Your daily diet has a big effect on your fertility – consultant dietitian Sarah Keogh advises what to avoid and what to eat to boost your chances of conceiving.
It’s a sad joke that so many of us spend half our lives making sure we don’t become pregnant, only to run into problems when we finally decide that we do.
Having babies at an older age, as is the case with so many men and women, does mean that it can be a little harder to actually become pregnant than many of us expect. We can’t do anything about our age but we can look at a whole host of other things that make a difference to our fertility and one of those is what we eat. Here is some expert advice on your fertility diet.
Where to start?
The most important point is that food and diet are every bit as important for the father as the mother. Very often it is women who change their diets while some men may think it has nothing to do with them. This has been the traditional view but we now know that the man’s diet may be even more important than the woman’s when it comes to conception.
For this reason, all of the advice below applies to both men and women.
If you are overweight, start getting your weight down. In women, excess weight can disrupt the fertility hormones, especially oestrogen and can make it a lot harder to become pregnant. Being overweight also increases your chances of needing a Caesarean section, gestational diabetes and increases your baby’s chances of being obese themselves, so get to work on this. Men who are overweight also have hormonal problems that can affect fertility. Being underweight is also a problem. Men who are underweight have lower sperm counts and low weight in women also affects oestrogen. If you struggle with your weight, do get help. Even a weekly weigh in can be very motivating. Just remember, that you still need to follow a balanced diet when you are losing weight, so no crash diets.
Alcohol can unfortunately be a disaster for fertility and it affects both men and women. The less alcohol, the better and really it is best to cut it out altogether. If you really find that a struggle, then limit alcohol to 2-3 drinks at most at any one time (that’s 1 to 1 ½ pints of beer or two small glasses of wine or two pub measures of spirits) and have at least four alcohol-free days a week. Absolutely no binge drinking – and remember a binge is three pints of beer or more!
Caffeine has been linked with reduced fertility so try to reduce caffeine as much as possible. Limit tea or coffee to one cup per day or switch to caffeine-free varieties. Also look out for caffeine in chocolate, energy drinks and foods or supplements with ‘guarana’ in the ingredient list.
What do I need to add in?
1. Zinc and selenium
Zinc and selenium are two crucial minerals for pregnancy. They are needed for healthy sperm as well as actual conception. You will find zinc in meat and nuts as well as fish.
Fish are also rich in selenium which is important as the only other food that has selenium are brazil nuts, so you need to eat one or the other (or both!).
2. Docosohexanoic Acid or DHA
This little omega-3 is a component of sperm and semen so it helps to boost fertility in men. DHA is a type of fish omega-3 so you will find it in oil-rich fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and trout. You need to eat oil-rich fish at least twice a week and many couples benefit from a supplement of 500mg of DHA per day. Remember that it needs to be DHA and not just any omega-3 supplement. Plantbased omega-3s (ALA) are not useful for fertility and do not have the same benefits. However, if you eat oil-rich fish twice a week you do not need to spend money on supplements as well.
3. Fruit, vegetables and fibre
Don’t underestimate the importance of antioxidants in helping to keep sperm and eggs healthy and have your whole body in good shape for pregnancy. You need to have at least five servings of fruit and vegetables every day – don’t skimp! At least one-third of breakfast, lunch and dinner should be vegetables or salad. Snack on fruit in between meals and remember that dried fruit counts but fresh is best.
4. Other than food…?
Exercise helps your body to clear toxins, build muscles and regulate hormones, so get going. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise every day – something that gets you breathing faster and sweating at least a little. Even five minutes with a skipping rope is better than nothing. A healthy diet can make a real difference and the sooner you start, the better. Even if you are not thinking about pregnancy yet, do keep an eye on what you eat so that your body is in good shape when the time comes. If you have been trying for more than a year, do talk to your GP but up to that, take a breath, eat well, exercise and enjoy the sleep you will soon be missing!
Did you know?
Folic Acid: Women need to take 400mcg of folic acid for 14 weeks before they become pregnant. 73% of women over 35 forget to do this!
“Three years ago, my periods disappeared for about six months. After a scan and blood test, I was diagnosed with PCOS. Bearing in mind that this could affect my fertility, I visited an acupuncturist to try and get my cycle back on track. I was advised to cut down on refined carbohydrates and sugar.
Apparently, a high intake of carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates, can cause a rapid rise in blood sugar and cause elevated levels of insulin. High levels of insulin can make PCOS symptoms worse. I was told that eating foods with a low glycemic index (GI) and avoiding processed foods and sugary drinks would help to improve my symptoms.
I made some healthy changes to my diet, cut down on alcohol and caffeine and started going for three half-hour walks a week. The healthy lifestyle and diet changes worked! Within a few months, my cycle was back to normal. I felt great and also had lots more energy. And even better, one year later – I fell pregnant!”
– Monica Breslin
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