Updated: Apr 5, 2021
Carbs, how we love thee! Carbohydrates form part of one of the major food groups in one's diet, and one that includes many great foods. It is important to understand carbohydrates a bit better before we can move on the the effect it has on fertility (in which it does by the way!)
"Good" vs"bad" carbs
Grains are present in the from wheat, rice, oats, barley, cornmeal and/or other cereals grains which consist dominantly out of carbohydrates. There are two types of of grains namely, whole wheat and refined.
Whole grains ("good" carbs) - whole grains haven't been milled like refined grains, meaning the grain is fully intact. This means that it contains all three parts of the kernel: the bran, the germ and the endosperm. Nutrients found in whole grains include B vitamins, fiber and insoluble, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper.
Refined grains ("bad" carbs) - when grains are milled, the bran and the germ are removed, and only the carbohydrate-rich endosperm remains. And it is no longer 'whole grain' anymore. Refined grains lack nutrients. Research suggests that refined grains should be limited for women battling with infertility.
Refined grains include:
Bread, bagel, pita: white, wheat, sourdough, italian (not mentioning of 'whole wheat')
Ready-to-eat cereals (where whole grains/flours are not listed)
I am definitely not saying you can not have your favourite ham and cheese bread roll on occasion, but recommend nutrient dense food choices that will provide you with the best fuel for fertility. The reduction in refined carbs is the most powerful change you can make to your diet to boost egg quality.
Key effects that carbs have on fertility
Blood sugar, insulin and egg quality
The key goal is to balance your blood sugar and insulin levels. This can be done by choosing the right type of carbohydrate and lowering overall carbohydrate intake. You may ask how exactly high blood sugar and insulin levels reduce egg quality...
To explain in simple terms - the "powerhouse" in all our cells known as the mitochondria produce energy which is called ATP. This ATP energy is very important to egg development, and as a result, any disruption in mitochondria function compromises the ability of eggs to mature and to process chromosomes properly. Unfortunately, high blood sugar and insulin levels impair mitochondrial function.
As mentioned above the first step will be to reduce overall carbohydrate intake and increase protein intake. In one study, twelve young, healthy women with previous failed IVF cycles were asked to eat fewer carbohydrates and more protein for two months before their next IVF cycle. The results were remarkable, 45% of eggs survived the blastocyst stage compared to 19% when they following their "normal" diet prior to the study. Ten out of 12 women also became pregnant. A good ratio appears to be 40% carbs, 30% fats and 20% protein - most people will be able to easily reach these ratios by changing one meal per day, such as having eggs for breakfast rather than cereal and or toast.
What about sugary foods?
There is clear evidence that excess sugar, in all forms, compromises fertility (causing disruption in mitochondria function causing poor egg quality). If you find yourself needing a sweet treat and a fruit simply will not do, a small amount of dark chocolate is a good choice. Remember long term eating habits matter the most.
Avoid or eat in moderate amounts:
Refined or "bad" carbs such as white bread and highly processed breakfast cereals.
Added sugars or sweeteners.
Gluten (rye, barley, wheat) if you have inflammatory or autoimmune conditions.
Moderate amounts of fruit (two servings per day).
Tools to determine carbohydrate intake
A registered dietitian will be your number one go to. She/he will determine your personalized dietary needs based on your medical background and weight. There are also many helpful macronutrient-tracking phone apps available, such as Carb Manager, My FatSecret and MyFitnessPal.