Foods for fertility
There’s no doubt that good nutrition and fertility are inextricably intertwined so, when you’re trying to get pregnant, eating well really matters. Eating the right things in the right amounts and the right time will boost your fertility. Here’s how:
1) Protein. It’s needed by every cell in the body for growth and repair (and that also stretches to growing a new person, too!). Trouble is, most people I see in clinic don’t eat nearly enough. Eating protein is also essential to balance your hormones and, ladies, if your hormones are out of whack, you’re going to make the task of getting pregnant so much harder. To be clear, sources of protein include lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, beans, nuts and seeds. Aim to have a little protein at every meal, including breakfast (even if that means a sprinkling of seeds and chopped nuts on your porridge).
2) Fruit and veg (in general) fulfill a few truly important roles. The two that are perhaps most critical for fertility is that they are a source of so many different minerals and vitamins, which are important for conception – but more on that later. Fruit and veg also are full of fibre. Aside from making you regular, having a high fibre diet mops up excess hormones so you can get rid of it (in your poo). Why is this important? Well, having too much oestrogen (most common) or testosterone circulating in your body is not conducive to making babies.
3) Oily fish (that’s salmon, trout, herring, mackerel, sardines, fresh tuna) contain omega 3 fats, which the body needs but can’t make itself. These fats are the building blocks of all hormones and, if your body doesn’t have enough of them, your fertility could be compromised. What’s more, these fats are anti-inflammatory (inflammation can over-stimulate the immune response) and can reduce blood clotting, both of which can help prevent miscarriage. Aim for three servings a week.
Now for some specifics…
4) Salmon scores highly already because it’s an oily fish, but did you know it also contains selenium? Selenium is an antioxidant that protects eggs and sperm from free radicals, which can damage the DNA and cause chromosome breakage, leading to birth defects and miscarriage. Doctors also think selenium gives sperm a power boost, making them more fertile. Try to squeeze in a few servings a week if you can.
5) Eggs. When it comes to fertility, the magic constituents are vitamin D and choline. Recent research found 93% of infertile women had sufficient levels of vitamin D and many were clinically deficient. Those suffering from PCOS were especially likely to be lacking. Choline helps the body convert homocysteine to methionine. Homocysteine is something you definitely don’t want too much of – it’s linked to miscarriage, and poor egg and embryo quality in women undergoing IVF. You can eat your fill because research shows that up to three eggs a day are fine.
6) Pumpkin seeds are the perfect man-snack. They can give lazy swimmers a real boot up the behind, giving male fertility a boost. They’re full of the zinc, and deficiency in women can lead to an imbalance of oestrogen and progesterone as well as miscarriage. Both partners should try to have a small handful a day as a snack, in breakfast cereal, soups or salads.
7) Almonds. Vitamin E is the reason you should eat these nuts. Deficiency has been associated with infertility in women and poor sperm health in men. Added to that, vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, which means it’s useful in protecting sperm and egg DNA. They make a brilliant on-the-go snack for both you and your man.
8) Asparagus is one of nature’s best sources of folate, the naturally occurring form of folic acid. Now, you might have heard about how folic acid is important for neural tube development in babies, but it can also help you get pregnant. Research shows women with higher levels of folic acid had a significantly lower risk of ovulatory failure (one of the main causes on infertility). A few servings a week should do the trick, but folate is also found in leafy greens and broccoli, so consider these sources, too.
9) Broccoli. Where to start with broccoli? It really does have super powers. Brocolli has so man of the vitamins and minerals your body needs to conceive and sustain a healthy pregnancy: vitamins C, A, E, B6, folate, choline, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, selenium and zinc. The plant sterols may help prevent oestrogen overload, too. Need I say more? If you have a diagnosed thyroid condition (or suspect this may be the case) it’s best to lightly steam your broccoli rather than eat raw as it can suppress the function of your thyroid gland.
10) Oranges and lemons are packed with vitamin C, improves sperm count and motility, and stops them clumping together. It might also be useful for women taking Clomiphene as it can help stimulate ovulation cycles. The plant chemicals it contains (phytonutrients) can additionally help balance hormones like oestrogen – useful if you suffer from conditions linked to oestrogen dominance like PCOS, endometriosis or fibroids.
11) Bananas contain plenty of vitamin B6, which is one of the most important fertility nutrients because it helps regulate your hormones. It’s also helpful if you suffer from PMT. Low levels of B6 are linked to irregular periods and poor egg and sperm development.
12) Pomegranates have been eating for centuries to boost fertility. Scientists now know that’s because drinking the juice increases the flow of blood to the uterus and, in men, it improves the quality and motility of sperm. One fresh pomegranate or 230ml juice each day is good.