If you want to stay thin, go low-fat. But if you want to get pregnant, ice cream might be a better choice than that fat-free yogurt. A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that the type of dairy foods a woman eats can have a big impact on her fertility.
Researchers looked at more than 18,000 women ages 24 to 42, and found that those who ate at least one serving per week of high-fat dairy foods were 27 percent less likely to have ovulation-related fertility problems than those eating one serving or less. Those who ate two or more servings of low-fat dairy, on the other hand, were 85 percent more likely to have trouble with ovulation.
"This was an unexpected finding and there is not an obvious explanation to this," says Jorge E. Chavarro, M.D., a research fellow in the school's department of nutrition. "It is possible that dairy fat or something traveling along dairy fat, such as the naturally occurring sex hormones of pregnant cows, may be enhancing ovulation, but this needs to be studied further."
Up to 25 percent of women experiencing infertility are having problems with ovulation, so until researchers figure it out, it appears that a dairy swap is worth a try. But because of the extra calories and saturated fat involved, Chavarro suggests going about it carefully. "Simply swapping all low-fat for high-fat dairy will lead to weight gain and greater saturated fat intake, which are not good for fertility or overall health," he says. So if you're adding high-fat dairy, try to cut calories and saturated fat in other parts of your diet.
Also keep in mind that you don't need to shift all of your dairy to high-fat to get its benefits. "Most of the apparently beneficial effect of high-fat dairy was due to whole milk, and significant associations with improved fertility were observed at intakes as low as one glass per day," Chavarro says. "So there's really no need to go crazy on high-fat dairy."
But do enjoy that ice cream while you can, because once you're pregnant, a switch back to low-fat is recommended.
Christina Elston is a senior editor and health writer for Dominion Parenting Media.