The food you eat can affect your fertility – but how? Jaymie Hooper gets the expert advice on what you should be eating to future-proof your reproductive health. For mum, and for dads-to-be.
While it’s true that what you eat during pregnancy can affect the health of both you and your baby, the foods you consume prior to conception are equally as significant.
“The preconception period is now widely recognised as being very important to the health of your future baby,” explains nutritionist and naturopath Belinda Kirkpatrick.“Each partner only donates one cell,” she says. “And the health of those two cells can determine the ultimate health of your baby.”
Eating the wrong foods can also affect your chances of conceiving. “Diets high in saturated fats and sugar have been associated with poorer fertility outcomes in both women and men,” explains nutritionist and Amazonia ambassador Zoe Dent.
But don’t stress if you’ve been hitting the junk-food aisle for a while. According to both Kirkpatrick and Dent, following a fertility-friendly diet can both improve and protect your chances of conceiving.
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What to Eat
“Research shows that the Mediterranean diet is one of the best for improving fertility outcomes,” Kirkpatrick tells Body+Soul. Packed with fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and a little dairy and red meat, the Mediterranean diet also includes fish, which has been linked to better reproductive health.
“My top fertility foods include organic eggs, wild-caught salmon, asparagus, avocado, brazil nuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, beetroot, broccoli and leafy greens,” Kirkpatrick tips.
“The most important thing is that you include a source of protein, good fats and something fresh with each meal.”Sourcing your protein from plant-based foods (such as beans or legumes) can also protect your fertility, with some studies showing an association between vegetarian diets and a reduced risk of fertility disorders.
Consuming antioxidant-rich foods is also beneficial, as this can protect the health of a woman’s eggs as well as a man’s sperm. “I recommend eating two cups of veggies at every meal,” tips Dent.“Aim for the rainbow, but especially dark, leafy greens as they are high in fertility nutrients such as folate, iron, calcium, vitamin A and manganese.”
Omega-3s, like those found in oily fish, avocados and nuts, can also help regulate hormones and promote ovulation, as can foods rich in folate, such as citrus fruits.
What to Avoid
“Diets high in trans fats, processed meats, processed foods, alcohol, sweetened beverages and caffeine can negatively impact fertility,” Dent tells Body+Soul.
Kirkpatrick adds that starchy carbs can also cause problems. “It is known that eggs and embryos do not thrive in a high-glucose environment,” she explains. “In one study, IVF patients who switched to a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet increased their clinical pregnancy rate from 17 to 83 per cent.”
Planning for a baby?
The dos and don’ts of preconception care:
Do avoid inflammation
According to Dent, inflammatory foods (such as sugar and, in some cases, dairy or gluten) can damage your gut health, which has a negative effect on your fertility.
Don’t shock your body
Although it can be tempting to overhaul your diet, it’s best to ease into it. “Your body wants to feel safe in order to conceive and maintain a pregnancy, so a big shock to the system can negatively affect some women,” explains Kirkpatrick.
Do cook at home
“Eating a wholefood diet and prioritising home cooking is the best way to avoid harmful foods and reduce your inflammatory load,” tips Dent.