It’s official. I’m no longer a vegetarian. Not because I crave meat, not because I changed my mind about animal treatment, but because I believe that a vegetarian diet does not boost fertility. Or to put it more bluntly: I believe that a vegetarian diet and fertility don’t go together and contribute to infertility.
This is not the conclusion I wanted to come to as a vegetarian. But at the end of the day the facts and evidence point to animal protein as part of a healthy fertility diet. So after happily avoiding poultry for the past five years and red meat for the past fifteen years, I’m putting them back on my plate.
How did I come to this, for me, a radical decision? Research and experimentation.
Insulin Regulation is Vital to Fertility
Sifting through books and articles on fertility and health I’ve come across various studies on the effects of animal and vegetable protein on fertility. There is, however, no consensus on which source is best for improving your changes of conception. What doctors and researchers do agree on, though, is that insulin regulation is vital to fertility.
What is Insulin Exactly?
When you eat easily digested carbohydrates – like potatoes or white bread – they’re broken down into sugar and enter the bloodstream. To lower this high blood sugar level the body produces insulin which escorts the sugar out of the bloodstream and into your cells. Sounds like a good system, but the insulin spikes caused by such easily digested carbohydrates reek havoc on your reproductive system.
Linked: Reproductive System, Insulin and Protein
Dr. Ernest Zeringue from the Davis Fertility Clinic has successfully been using nutrition to control insulin with his fertility patients for years, and he describes the effect of elevated insulin levels on fertility by stating, “The insulin can interfere with the development of the eggs as they’re growing, as well as interfere with the establishment of a pregnancy inside the uterus.” (1)
Protein is key to controlling insulin levels.
Dr. Jeremy Groll, fertility doctor, research scientist and author of the book Fertility Foods recommends a diet and exercise program that “will improve your insulin sensitivity and make you more fertile.” For this, he points out, protein is critical: “Our goal in this plan is to promote lean body mass to reduce insulin, and you can’t do that without protein.”
Vegetarian Diet and Fertility- Why is Animal Protein Necessary?
What we know then is that protein is key to regulating insulin and insulin regulation is key to boosting fertility. So why can’t insulin be regulated without animal protein?
Dr. Groll admits that getting enough protein (without dramatically increasing carbs) and getting all the essential amino acids is harder for vegetarians. He does believe it’s possible, but several other fertility specialists and I disagree. And here’s why:
There are a limited number of vegetable sources of protein and each source poses a unique problem to fertility. A high reliance on beans comes with a full load of carbohydrates, which can cause an imbalance in insulin levels. Dairy and soy are very controversial as to their role in infertility with numerous fertility specialists recommending these be kept to a minimum until the jury is out. That leaves nuts which shouldn’t be relied on too heavily because they deliver a lot of fat.
I’ve tried everything as a vegetarian to make a higher protein/lower carb fertility diet work, but for me, it was a dead end (see my blog: 4 Fertility Diet Principles).
Initially, I even tried adding fish as a protein source but it wasn’t enough because the weekly recommendation is limited to just two servings a week due to mercury contamination.
It’s important to point out that vegetarians certainly can, and do, get pregnant. But for those of us struggling with infertility, adding meat into our diet to control insulin could be the missing link that our body needs.
Some vegetarians may feel like this isn’t an option due to their beliefs, but for me it’s about the treatment of animals and buying only organic ensures that the animals are treated properly and are free of toxins.
Vegetarian Diet and Fertility- Making the Leap!
I can report that I’ve made the leap. Just the other night I made baked organic chicken with ginger and steamed vegetables on the side, not quite as tasty looking as the creations on the food channel, however, still worth a photo session. I have to say that I haven’t missed having poultry over the past 5 years, but you know what, I thought it tasted really good.
Organic red meat was supposed to be next. But I chickened out. I bought it and it’s been sitting in my freezer for the past several days. I can’t bring myself to cook it. My husband has volunteered to make something “yummy”, but I’m skeptical, of the meat, not the cooking of course!
But seriously, I can better meet my four fertility diet principles (for more see my blog: 4 Fertility Diet Principles) with poultry and meat on my menu and hopefully it will bring my body into balance.
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