The perfect IVF diet? Ask an avocado.

Pregnancy nutrition is a hot topic. But should IVF patients follow a different dietary path? It’s a question our own patients often ask us. Recent research from the Harvard School of Public Health suggests avocados may triple live birth rates for couples undergoing IVF.

Let’s look at the fine print. The study actually found that food high in monounsaturated fats – including olive oil, sunflower oil, nuts, seeds and avocados – may significantly raise IVF success rates for those who consume a lot of it. But for those who ate more saturated fat – as found in butter and red meat, for example – fertility treatment was less successful.

As with all medical research, it’s hard to know how seriously to take the findings. Every day, another piece of research. A study’s importance often depends on how many people are involved. The above study followed just 147 women, each having IVF at a clinic in Massachusetts. But don’t dismiss it for being small. Medical exploration has to start somewhere.

Fancy a coffee in Denmark? A 2012 study there found that women who drink five or more cups of coffee a day may halve their chances of a clinical pregnancy after IVF. Almost 4,000 women at a Danish IVF clinic took part. Caffeine, it would seem, should be consumed carefully by fertility patients, not just women undergoing natural pregnancies. The British Coffee Association advises no more than 200mg of caffeine per day for pregnant women or those trying to conceive. That’s about two to three cups.

And what about men? At the 68th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, sperm quality loomed large. One study suggested dairy products, particularly those with full-fat content, may have an adverse effect on semen quality. Another found that carbohydrates may impact negatively on sperm concentration in young men.

At the same meeting, two related IVF studies surfaced. In the first, a selection of women having IVF produced more fertilised eggs at the blastocyst stage after eating more protein and less carbohydrate. The second study looked again at those women who had the poorer blastocyst results. Two months before a follow-up IVF cycle, those patients increased their protein and reduced their carbohydrate intake. The result? Significantly higher blastocyst formation and higher pregnancy rates – again.

Intriguing, but not conclusive. Every IVF patient has different nutritional and medical needs. For our own IVF diet, we followed general advice from our GP: eat a balanced diet. That, and exercise, may also reduce the chance of an overweight baby. There’s more. A brand-new study on pregnancy diet and DNA has found that a mother’s diet at the time of conception may affect the baby’s genes. And if you eat junk food before getting pregnant, you have a 50% increased risk of giving birth prematurely. Food for thought.

Of course, no IVF shopping trolley would be complete without a generous handful of fabulous foods. Interested in our favourites? Here goes.

Broccoli, strawberries, oatmeal, bananas, brazil nuts, dried figs, salmon, tomatoes, blueberries, bananas, spinach, fresh orange juice, anchovies, smoked trout, wheatgerm, low-fat yogurt, wholemeal bread, brown rice, pineapple, kale, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, cabbage, mango, sweet potatoes, melon, walnuts, pomegranate, eggs, humus and chicken.

Optimum nutrition for IVF patients continues to be assessed. While it is, a balanced range of good-quality, natural foods is a good starting point. Throw in some folic-acid foods for good measure. And don’t forget those avocados!

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