Fertility and diet
Earlier this year researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School published a review
on the impact of diet on fertility.
What they discovered was that in couples who are trying to conceive naturally, there are some key nutrients and vitamins that may have a positive benefit when it comes to conception.
As Dr Jemma Evans from Melbourne’s Hudson Institute of Medical Research puts it, “The health of future generations depends on the health of the parents. Diet has one of the biggest impacts on our health: we need food to survive but we need the right foods to survive properly. That means going back to basics.”
Here’s a guide to a healthy pre-conception diet.
1. Consume plenty of good fats
Trans fats and saturated fats – the kinds you typically find in pizza, burgers, and fried and processed foods – are associated with reduced fertility in women and lower testosterone levels in men.
Work together to cut out junk foods by replacing bad fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, and oily fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna and sardines (2 to 3 serves per week).
2. Choose whole grains over refined grains
Rolled oats, brown rice and multigrain bread are all good options . These will help regulate blood sugar and insulin levels – both important factors in improving your fertility.
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3. Embrace full-fat dairy
Low-fat dairy has been linked to infertility in women, so embrace the full-fat variety instead. Keep an eye on portion size though – a small daily serving of full-fat yoghurt or hard cheese is recommended.
4. Increase your antioxidant intake
Research suggests a positive benefit for male fertility by helping to support healthy sperm function.
Bulk up your diet with antioxidant-rich foods including fruits and vegetables on the red-blue-purple spectrum, such as blueberries, plums, cherries, grapes, beetroot and red cabbage.
5. Pump up the iron
Having an adequate intake of iron
helps support normal conception and supports the development of a healthy baby.
With as many as one quarter of Australian women having below the recommended intake of iron prior to conception, it’s important to ensure you’re getting enough.
Choose lean cuts of red meat, and pump up your intake of plant-based iron: spinach, beans, pumpkin, tomatoes and wholegrain cereals are all excellent natural sources of iron; increase your absorption levels by pairing these with vitamin C-rich foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, cabbage, spinach, Brussels sprouts, capsicum, strawberries, mangoes and oranges.
6. Get more folate
Folate is essential to the healthy development of your baby in the first weeks of life, often before you even know you’re pregnant, and may help reduce the risk of neural tube defects.
recommend that women supplement with 400 to 500 mcg a day at least a month before you begin trying to conceive.
Foods rich in folate include asparagus, spinach, broccoli, bananas, oranges, strawberries, beans and legumes, but as it can be difficult to obtain increased RDI requirements for conception, you should also consider taking folic acid (the supplementation form of folate).
Since 2009, most bread in Australia has been fortified with folic acid; you can also find plenty of fortified fruit juices and breakfast cereals on the supermarket shelves.
7. Cut out the added sugar
A study this year by the Hudson Institute led by Dr Evans revealed a strong link between high-sugar diets and infertility in both women and men .
High in sugar doesn’t just mean sweet treats, Dr Evans warns: “The majority of pre-prepared meals, takeaways and processed foods have hidden sugars in them.”
In addition, the study found that a sugar by-product called advanced glycation end products (AGEs) formed through consuming sugary foods, processed foods and/or ‘blackened’ food (grilled or barbecued) may also have a negative impact on fertility.
She advises that while you’re trying to conceive, slow cook or stew meats and steam fish to reduce AGE formation.
“If you do want to cook with a dry heat, marinate your protein in an acidic marinade or lemon juice and you can cut the AGEs by half.”
If you are starting to think about pregnancy start your preconception plan with a general check-up with your healthcare professional.
^Guidelines for preventive activities in general practice, 8th edn. East Melbourne: Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, 2012