What we eat is vital to having a healthy body, so similarly when it comes to fertility it can be helpful in increasing your chances of becoming pregnant. Below are science-based nutritional guidelines and dietary practices which suggest how to support your reproductive efforts through diet.
The most comprehensive study to-date focusing on fertility and diet is the 2009 landmark Nurses' Health Study which filled a critical information gap on how nutrition and fertility interact and complement each other. The findings where a result of an 8-year study of more than 18,000 women that uncovered ten evidence-based suggestions, mostly food related, for improving fertility – predominantly related at preventing and reversing ovulatory infertility.
In addition to eating healthy whole grains, healthy fats, and protein, the lifestyle change suggested was exercise to reach and maintain a healthy fertility BMI. So, in other words exercising and a healthy diet can help optimise your chances of pregnancy.
The nutrient dense foods recommended play a vital role in hormonal balance and function, egg and sperm health, blood circulation and endocrine health, reducing chances of miscarriage, plus overall wellbeing – which can be very beneficial if the underlying infertility problem has to do with hormonal imbalance or lack of adequate nutrition, an essential building block for a healthy reproductive cycle.
This diet is to be practiced for 90 days as this is how long it takes for it to impact the health of your eggs. Diet is the number one recommendation for PCOS and anovulation (lack of ovulation).
· Fruits and vegetables: Prefer organic fruits and vegetables which are pesticide and toxic free and therefore higher in nutritional value. Research links lower probability of getting pregnant and miscarriage for women receiving IVF treatments, with pesticide residues in their system. A 2018 Australian study suggests that eating too much fast food and not enough fresh fruit will make it harder for women to fall pregnant, suggesting that improving your diet by eating more leafy greens, vegetables and in season fruit and cutting out processed and junk food can support your conception journey.
Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, lemons and lime are one of the best sources of vitamin C which improves fertility levels and sperm quality. They’re also packed with calcium, potassium and folate – a B vitamin that creates a healthy reproductive environment for better egg quality and assists in your efforts to get pregnant by regulation ovulation. Berries like blueberries and raspberries are equally high in folate and vitamin C but include natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients which help boost both female and male fertility plus also carry the added benefit of high fibre content, required to detox estrogen from the body.
Aim for at least one serving of fruits a day.
Best fruits: oranges, grapefruit, lemons, lime, kiwi, papaya, cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, raisins, pomegranates, banana
Leafy green veggies like spinach, kale, rocket and collards are dense in minerals, antioxidants and vitamins like iron, calcium and folate essential for conception and for the development of the fetus.
Aim for at least three servings of leafy greens a day.
Best leafy greens: spinach, kale, collards, rocket, cabbage, coriander, microgreens and anything in season.
Colourful veggies work in favour of fertility because they are rich in iron, folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, and antioxidants. Cauliflower is a good source of Q10 coenzyme, found in studies to improve egg and sperm quality including acting as an antioxidant that helps protect cells from free radical damage (you may also want to take a Q10 coenzyme supplement– consult your doctor). Eat a wide selection rainbow of in-season coloured vegetables a day by including them in your salad, a quick stir fry, oven bake or steam. Try to include a serving in each meal if not more.
Best vegetables: cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, asparagus, bell peppers, turnip greens, celery, chars, Brussel sprouts, green peas
· Dairy: While whole fat dairy milk is recommended prefer organic as non-organic dairy contains added hormones and antibiotics which contribute towards excess estrogen levels in the body. This can aggravate an already existing hormonal imbalance especially important for those with diagnosed PCOS or endometriosis. Some fertility experts suggest ditching dairy all together to remain fertile for longer, so you may prefer organic dairy-free and nut based milks, such as almond, hemp or coconut. When it comes to yoghurt only eat full-fat Greek yoghurt. Avoid all low fat dairy products. Research suggests that mature cheeses like mature cheddar and parmesan are high in polyamines – a protein that plays an important role in reproductive health, sperm quality and improves egg health in women over the age of 35. For a plant-based source of polyamines you can find it in grapefruits.
Best dairy products: Full fat and organic milk and yoghurt options with dairy-free milks the better milk option. A small piece of cheese is enough as it is also high in saturated fat.
· Fish and meat: If you eat fish prefer salmon as other fish may contain high concentrations of mercury. When it comes to meat and chicken opt for grass-fed sourced or free range and organic as conventionally grown meat contains high levels of antibiotics and added hormones which can contribute towards estrogen dominant conditions.
· Carbohydrates: Chose slowly digested carbs like wholegrains and legumes which provide your body with the essential fibre your body needs to get rid of excess hormones and helps keep your blood sugar levels balanced. Therefore, replace white with brown pasta, eat more quinoa and brown rice and eat as many organic fruits and vegetables you can with their skin on, for their high fibre content. Beans like lentils are the highest source or Iron and just 1 cup of cooked lentils provides 90% of your daily folic acid needs. The Nurses study suggests getting extra folic acid (400 micrograms a day) before you get pregnant could actually help you start eating for two. Low iron has also been found to promote lack of ovulation.
Lentils and beans are also considered the best source of plant-based protein reducing ovulation problems and are also high in folate a very important nutrient for conception.
Best slow carbs: kidney beans, lentils, garbanzo beans, navy beans, pinto beans, brown rice, quinoa
· Healthy Fats: It is said that one avocado a day will keep your hormones balanced. For healthy functioning cell membranes and sex hormones cholesterol is needed, so fats become essential building blocks for fertility. Essential fatty-acids – which your body doesn’t make but needs to have them through nutrition, are important fertility enhancing fats that support ovulation, support blood flow to the reproductive organs and increase cervical mucous.
Best fats: avocado, flax seeds, walnuts, sardines, chia seeds, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil.
Fats to avoid: canola oil, vegetable oil, safflower oil, trans fats, margarine.
· Nuts and seeds: Eaten in their raw form they provide us with essential Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin E, iron and zinc all required for the production of healthy cells and eggs.
Best nuts and seeds: walnuts, almonds, hemp, pumpkin, sesame, chia, sunflower. Make a trail mix of these nuts and seeds and add to smoothies or make nut milks out of them.
· Sugar: Avoid refined sugar found in store-bought fruit juices and cakes as they directly impact on PCOS, blood sugar-balance and the immune system. If you need sweetness prefer to eat it from fruits and some dark chocolate. Other alternatives include carob syrup, maple syrup or honey.
· Additional suggestions: Drink lots of clean water; avoid storing food in plastics unless they are BPA free as plastics have estrogen mimicking effects; reduce caffeine consumption; fat-free foods are highly processed and filled with sugar so opt for full-fat.