Nutrition plays a vital role in your ability to conceive, as well as the health of your baby after conception. If you are considering having a baby or are currently working to increase your fertility, making some of the changes outlined below can increase your chances of conceiving and having a healthy baby. Always be sure to work with your physician and registered dietitian when making lifestyle changes.
Weight Management And Fertility
For men and women, maintaining a healthy weight and eating the right foods can enhance fertility. Research shows that 30% of infertility cases are due to weight extremes, both too low and too high body weight, which can alter hormone levels and throw ovulation off schedule. Obesity is related to decreased fertility because it can cause alterations in the menstrual cycle and ovulation. Additionally, obesity increases your risk of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), one of the lead causes of infertility.
In those who are overweight, with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 25 kg/m2, as little as 5% body weight loss can improve a woman’s chance of conception. Plan on losing weight at a healthy pace of about 1-2 lbs per week by moving more and reducing calories by about 500 kcal per day, while still eating a nutrient-rich diet. If you suffer from PCOS, consider eating slightly less carbohydrates, especially high starch and sugar foods, such as processed grains, baked goods, and juice and pop.
Additionally, women who are underweight, with a BMI below 18.5 kg/m2, can experience irregular menstrual cycles or stop ovulating altogether. Being underweight can reduce the production of estrogen, an important fertility hormone, as well as increase the risk of having a low body weight baby if conception occurs. In this case, try adding in 500 kcal per day from some of the key foods mentioned below.
Important Micronutrients For Fertility
Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals, both of which are essential for optimal health. There are a few micronutrients that when optimized, can help to promote fertility.
Intake of folate and folic acid, the supplement form, during pregnancy can help to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. While this has been known for a long time, researchers are now discovering the importance of folate in becoming pregnant. Food sources of folate include spinach, asparagus, lentils, chickpeas and edamame. In addition to eating high folate foods, supplement with 400 mcg of folic acid daily while trying to conceive, and continuing supplementation for at least the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
A diet rich in iron that comes from vegetables and supplements may lower the risk of ovulatory infertility (infertility due to lack of ovulation). In addition, iron needs increase when you are pregnant. Eat vegetarian sources, such as spinach, legumes and beans, and pumpkin seeds, with a source of vitamin C, such as a squeeze of lemon juice, strawberries or red peppers, in help in iron absorption from these foods. Have your levels assessed and supplement only if required.
Choose Healthy Fats
When it comes to fertility, both the amount and type of fats you consume matter. A diet too low in fats, specifically the healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, can reduce fertility, while a diet high in unhealthy saturated and trans fats can also reduce fertility. Trans-fats are found in many processed and fried foods. While most sources of saturated fats, especially high-fat and processed meats, should be limited, having full-fat dairy products may have a beneficial effect on fertility, as well as provide calcium and vitamin D. Choose healthy fats from nuts and seeds, olive oil, avocado and fatty fish, over fats from sources like cheese, red meats, butter and processed or fast- foods.
One particular fat to increase are essential omega-3 fats. Fatty fish are the best source of omega-3 fats, while vegetarian sources include flax seeds, walnuts and algae. Aim for at least 500 mg per day of omega-3 fats, whether through diet or supplementation, and continue through pregnancy for extra benefits for your baby.
Note: Due to high levels of environmental contaminants such as PCBs and methyl-mercury, women who are or may become pregnant as well as breastfeeding women should limit their intake of tuna (fresh and frozen), shark, swordfish, marlin, orange roughy and escolar. Better sources include wild salmon, farmed and wild trout, anchovies, sardines and wild mackerel.
Stress comes in many forms, including oxidative stress from exposure to toxins and a diet low in antioxidants, physical from over-exercising or illness, as well as mental, and all forms of stress can negatively affect fertility. With stress, making small lifestyle changes can lead to an overall decreased stress level.
Oxidative Stress: Free radicals from things like cigarette smoke, pollution, and highly processed foods can damage DNA, including that of the egg and sperm. While limiting your exposure is important, so is increasing your intake of antioxidants, which help to battle these free radicals. Eat a variety of brightly coloured vegetables and fruits, as well as consume adequate omega-3 fats.
Physical Stress: While moderate amounts of physical activity can increase fertility, over-exercising can decrease estrogen levels and increase stress hormones, affecting fertility. Other types of physical stress include infections and illnesses, as well as untreated gluten intolerance, so be sure to keep on top of your health.
Mental Stress: Dealing with infertility can be a very stressful time, further adding to daily stress of work deadlines, and so on. Working on your response to stress can help to increase fertility. Take small steps by getting adequate sleep, practicing mindfulness, or doing 5-10 minutes of stretching or yoga every day.
Top 10 Nutrition Tips for Fertility
- Eat more unsaturated fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds), especially high omega-3 fats (flax, walnut and fatty fish)
- Limit unhealthy fats, especially trans-fats, by limiting processed, fired and fast-foods
- Consume more vegetable sources of iron and protein (spinach, legumes, soy, nuts, seeds)
- Eat more high-fibre and low glycemic sources of carbohydrates (whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and beans)
- Include full-fat dairy products (whole milk and full-fat yogurt)
- Eat more whole grains (oatmeal, quinoa, whole-grain bread and pasta)
- Eat fish that is low in mercury (salmon or mackerel) and consider taking a fish-oil or omega-3 supplement if you do not eat adequate fish
- Take a multivitamin with 400 mcg folic acid
- Aim to eat 3 meals a day, plus healthy snacks. Skipping meals can also affect fertility and having regular meals can help control your appetite and body weight.
- In addition, get moderate amounts of physical activity and address stress
Contact A NutriProCan Registered Dietitian For:
- Individual assessments and coaching: https://nutriprocan.ca/individual-counselling/
- Weight loss: https://nutriprocan.ca/weightloss-overview/
- Nutrigenomix DNA testing for fertility: https://nutriprocan.ca/genetic-nutrition-testing/
Genetic Nutrition Testing for Fertility
Nutrigenomics(R) uses genomic technologies and genetic information to help individualize a nutrition plan for enhancing fertility and pregnancy outcomes. Through years of scientific research, we have learned that genetic variations between individuals affect a wide variety of responses to key components of our diet.
Your best diet for optimal fertility depends on your genetic profile and its implications on your unique response to foods, supplements, and beverages. The Nutrigenomix Fertility test is designed to help Registered Dietitians provide nutrition recommendations that will help optimize your fertility potential and help you maintain a healthy pregnancy. https://nutriprocan.ca/genetic-nutrition-testing/
Request an appointment: https://www.nutriprocan.ca/request-appointment/
Refer a patient: https://www.nutriprocan.ca/referral-form/Referral-Form.pdf