Eating for Fertility
Becoming pregnant is an incredible blessing, yet often accompanied with anxiety particularly as hopeful parents begin to research the many factors involved. The role diet plays in a healthy pregnancy has been well documented, though when it comes to improving fertility the facts are less concrete.
From the research I have read, improving your health through nutrient-rich foods will help your entire body function at its best - including your reproductive system! You (and your baby) are what you eat. Just as we are aware of the ill effects pesticides have on our environment, a chemical-laden diet may do the same to a growing child. Conversely, a diet overflowing with whole foods will ensure you are eating plenty of nutrient-rich options and providing your body with the nutrients vital to both mom and child. Hopefully, I can help calm your nerves by sharing some tips for a nutritious diet to boost fertility and the remainder of your child-bearing journey.
Eat the rainbow. Vibrant fruits and veggies are a great source of inflammation fighting antioxidants. These little health defenders benefit your entire body, including your reproductive system and who doesn’t want healthy sperm and eggs? For tips on how to add more color to your diet check out this incredible selection of produce. Aim for 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of veggies each day.
Go for the (whole) grains! After witnessing the refining process, it's easy to see why the USDA encourages us to make half of our grains whole (http://www.mypyramid.gov/ ). This technique strips away many of the key nutrients found in whole grains, including iron and folate - two nutrients essential to a healthy pregnancy!
Iron is not just for smoothing out wrinkles. Iron and folic acid are found in plenty of foods outside of whole grains. Other options include dried fruit, dark leafy greens, broccoli, beets, blackberries, celery, yogurt, red meat, and whole grains. Prefer to drink your nutrients? Explore juicing your own fresh produce into nutrient-rich juices and smoothies, or drink mineral water.
Minimize Mercury. In fact try to dodge this toxic mineral completely! It is believed to be safe for women trying to conceive to enjoy up to 12 ounces of low-mercury seafood each week. Low-mercury options include: shrimp, canned light tuna (not Albacore), salmon, and catfish. The FDA advises avoiding canned white tuna, swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, tuna steaks, shark, orange roughy, Spanish mackerel, marlin, and grouper, because they have the highest mercury levels. For more tips click here.
Fan fatty acids. Whereas saturated- and trans-fatty acids inflict damaging inflammation and raise your cholesterol levels, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are great for our bodies, especially omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. These healthy fats are believed to regulate sex hormones, build healthy cells (including brain cells!), and boost fertility. Thankfully, it’s easy to get more healthy fats in your diet. Simply incorporate a few of these delicious options.
- Monounsaturated fats: nuts, canola or olive oil, avocados, and soybeans.
- Polyunsaturated omega-3 fats: walnuts, flaxseeds, seeds, and seafood (while experts suggest that the benefits of low-mercury fatty fish outweigh the risk, if you are concerned, seek out a reputable supplement instead).
Go nuts! Nuts are jam-packed with nutrition and offer bonus benefits for your hubby. Research has found arginine rich walnuts and almonds to increase sperm production and blood flow, thereby improving erections and fertility! To boost sperm motility and development, add selenium-rich Brazil nuts to your trail mix as well.
Enjoy eggs. Eggs may improve your odds of fertilization due to their high source of vitamin E. If your husband is not getting enough of this vitamin in his diet, he may experience testicular tissue degeneration
Ogle oysters. While couples have long enjoyed oysters for their unique flavor and aphrodisiac appeal, once scientists discovered oysters boost sperm count, this mollusk became more of a hot commodity among those trying to conceive. The boost in production is in thanks to zinc, a mineral also found in shellfish, poultry, meat, avocados, whole grains, lentils, and wheat germ.
Sweeten naturally. While the safety of artificial sweeteners remains a controversial subject, when striving for pregnancy I would suggest erring on the safe side and opting for the good old classics: (organic) cane sugar, sucanat, honey, or agave.
Vive la Virgin Mary. Drinking on occasion may not ruin your odds of conception, but frequent drinking or binge-drinking certainly may. Involving alcohol when attempting to get pregnant does present risks however. If alcohol is consumed during the first days of pregnancy it can easily cause harm to your growing child. If the occasional glass of wine is too good to give up before conception, be smart and imbibe the days right after you get your period when you are certain you are not pregnant, and sip on a satisfying Shirley Temple for the rest.
Cut the Caffeine. While not everyone agrees that caffeine will reduce your chances of becoming pregnant, many still do. I recommend cutting back to less than 300 mg of caffeine each day, though if you have any concerns at all opt for an invigorating caffeine-free mint tea the next time you are hitting up your local Starbucks.
For myself, when my husband and I were in the family planning stage, being a dietitian of course, I paid extra special attention to my own diet. I savored a power-packed breakfast smoothie each morning made with plain kefir (made with whole milk), spinach, blueberries, wheat germ, and chia or flax seeds. This way, I knew I was adding fats to my diet to signal to my body that it was a welcoming place for a body, as I tried to gain a bit of weight, along with folic acid, calcium, vitamin D, and loads of antioxidants. I also munched on fresh organic produce, avoided BPA-lined canned veggies and plastic bottles, sipped on water and raspberry tea, and aimed to incorporate wild Atlantic salmon at least once a week.
While the foods we choose to eat (or not) will not resolve all fertility issues, perhaps only a minority of them, I still think it is a smart move to eat right. Whether or not it will magically lead to a pregnancy I cannot predict, but for me, I felt better simply because I was actually able to DO something on my own to at least try to better our chances. By eating smart at a child-bearing age, you are at least doing your best to ensure you are able to provide all of the nutrients needed for your healthy growing child – whenever they may choose to join you. A healthy diet would surely also be recommended even after seeking out fertility treatment, so why not start today?
Regardless of what tips you incorporate into your own lifestyle, you are already on the right path by planning ahead. And the earlier the better as the American Pregnancy Association recommends allowing for at least three months to a year for your dietary changes to create a safe and nourishing home for your baby.
Best wishes for a happy and healthy journey!
Jessica Corwin, MPH, RDN