Like all your body systems, your reproductive system requires a variety of nutrients to work efficiently. It also isn’t a system that works independent of others, so your digestive health, your ability to detoxify efficiently, how much stress you’re under and how you react to stress, all influence how well your reproductive system works, and therefore your fertility.
With regard to food, there are some fertility enhancing nutrients and phytonutrients (those other compounds in your food that aren’t a vitamin or mineral) definitely worth including in your diet on a daily and weekly basis. Not only will this improve your fertility and chances of conception, they will also improve your overall health and well-being.
So what food should you include as part of a fertility diet?
A good balance of macronutrients
You need to consume adequate protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates every day. Depriving yourself of certain food groups or following a strict diet such as one with minimal or no carbohydrates is usually not appropriate when trying to conceive (unless you have a specific,valid reason eg avoiding gluten in coeliac disease).
Studies have shown that following a Mediterranean diet is linked to improved fertility rates and is a good place to start when planning out your meals. This diet is not a fad, it’s a life long diet that focuses on wholefoods and includes lots of good quality protein, fats and carbohydrates.
By adhering to a Mediterranean Diet you will obtain much of your protein from plant sources, good quality fish and small quantities of meat. This increase in plant protein over animal protein appears to be particularly favourable for female fertility. That’s not to say that eating meat should be avoided all together, but rather reduced to perhaps a few times per week rather than every day.
The diet also includes lots of good healthy fats from quality oils like olive oil and oily fish like sardines. Complex carbohydrates are obtained from wholegrains and legumes.
To get started, take a look at my previous blog “How to benefit from embracing the Mediterranean Diet”
Consume foods rich in antioxidants
Eggs and sperm are particularly susceptible to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when free radicals in your body outweigh the antioxidants that can neutralise them and prevent damage.
Your body naturally produces free radicals as a result of normal physiological functions and through activities like exercise. As we age, some antioxidants that are also naturally produced by your body, are produced in lesser amounts. Therefore, if you are older and trying to conceive, you need to ensure you’re getting lots of antioxidants from your diet, and you may need the help of some antioxidant supplementation depending on your circumstances.
Free radicals are also produced when you are exposed to environmental toxins such as pollution, radiation and pesticides and by making poor dietary and lifestyle choices such as a diet high in sugar, fried foods, processed foods, alcohol, smoking and drugs.
Everyone produces free radicals. What varies is the amount we produce and our ability to neutralise them via our antioxidant intake.
The types of antioxidants particularly good for your eggs and sperm include: vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, Co-enzyme Q10, lipoic acid and resveratrol. Before you go searching the supplement isle however make sure you are including the following foods into your diet:
- Colourful fruits and vegetables, particularly those red, yellow and orange ones
- Citrus fruits like oranges and lemons
- Brazil nuts and sunflower seeds
- Green leafy vegetables
- Good quality meat and fish
- Broccoli and Brussels sprouts
- Good quality dark chocolate (make sure sugar is not high up in the list of ingredients)
Foods to support healthy, balanced hormones
Your reproductive hormones need to be at the right levels to support your fertility. Having hormones out of balance can lead to lowered fertility rates and potentially reproductive issues such as irregular menstrual cycles, very short menstrual bleeds, low sperm counts and low libido (to name but a few).
Hormones can become out of whack for a variety of reasons including; ceasing hormonal birth control, high levels of continuous stress, poor dietary and lifestyle choices, exposure to environmental toxins and poor detoxification.
There are some specific nutrients and compounds that support hormone production, regulation and excretion and these include; zinc, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, magnesium, sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol. In order to obtain these nutrients and compounds from your diet you need to include:
- Sunflower and pumpkin seeds
- Walnuts and chia seeds
- Green leafy vegetables
- Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables like kale and cabbage
- Sunshine (not really a dietary recommendation but worth mentioning)
What should you avoid on a Fertility diet?
It probably goes without saying, but, high sugar, processed and fried foods should be avoided. These types of foods provide little nutritional value and in fact can increase free radicals leading to oxidative stress.
Alcohol should also be limited or avoided all together, and drinking caffeinated beverages should be reduced to one cup of coffee per day (or equivalent). If you’re a smoker or take recreational drugs now is the time to quit. Perhaps easier said than done, so identify what support you think you will need to help you quit and get started.
If you’re able to include all those fertility enhancing foods listed then you probably won’t have the space in your stomach to eat unhealthy foods. So my tip is to focus on what you need to include and make changes to your diet one meal at a time.