Did you know that nutrition can play a big part in both men’s and women’s fertility? When we think about nutrition and fertility, it’s often prenatal vitamins that come to mind. And while these supplements are definitely important in preparing your body for pregnancy, there are many other dietary aspects you should consider if trying to fall pregnant.
A good quality diet is crucial to ensuring healthy fertility. While we’ve all heard of the importance of folate in preventing Spina Bifida, there are other key nutrients in fertility that don’t always take the spotlight.
Immune function is crucial to a healthy pregnancy in the early days of conception. This is why it’s recommended that women have a flu shot when they are pregnant.
Studies have shown that contracting a virus or infection such as the flu is more likely to result in premature labour and delivery. Zinc is crucial for a healthy immune system, and both zinc and vitamin E have been shown to play an important role in placenta attachment to the uterine wall.
Try to include foods high in zinc and vitamin E when you are trying to conceive and throughout your pregnancy.
Some foods that are high in zinc include:
- Dairy products
Some foods that are high in vitamin E include:
- Sunflower seeds
- Almonds & peanuts
Inadequate vitamin D intake has been associated with numerous fertility problems and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Vitamin D plays an important role in the formation of bones in the foetus as well as playing an important role in lactation. We know that there is already a decline in serum Vitamin D during pregnancy (i.e. the type of Vitamin D our body can utilise), although the mechanism behind this is not yet well understood. Therefore, ensuring adequate intake and screening for deficiencies is crucial.
Individuals who are overweight or obese also tend to have lower levels of serum Vitamin D. This is likely due to the fact that Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so a large proportion is stored in our fat. When an individual is carrying excess amounts of fat, then they are likely to store more Vitamin D in this way, which results in less being available for the body to use.The majority of our Vitamin D comes from sun exposure. By exposing our skin to sunlight, this results in Vitamin D production in our skin, which is then transported to the liver and kidneys to be converted into a source our body can use. These days, we are more sun conscious than ever and spend a lot less time soaking up its rays therefore resulting in higher levels of Vitamin D deficiency in the population.
The cancer council recommends a few minutes of sun exposure mid-morning or afternoon every day to assist with adequate vitamin D levels. However, if you are deficient in vitamin D you will also need to increase your intake of vitamin D through diet or potentially take a vitamin D supplement.
Some foods that are high in vitamin D include:
- Mushrooms (placed in the sun for boosted vitamin D content)
- Oily fish (e.g. salmon, tuna, mackerel)
- Fortified breads and cereals (e.g. special K, cornflakes)
Energy Intake and Body Weight
Studies have shown that a low energy diet or being underweight increases the time it takes to fall pregnant as well as the risk of miscarriage. Conversely, being overweight also has similar effects on fertility and successful pregnancy. Having a BMI of between 19-25kg/m2 and ensuring an adequate energy intake will help increase your chances of falling pregnant. If you are worried about your weight and its impact on your fertility, it is worthwhile speaking to a dietitian for individualised advice.
Foods to Limit
Diets high in processed foods have been linked with higher body weights and lower levels of fertility.
Diets high in refined carbohydrates, red meat and fat increase inflammation within the body, and this has been shown to have a negative impact on our ability to conceive. To reduce inflammation in the body, follow the below recommendations:
- Limit red meat to twice per week by swapping to other protein sources such as beans legumes, eggs and fish
- Swap refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, baked goods, chocolate for wholegrain breads, fruits, yoghurts
- Limit alcohol and caffeine as high intakes have been shown to have a negative impact on fertility
There are many aspects of the diet that can assist with increasing your chances of conceiving. If you’d like to know more or want individual advice, head to the link to speak with one of our dietitians.