Posted by: Ticktock | October 24, 2008

Expert Advice: Eat Healthy – Get Pregnant!

A recent episode of the Scientific American podcast featured an interesting interview with Harvard epidemiologist Walter Willett, who is chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.  He talked about his book Fertility Diet which is based on a recent study by co-author Dr. Jorge Chavarro that connects a good healthy diet to optimal fertility.   Dr. Chavarro looked at the connection between insulan resistance in polycystic ovarian syndrome and dietary factors, and that led to the current research that indicates infertility can be linked to poor diet.

Willett’s recommendations for fertility might seem obvious because the advice adds up to typical dietary recommendations.  The only suggestion that might throw you off would be the first one.  These are the suggestions for diet adjustments during the pursuit of conception:

  • High Fat Dairy (for the estrogen)
  • Low Trans Fats
  • Whole Grain High Fiber Carbohydrates
  • Healthy plant protein (and certain meats including chicken and fish)
  • Multi-Vitamins

This is all good information because many women who are trying to get pregnant need a solid foundation of good nutrition before they spend so much money and effort pursuing medical technology to achieve pregnancy.  Using this recommended diet could possibly drop the risk of infertility by 80% (in people who don’t typically eat a healthy diet).

For more information, check out the book Fertility Diet by Willett and Chavarro.  Also, there was a recent episode of Frontline featuring Willett.



  1. With baby #3 coming by surprise, I’d like some advice on an Infertility Diet plz!

  2. @Lou: Take all the items in the list and reverse them. You know, like the typical fast food diet. Of course, I don’t guess I need to tell you that it’s also an anti-life diet.

    An 80% drop in the risk of infertility? That’s pretty significant, but not that surprising considering our diet determines lots of things about our lives, including how tall (on average) we grow, muscle mass and bone density, and our risk of diabetes and heart disease. It’s fundamental, really.

  3. Very interesting post. Thanks. Typo: “and that lead to the current research that indicates infertility can be linked to poor diet.” “lead” s/b “led” (unless you’re referring to the gray, dense metal)

    *ETA- thanks for the edit.

  4. An 80% drop in the infertility risk sounds completely absurd. I would question the study and you should always be skeptical of someone who is hawking a book or plan or program.

    Most infertility issues have sound medical and physical causes (low sperm count, age of the mother, uterine issues) not diet.

    This is not to say that good diet won’t increase your chances of being fertile. I haven’t seen the research. But the 80% number is just ridiculous.

  5. I 100% agree with you davery that we should be careful with an author’s interpretations of his own study. Thanks for making that point.

    I would just like to point out that both Dr. Willett and I did say “possibly” with regards to the percentage, and he gave it a more general range of boosting fertility by 80-90% and specified that he meant people who did not follow any of the five major recommendations by the authors. In the general population, Dr. Willett lowered the stat to 70-80%. At another time in the podcast he said that changing diet would work for some people, not all.

    Also, it’s important that we be willing to accept new information that might overturn common assumptions. The infertility issues you mentioned were factored into the study.

  6. It’s not exactly earth-shattering news that in women with PCOS, losing weight on any diet (and thus decreasing insulin resistance) improves a woman’s chances of getting pregnant. Ditto, to a lesser extent, for men who lose weight in the form of estrogen-producing fatty tissue.

    That diet would solve 70-80% of infertility problems, however, sounds very overblown to me.

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