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Women with a fast food craving could be hurting their fertility for a burger and fries fix.

According to a new study, eating too much fast food may prolong the time it takes to become pregnant.

When researchers looked at the diets of about 5,600 women from Australia, the U.K., Ireland, and New Zealand, they found that consuming fast food extended the time it took to conceive — but eating extra fruit appeared to speed up the process.

The study was conducted by a team at the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute in Australia. The data was collected between 2004 and 2011. Of all the couples, 8 percent were infertile, which was classified as taking longer than one year to conceive. Of the women, 39 percent became pregnant within one month.

Compared with women who consumed fruit three or more times a day, women who ate fruit less than one to three times a month took a half a month longer to become pregnant. Eating less fruit increased their infertility risk from 8 percent to 12 percent.

Women who consumed fast food four or more times a week took about a month longer to get pregnant compared with those who never or rarely ate fast food. Those who ate more fast food boosted their infertility risk from 8 percent to 16 percent.

Women under 35 are advised to see a doctor if they haven’t conceived after a year. But if fast food intake prolongs the time it takes to conceive, those women could undertake fertility treatments needlessly, in theory.

(Women over 35 should have a fertility evaluation and consider treatment after six months of trying unsuccessfully.)

What you eat — even before baby — matters

Dr. Serena Chen, a fertility specialist with Saint Barnabas Medical Center in New Jersey, said the study complements recent researched published in The Lancet that emphasized the importance of preconception health — something that’s a “completely new way of thinking for modern western medicine.”

Men and women need to focus on better eating in general — especially prior to conception.

While eating fast food may impact the time it takes a woman to become pregnant, it also puts the mother in poorer health, she said.

“This type of care [preconception health] is discouraged and often not covered by our current healthcare system,” she said. “We are paying the price in higher rates of childhood obesity and increased risks for maternal morbidity and mortality.”

Sharon Palmer, RDN, a dietitian from California, agreed with Chen.

“Previous research has suggested that to optimize fertility one should have a nutritionally balanced diet with limited refined foods, plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and healthy protein sources. This is pretty much opposite of the Western diet, which is high in fast foods, processed foods, unhealthful protein choices, and refined carbohydrates.”

Palmer said the study out of Australia is another recent one that hopefully will start to get doctors and couples thinking about a new approach to healthy eating for optimal fertility.

Fast food swaps for better fertility

Don’t want to skip fast food? You don’t have to give up your McDonald’s addiction completely, but you can make some smarter choices when eating on the go — especially if you’re trying to conceive, said Stephanie McKercher, RDN, a dietitian from Colorado.

Here are some fast food swap ideas from Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, twin dietitians from New York.

  • McDonald’s. Try the Southwest grilled chicken salad. It’s only 350 calories, whereas many fast food meals are more than 1,000. That’s almost as many calories as some small women should get in the entire day. The salad’s crunchy and flavorful and contains tomatoes, black beans, and roasted corn, which boost nutrient intake. With 37 grams of protein, it’ll keep you satisfied. We recommend skipping the dressing which adds another 120 calories, and you won’t miss it. This is a meal we’d order if we’re in a pinch or traveling.
  • Chick-fil-A. Many of our clients ask for sandwiches at lunch because they feel more satisfied after eating one, so we’d recommend the Chicken Sandwich without the honey-roasted BBQ sauce. “You get a large fruit cup with it, all for a reasonable 400 calories,” they said. It has 30 grams of satisfying protein and only 3.5 grams of fat, one is saturated.
  • Taco Bell. We typically recommend the Power Bowl, but sans rice. “The sodium tends to be a bit high, but without the rice the calories stay in check and most of the bowls pack in nutrients from beans, tomatoes, avocado, and chicken,” they said. Without the rice the calories can come down to about 320 calories with 28 grams of protein to keep you satisfied.