I'm thinking of going vegan - will this affect my fertility?
Recent studies have shown that lifestyle, and especially diet, can influence reproductive health and decrease the risk of fertility disorders. So is plant-based eating better than other diets for fertility?
Many of our patients undertaking fertility treatment are vegan or committed to plant-based eating for environmental or health reasons. Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage.
There have been several studies that show vegans are at reduced risk of certain health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, and obesity. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of published evidence at this time on the dietary impact of vegan/plant based diets on fertility, however there is some support for plant-based diets for their role in stabilising sex hormones in women.
A properly managed plant-based diet is a healthy one
For optimum fertility it is recommended to incorporate the following food into your diet:A low intake of saturated fat and high intakes of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, soy products, nuts, and seeds (all rich in fibre and phytochemicals) are characteristics of vegan diets that produce lower total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and better serum glucose control. These factors all contribute to a reduction of chronic disease so overall, a properly managed vegan diet is a very healthy one. There are some gaps though and vegans need reliable sources of vitamin B-12 such as fortified foods or supplements especially when trying to get pregnant.
Omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseeds, chia and hemp seeds, walnuts, dark green leafy vegetables; and omega-6s from pumpkin, sunflower, sesame seeds, vegetable oils, grains, and nuts.
Iron-rich fruit and vegetables such as spinach, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, cashew nuts, chia and hemp seeds, kale, dried apricots, quinoa.
Foods high in folate like leafy green veg, sunflower seeds, beans.
High-fat dairy is generally recommended for optimum fertility but for vegans, plant-based milk such as oat or almond are good substitutes.
Foods to avoid include trans fatty acids and carbohydrates with a high glycaemic index such as pastries, cakes, and other processed foods - all of which can be vegan, but not healthy.
So if you are considering a plant-based diet, it can certainly be a very healthy choice, just let your doctor know so they can keep an eye on your iron and B12 levels.
Want to find out more?
If you have any further questions, you can arrange anurse chat with one of our fertility nurses.
For more health and wellness information on how to increase your chances of conception, check out our fertility news page, or download our e-book below.
Melina V, Craig W, Levin S. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets.J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116(12):1970-1980. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2016.09.025
Elorinne AL, Alfthan G, Erlund I, et al. Food and Nutrient Intake and Nutritional Status of Finnish Vegans and Non-Vegetarians [published correction appears in PLoS One. 2016;11(3):e0151296].PLoS One. 2016;11(2):e0148235. Published 2016 Feb 3. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0148235