Trying to conceive? How a fertility diet will increase your chances
There is a lot of mixed information on the internet about what does and what doesn’t support fertility when it comes to diet.
My advice is not to buy into the hype about a particular ‘super food’ or any of the ‘miracle’ ways to boost fertility. The most important lessons to learn are: What foods are right for you and your body? What nutrients are you deficient in? What foods should you be eating more of?
Here is my starter list of the dos and don’ts of a fertility diet to help get you off to a good start:
Enjoy healthy fats
It's so important to include good quality fats in your diet as they are required for both female and male fertility. According to the Harvard School of Public Health 2007 study on fertility, women who ate more mono-unsaturated fats (avocados, olive oil, coconut oil) and minimal trans fats (processed, baked goods) were less likely to have ovulatory problems. It is important to have a certain amount of body fat to achieve pregnancy, and women eating these types of fat were found to be a healthier weight than women who cut out all forms of fat in the interest of weight loss.
Eat your greens
We may be sick of hearing it, but it’s for a very good reason. With regards to fertility, the naturally occurring form of folate is present in plentiful amounts in greens, which is important for women to consume to prevent neural tube defects. Dark leafy greens are very high in minerals, vitamins and other phytonutrients (plant chemicals that are known to have a beneficial effect on our health). Try green smoothies as an easy way to include them in your daily diet if you struggle to have them at meal time.
Enjoy super foods but not as a replacement for a healthy diet
Many of the women I see in my clinical practice tell me that they started taking a particular super food or supplement because they heard it was good for fertility. A bit of maca or some goji berries may be beneficial for your fertility, but these foods are no replacement for eating green vegetables on a daily basis, as well as eating regular meals to keep blood sugar levels balanced, and avoiding stimulants (caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, processed sugar) as much as possible.
Eat good quality protein
Amino acids are the building blocks of the body but we should be getting them from a variety of sources, not just in the form of animal protein. Lentils, beans, nuts, seeds and bean sprouts are all good vegetarian sources of protein, which also supply fibre, micronutrients, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. So next time you find yourself reaching for that ham sandwich, consider a hummus and roast veg wrap instead, or try some guacamole with bean chilli.
Get your vitamin D levels checked
Okay, this isn’t a food, but it is a vital fertility nutrient that is very poorly absorbed from food. Having vitamin D fortified milk may seem sufficient to cover your needs, but this approach isn’t backed up by the research. A study of women with fertility issues from Yale university (2008) found that only 7% of those tested had normal levels, while the other 93% had either mild or extremely deficient vitamin D levels. For fertility, your levels should be above 80 nmol/L, which you can only find out via a blood test, so make sure to request this test from your GP/fertility clinic and supplement if necessary.
Drink your calories
Fizzy drinks play havoc with blood sugar levels and may impact proper hormone conversion and affect your fertility. Stick to water or fresh green vegetable juices instead.
Eat too much red meat
Harvard fertility study discovered that women who ate more of their protein from vegetarian sources (e.g. nuts, seeds, lentils, beans, sprouts) were less likely to have ovulation issues than those whose main source of protein was meat. It’s also better for men to avoid having too much of it, as sperm prefer an alkaline environment, while meat creates a more acidic pH within the body.
Eat non-organic chicken
I know this is a tough one as the price difference between organic and non-organic meat can be quite dramatic; however, consider the amount of antibiotics and growth hormones that are used for non-organic poultry and the impact this may have on your own hormonal balance. Not something any woman wants when trying to conceive. Stick to smaller portions of the higher quality, organic meats with more vegetables on your plate and you will still be satiated after you meal, while also keeping your hormones happy.
Eat processed sugar
There has been a lot in the media recently on the damaging effects of eating too much sugar. Dr Robert Lustig’s YouTube talk on Sugar: The Bitter Truth is worth a look if you would like a more detailed explanation of just how toxic sugar can be to your body. It can seriously compromise a woman’s ability to convert testosterone into oestrogen and sugar consumption is directly linked to PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) risk, so try having fruit, dried fruit or 85 percent dark chocolate instead.
The research has been mixed on this subject, which is hardly surprising when you consider that most people handle alcohol differently – some are tipsy after just one drink, while others are fine after quite a few. The bottom line is that if you find you react quite strongly to even one glass of wine, then it would be best to abstain from alcohol entirely while trying to conceive. For men, the sperm are actually much more vulnerable to damage because they are made afresh, unlike a woman’s eggs. Going teetotal may be the best option as once your partner is pregnant you're off the hook.