GrandMama and Tradition Had It Right: Empirical Evidence Suggests Increased Fertility From A Full-Fat Diet

As a therapist working with the post-natal population, I encounter many women who had only recently been pregnant, seeking help in their postpartum recovery. Traveling to my patients’ homes exclusively, it’s far from shocking that I also frequently encounter these postpartum clients’ parents. Oftentimes, parents will travel from wherever they live to stay with their daughter, her husband, and the new baby, helping out in too many ways to enumerate, likely I don’t even know the full extent of their much-appreciated help.

Most people hailing from intact traditional cultures retain this practice; even some Americans with little remaining of their ethnic heritage keep faithful to the idea that the postnatal woman’s parents should travel and stay over for a while, responsibilities and obligations permitting. Sometimes, the Mom and Dad of both the husband and wife trek all the way from India to assist. Having eight extra hands around to help is never going to be a bad thing!

Trent McBride Jaipur Woman

Grandparents and parents, even sometimes sisters and cousins, may all come to help with the new baby. Image Credit: Trent McBride,  “Jaipur Woman.”

I’ve noticed that many of the elders, from both the US and abroad, have a different view regarding fat than most of us younger people, whether we originally hail from New York or Bombay. We have been taught for generations thateating * fat is bad, and that low-fat is good. Anyone else remember any of their great-aunts or great-grandparents calling a little belly fat “healthy?”

While obesity and grossly morbidly overweight conditions are surely not good for the cardiovascular system and far more, research supports the idea espoused by elders of Indian, European, Black, Chinese cultures, and likely many other cultures as well, that a full-fat diet is not necessarily verboten in all circumstances, and may actually increase fertility. Traditionally-oriented elders further often believe that such a diet is necessary and ideal before, during, and after pregnancy when breastfeeding.

Kolin Feeding by PaXYEE

Breastfeeding is not a hit or miss endeavor. Lactation Counselors know this well. Image Credit:  PaXYEE

In fact, it’s true that having insufficient sources of fat will leave a breastfeeding mother without enough fat reserves, in some instances. This is widely known among lactation consultants, and is not some hidden arcane fact.

Of course, the primacy of every woman’s concern is what will be best for getting pregnant, having a healthy pregnancy, and then breastfeeding with ease, if that’s what she’ll be choosing to do after the baby’s born. Besides this, many women go to the gym, practice yoga, and make it a habit of eating a deliberately healthy diet, with at least one aim having to do with keeping a slimmer figure. But what does this mean in practice?

Harvard medical researcher Jorge E. Chavarro, undertook a study that was published in the November 2017 Obstetrics & Gynecology journal, that had surprising results,that “… Increasing adherence to a “fertility diet” pattern was associated with a lower risk of ovulatory disorder infertility…” Chavarro was studying the effect of following a “fertility diet” (“…characterized by a lower intake of trans fat with a simultaneous greater intake of monounsaturated fat; a lower intake of animal protein with greater vegetable protein intake; a higher intake of high-fiber, low-glycemic carbohydrates; greater preference for high-fat dairy products; higher nonheme iron intake; and higher frequency of multivitamin use…”) while women (specifically nurses in this study) were attempting to conceive.

Of course, this is not an excuse to gorge until one is ill: “….”We also found, consistent with earlier reports from this cohort, that increased body weight is related to a higher risk of infertility due to ovulation disorders…” Obesity is still to be avoided at all costs, as it’s possible to have too much of a “good thing”, in this case.

Tony Alter "Sounds Like A Truck"

Obesity is not the same as getting enough healthy fats. In other words, don’t overdo it! Image Credit: Tony Alter

While Chavarro states that “….clearly more research needs to be done before recommendations can be made for women”, the results of the study of nearly 19,000 women are clear: Eating a low-fat diet (two or more serving of low-fat dairy per week, in this study) correlated with an 85% higher risk of problems with ovulation. And to further cement the trend, women consuming one or more servings of full-fat dairy products daily had a 27% better chance of having healthy ovulation than women eating full-fat dairy foods less frequently.

The study did not track other specific types of fat besides dairy consumption and trans-fat (as well as animal fat, however inadvertently, as that’s always included with animal protein, which was tracked)avoidance; that is, we do not know whether any other kinds of “healthy” plant-based fats might also have this positive effect on ovulation. We therefore do not know whether this is exclusive to certain types of fats found in abundance in dairy products, or if certain plant-based fats may fill the same role. (Flax oil? Hemp seeds? Almond butter?) This is important, as many women now experience dairy sensitivity and thus avoid all dairy products.

"Cheese" by Rebecca Siegel

These are just a few varieties of cheese.Image Credit:  Rebecca Siegel

And so it turns out that our traditions handed down through centuries and millennia based on observation and adjustment of practice are, as would be expected in survival-oriented matters, sound and well-supported by scientifically collected and reviewed data sets. While it is also true that Grandma may want to fatten you up a bit too much, as long as she’s offering you more ghee, more paneer, and more milk, and not trans-fats, you’re set. Mother plying you with the cheese grater and an ever-growing mound of Parmesan tumbling from all directions of the Sunday pasta dish? It’s all gravy, or more accurately “cheesy” gravy!


Pasta with Tomato Sauce and Grated Parmesan Can Help you Conceive? Cheese lovers note. Image Credit: Cousin Anna

How do I know? Can I really be so sure? Think about it: When was the last time Grandmother offered you a nice homemade dish made with trans fats, perhaps Ghee Paratha without the ghee, and margarine in its place? A beautiful piping-hot apple pie made from fresh apples, real grated cinnamon and…partially hydrogenated vegetable oil? It hasn’t happened yet.

image credit: Steven Labinski

Image Credit redit: Steven Labinski
Pictured here is twenty-five percent of the famous television jingle, “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.” We made this traditional apple pie from the Grandma’s Cookbook recipe in
Hot coffee served in a Texas Fiesta ware mug is optional.

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