told them to eat right." This book may provide an answer.
Cynthia Graber is a freelance writer in Cambridge. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.