Written by Alex Ballard, UK Registered Dietitian (as seen on the Fit For Fertility blog)
The Mediterranean method remains a firm favourite within the list of top diets to follow.
Although it may not be a flashy new fad or promise (unrealistic) claims of quick fixes; the Mediterranean diet has been shown time and time again to help with a whole host of health conditions. The phrase ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ comes to mind.
For many years, research has shown the Mediterranean diet to help with weight loss, Type 2 diabetes, heart health, polycystic ovary syndrome and mental health. However, something that often gets missed is its protective nature on fertility and conception (including via IVF). It seems to be the ‘superfood’ of all diets!
When I ask people what a Mediterranean diet consists of, the answers tend to be in line with what they eat as tourists sitting on beaches in Spain or on weekend city breaks to Italy. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case. So, what does a plateful of this diet traditionally include?
A main element is the shift towards using natural, wholesome ingredients that have had minimal manipulation since being grown, caught, reared or harvested. By significantly reducing our intake of processed, packaged foods that do not naturally occur (for example biscuits, chocolates, crisps, doughnuts, sweets) we can cut out an abundance of unnecessary salt, saturated fat and sugar. If the ingredients list is lengthy, including words that make little sense, then it’s likely to be very processed.
Another example of this is using wholegrain starchy carbohydrates rather than their white refined relatives. By ditching white bread for granary, seeded varieties, white boiled rice for wholegrain options and sugary breakfast cereals for jumbo porridge oats, we are significantly increasing our consumption of fibre and micronutrients. Try and think wholewheat, wholegrain and wholemeal from now on.
Fruits and veggies also play a substantial role. By including lots of different types and colours it helps to provide a large range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Try to add at least two different portions into each meal and utilise them in between if snacking. This might include vegetable sticks with hummus, apple slices and nut butter, or a small handful of dried fruit with unsalted nuts. When doing your weekly shop, aim for a rainbow of colours in your trolley and regularly experiment with new ingredients. The more colour and variety the better!
When it comes to protein, oily fish is definitely an option to catch on to. Oily fishes, such as salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and kippers, are jam-packed with omega-3. As well as prompting good heart health, memory and baby development during pregnancy; omega-3 is helpful for egg production, egg implantation and sperm health. Aim for 2 portions of fish per week, one of which being an oily variety.
If fish doesn’t have you hooked, try to add in plant-based sources of omega-3 (such as walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, linseed, rapeseed oil and green leafy vegetables) and seek advice about supplementation.
Another important element to the Mediterranean line up is the use of beans and pulses. For many years, they have only been associated with vegetarian diets. However, this cheap, fibre-filled protein source should be getting more of a leading role.
The frequent use of plant-based protein sources, and consequently a lower meat intake, has been shown to promote fertility. Therefore, consider a tin of lentils in your next lasagne, chickpeas in curries, butter beans in stews, cannellini beans in risottos and black beans in enchiladas. As long as they are not jelly beans, you’re on the right track!
So, where does olive oil feature? Monounsaturated fats help to reduce inflammation in our blood vessels and actively keep our cholesterol levels in check. Using olive or rapeseed oil as your main kitchen staples, rather than sunflower, coconut oil or butter, is a much more fat-friendly approach. Additionally; unsalted nuts, seeds and avocado should make a regular appearance.
But it isn’t just about the food we eat; it’s about how we eat it and the way we choose to live day-to-day. To get the full package, we want to adopt the whole Mediterranean lifestyle. Although realistically we cannot all eat alfresco every day or nip out of the office for a quick afternoon siesta; we can make some relatively small lifestyle alterations.
These include eating socially where possible, at a dining table and with limited distractions or screens. Additionally, focusing on a regular sleep pattern, limiting stress and frequently exercising. Getting fresh air and sunlight daily (especially during the morning) is important for multiple elements of our health.
When we choose to look after our bodies, our bodies try to look after us in return.