A well-balanced diet is made up of a variety of nutrients: macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats and proteins and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. While each essential nutrient has its place in your diet, there is one nutrient that gynecologists agree you should eat more often: healthy fats.
Healthy fats consist of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are associated with a reduced risk of disease, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. These are found in foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, fish and vegetable oils.
Video of the Day
Healthy fats are associated with a lowered risk of disease, but they're also beneficial for fertility, reproductive health and pregnancy. Here's why gynecologists want you to incorporate more healthy fats into your diet.
Healthy Fats Improve Absorption of Certain Vitamins
Some vitamins — A, D, E and K — are fat-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins dissolve in fats and oils and are stored in the body's fatty tissue and liver, according to the National Cancer Institute.
"It's important for everyone, especially those assigned female at birth, to include healthy fats in their diet," says Nitu Bajekal, MD, a gynecologist with more than 35 years of clinical experience. "Healthy fats are needed to absorb fat-soluble vitamins that are essential for hormone production and maintenance of proper hormone function.
Fat-soluble vitamin D, a vital nutrient in many prenatal vitamins, is especially important for pregnant people. Low levels of vitamin D in pregnant people is associated with pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and adverse pregnancy outcomes, according to John Hopkins Medicine.
Eating plenty of healthy fats in your diet can help these essential fat-soluble vitamins to be readily absorbed.
Healthy Fats May Reduce Symptoms of PMS
PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, affects many people to varying degrees. More than 90 percent of people who menstruate report experiencing some PMS symptoms, according to the Office on Women's Health.
PMS symptoms can include:
- Mood swings
- Appetite changes
- Depressed mood
- Trouble falling asleep
To help reduce PMS symptoms, gynecologist Daniel Boyer, MD suggests eating more healthy fats. "Healthy fats enhance the absorption of certain vitamins that are needed to reduce symptoms of PMS," he says. "On top of that, healthy fats aid in the production of hormones like progesterone and estrogen, and they help balance these hormones to ensure proper regulation of the menstrual cycle. Fluctuations in these hormones lead to menstrual irregularities."
Snacking on nuts and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids may help fight PMS, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Healthy Fats Support Fertility and Pregnancy
Gynecologists specialize in fertility, reproductive health and pregnancy. A diet rich in healthy fats may assist in this area of health.
"Healthy fats play an important role during pregnancy," Dr. Boyer explains. "A pregnant person needs to get the recommended amounts of healthy fats because these fats enhance the absorption of certain essential vitamins like D, A and E that are needed for a healthy pregnancy and fetal development."
Sources of healthy fats also provide essential nutrients like folate and potassium, which play an important role in pregnancy. "These nutrients are needed in the production of fertility hormones like estrogen to ensure ovulation and for maintaining pregnancy," Dr. Boyer says.
Getting plenty of healthy fats can help with your hormones in relation to reproductive health. "Hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are responsible for reproductive health and require fat to be produced," says Shahin Ghadir, MD, fertility and reproductive endocrinologist and gynecologist.
Healthy Fats May Alleviate Pain From PCOS and Endometriosis
Discussions surrounding reproductive health for people assigned female at birth often involve mentions of conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis. They're commonly confused for each other, but they're different. Both affect fertility and involve unwanted symptoms.
While neither PCOS nor endometriosis has a cure, they can be managed with medication and over-the-counter pain relievers, and in some cases, surgery. Nutrition, and especially eating healthy fats, is also thought to help alleviate some of the symptoms.
"Foods rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that may help alleviate pain and discomfort people experience around the pelvic area caused by endometriosis," Dr. Boyer says. "Healthy fats also help manage cycle irregularities, which are the main symptoms of PCOS, by rebalancing the hormones that regulate menstrual cycles."
People with high blood levels of EPA — a type of fatty acid — were 82 percent less likely to have endometriosis compared to people with low EPA levels according to a December 2014 review in Reproductive Sciences.
Omega-3 fatty acids may also have beneficial effects on PCOS, including anti-obesity and anti-inflammatory properties, according to July 2019 research in the Experimental and Clinical Sciences Journal.
"Omega-3s have been associated with a reduced risk of endometriosis and can decrease inflammation, which in turn can help PMS symptoms and period pain," Dr. Ghadir says.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Fats and Cholesterol”
- National Cancer Institute: “Fat-soluble vitamin”
- John Hopkins Medicine: "How Does Vitamin D Affect Women’s Health?"
- Office on Women's Health: "Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)"
- Cleveland Clinic: "11 Diet Changes That Help You Fight PMS"
- Reproductive Sciences: "Serum Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Endometriosis"
- Experimental and Clinical Sciences Journal: “N-3 fatty acids as preventive and therapeutic agents in attenuating PCOS complications”