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Fertility and your diet

posted by bridgid | Fertility & preconception | 21 April 2020

If you’re struggling to fall pregnant, figuring out why can seem like a huge, overwhelming puzzle, both for you and the doctors treating you. But taking it back to basics, there’s one simple lifestyle tweak that could help – and it’s what you eat.

Fertility and your diet definitely go hand in hand, says fertility specialist and naturopath Amanda Haberecht. “A couple’s diet is critical for conception – the nutrients we eat are the building blocks for healthy sperm and eggs and necessary for healthy hormone production,” she explains. “The Western diet is filled with preservatives, packaged foods, excess sugar – and it’s the diet most closely linked to infertility. The epidemic of infertility is a first world problem; statistics associated with infertility in third world countries with diets based on homegrown and plant-based foods are profoundly less.”

5 types of food to avoid when trying to conceive

Grabbing a doughnut with your coffee or reaching for a second sneaky biscuit might seem like a no biggie if your overall diet is okay, but such foods in your diet can really impact your fertility, says Haberecht, who suggests cutting the following out:

  1. Trans fats “These cause weight gain and inflammation and are found in processed and deep-fried foods, plus seed oils, vegetable oils, margarine and bakery goods.”
  2. Low-fat foods “Avoid! They are processed and often high in sugar. Excess sugar will affect nutritional levels and cause disruption to ovulation and hormonal production.”
  3. Foods with ‘e’ numbers “Any foods which contain a number have preservatives and should be completely avoided. This is more of a substance masquerading as a food.”
  4. Packaged foods “Anything that can survive months in your cupboards should be avoided when you’re trying to get pregnant.”
  5. Inflammatory foods “Avoiding caffeine, sugary drinks and alcohol can help to reduce period pain and promote better production of cervical mucus – essential if you’re using the Billings method to track your cycle.”

Your fertility diet plan

What should your fertility diet plan look like? Colourful! Take your cues from the Mediterranean Diet – studies indicate it’s the diet most closely linked to fertility. Its balance of macro nutrients is great for sperm and egg production and healthy hormones – and it’s all about fresh, ‘live’ food, so you can’t go wrong, says Haberecht. “I’m always telling my patients that if their food is not going off by the end of the week then it’s probably not worth eating,” she says.

Your fertility diet plan cheat sheet

  1. Eat a rainbow. “Think daily veggies, fruit, beans and legumes.”
  2. Make it meaty. “A quarter to a third of your plate should be sources of protein whether that be meat, fish, eggs, legumes, felafel, nuts and seeds.”
  3. Make antioxidant foods a priority. “Alongside your rainbow of fruit and veg, include blue berries, goji and acai berries, green tea and turmeric.”
  4. Hydrate right. “Sip on a minimum of 2 litres of water per day, and minimal caffeine and alcohol.”

What if you have the odd slip-up from time to time? “An occasional big night won’t derail all the healthy choices you’ve made, but it really is best avoided during preconception and when a couple are actively trying to conceive,” says Haberecht. 

Herbs for fertility

Heard about the power of herbs for fertility? They can make a big difference to a couple suffering from ovulation dysfunction or age-related infertility. Here are a few to take note of when visiting a naturopath or herbal doctor.

  • FOR… Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and age-related infertility: False Unicorn Root, Shatavari, Tribulus and Vitex.
  • FOR… Help with implantation: Peony, Ladies Mantle and Vitex.
  • FOR… Reducing inflammation and treating endometriosis: Tumeric and Licorice.
  • FOR… Stress-related sub-fertility and fatigue: Withania, Licorice, Rehmania and Rhodiola.
  • FOR… improved sperm health: Schissandra, Korean Ginseng, Tribulus, Ginkgo and Withania.

Should you eat differently throughout your cycle?

If your period results in moodiness, a lack of energy, cravings and an urge to pick fights with your nearest and dearest, you could benefit from tweaking your diet – and hey, it may help you get pregnant at the same time.

“Protein and healthy fats are necessary for hormone production and a healthy ovulation response,” explains Haberecht, “so throughout the first half of your cycle, make sure you’re having enough protein and iron-rich foods to combat the loss that comes with your period. Good fats such as fish, nuts, nut milks, chia seeds and avocados are great for reducing inflammation at this time, too – while leafy greens and purified water are great for reducing inflammation throughout your cycle.” PMT sufferers should also consider upping the ante on foods rich in B6 and zinc, she adds. “Think nuts, seeds, beans, chickpeas, brown rice, eggs and seafood. We also know that the more coffee, sugar, salt and alcohol you have during the month, the more likely you’ll experience more symptoms with your period.”

Photo: Brooke Lark

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