How to Prepare Your Body for Pregnancy
Sure – you’re probably know what to eat to stay slim, but what about priming your body for pregnancy? Unlike other factors, such as genetics and age, diet is the one variable you can change to boost fertility. Nutrition wields the power to optimise your ovulatory function and increase your chances of conception. Small changes to your daily food regimen can make a huge difference. Here’s how to munch your way to a healthy, happy pregnancy.
Protein is a vitally important building block for baby growing. Eating lean-animal meats, especially chicken, beef and turkey, is one such way to get your protein fix. Plus, these foods are jam-packed with iron and zinc – equally important conception-boosting nutrients. A word of warning though: steer clear of those grisly bits on cuts of meat (bring home pork loin – not the bacon), and watch your consumption, too. In a 2015 study, researchers found that indulging in too much animal protein could negatively impact fertility, so stick to around 2-3 servings a week i. Better still, why not swap your chicken breast for a portion of tofu? Plant-based protein is a powerful weapon for fertility. Indeed, a study by the Harvard School of Public Health established there was a 39 per cent increase of infertility amongst women who consumed vast quantities of animal protein ii. Interestingly, those who ate more plant-based protein had an easier time conceiving. So, in addition to your Sunday roast, embrace a mix of legumes, nuts, and seeds to jumpstart your fertility.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids
Loading up on essential fatty acids will lay a strong foundation for fertility, thanks to these little fellas helping to regulate hormones, increase the production of cervical mucus, improve egg quality and promote ovulation iii. Oily fish, like salmon, herring, sardines, and anchovies, are swimming in these compounds. To reap the baby-making benefits, aim to eat 2-3 portions every week. Be mindful, though, that you should avoid high-mercury fish (fresh and canned tuna, tilefish, swordfish, and king mackerel) when trying to conceive. Not a fish fan? Get your hit of healthy fats from walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseeds. Avocados are jam-packed with the stuff, too, along with a strong dose of fertility-boosting folic acid and vitamin K. Slice on wholegrain toast, smash into guacamole or add to salads – there are plenty of ways to enjoy this velvety, versatile, verdant fruit.
On the topic of fats, steer clear of trans fats – they are your fertility foes. A growing body of research suggests a high intake of trans fat could lead to ovulatory infertilityiv. Trans fats (also known as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats) are usually found in fried foods, commercial goods, and processed treats. This means French fries, burgers, and crisps are off the menu. When you’re shopping for food, you need to become an ingredient sleuth and always read labels to detect this fertility saboteur.
Fruits and veggies
A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health discovered ovulatory disorder typically affected women who consumed more refined carbs, trans fats and animal proteinsv. The solution? Pile half your plate with fresh fruit and veggies. In particular, we need to sing the praises of the humble berry. These jewelled beauties are brimming in potent plant antioxidants called anthocyanidins, which protect the body from cell ageing and damage – including your eggs. Wondering what berry to cherry-pick? While all berries are berry good for fertility, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are especially brilliant. Not berry season? Don’t worry; go frozen. (Read more about the health benefits of anthocyanidins here.) As far as veggies are concerned – think dark, green and leafy. Spinach, Swiss chard, and kale are chock-full of iron, calcium, and folic acid, which are essential baby-making nutrients.
Okay, we admit it: those highly refined carbs – cookies, cakes, and crisps – can be pretty dang tempting at times. But sadly they’re bad news for fertility. Trouble is, they spike your insulin levels and may inhibit ovulation vi. The good news, however, is that all carbs weren’t created equally. Complex carbs (think brown rice, wholegrain bread, sweet potatoes, quinoa, and amaranth) are great for fertility. You see, your body digests these foods slowly, meaning they’ll have a more gradual effect on blood sugar levels. Added bonus: complex carbs are extremely satiating, so they’ll keep you feeling fuller for longer, too.
Cheese lovers, rejoice: you can now officially cheese-it-up in the name of fertility. Adding calcium-rich dairy to your diet won’t only bolster bone health, it will also work wonders for your reproductive function. Calcium is a crucial ingredient in the process of supporting growth in embryos. You may think low fat or fat-free products are a smart move, but there’s evidence to suggest splurging on a serving of full-fat dairy may actually support ovulationvii. But before you get elbow-deep in that tub of Hagen Daaz, remember going OTT will defeat the purpose if you pile on the pounds. Oh, and if you’re not a dairy-lover, figs, spinach, canned salmon and almond butter are brimming in calcium, too.
We only have to look to our sisters in the Mediterranean to understand the immense power of whole-foods. The Mediterranean diet – one that consists of fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, seeds, and a little meat – may help to optimise ovulatory function. A Spanish study highlighted that a greater adherence to this well-balanced regimen increased the possibility of conceptionviii. Time to ditch the junk in favour of whole, unprocessed foods, don’t you think? Pass the veg, please!
Speaking of processed foods, it’s only apt to mention the big daddy of the processed food world: sugar. Concentrated doses of the white stuff will skew your blood sugar levels, affecting the delicate balance of your hormones and insulin production. If you really want a bun in the oven, lay off the sweet treats. No more family-sized chocolate bars. No more fruit juices. And no more fizzy drinks. Can’t curb that sweet-tooth craving? You don’t need to deprive yourself entirely. Just opt for less-processed sweeteners, like honey, maple syrup, and agave syrup.
Did you know a zinc deficiency can throw your menstrual cycle out of whack, affect the quality of your eggs and dampen your fertility? No wonder oysters have earned their stripes as Nature’s answer to Viagra – these slimy guys are chock-full of the stuff. But knocking back bivalves isn’t the only way to get your zinc fix. This compound is also found in other fertility-boosting foods, like dairy, eggs, nuts, poultry, beef, whole grains and legumes.
Mumford, S., Alohali, A. & Wactawski-Wende, J. (2015). Dietary protein intake and reproductive hormones and ovulation: the BioCycle study. Fertility and Sterility, 104(3),.e2.
Independent.ie., (2018). New Harvard study: Certain foods can boost men and women's fertility chances - Independent.ie. Available online: https://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/health-features/new-harvard-study-certain-foods-can-boost-men-and-womens-fertility-chances-36865549.html [Accessed 22 Nov. 2018].
Nehra, D., et al. (2012). Prolonging the female reproductive lifespan and improving egg quality with dietary omega-3 fatty acids. Ageing Cell. 11 (6), 1046-54.
Çekici, H. & Akdevelioglu, Y. (2018). The association between trans fatty acids, infertility and fetal life: a review. Human Fertility, 1-10.
Chavarro, J.E., Rich-Edwards, J.W., Rosner, B.A. & Willett, W.C. (2007). Diet and Lifestyle in the Prevention of Ovulatory Disorder Infertility. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 110, (5).
Fica, S., Albu, A., Constantin, M. & Dobri, G.A. (2008). Insulin resistance and fertility in polycystic ovary syndrome. Journal of medicine and life, 1(4), 415-22.
ScienceDaily., (2018). Eating Ice Cream May Help Women To Conceive, But Low-fat Dairy Foods May Increase Infertility Risk. Available online: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/02/070228064902.htm [Accessed 22 Nov. 2018].
Toledo, E., Lopez-del Burgo, C., Ruiz-Zambrana, A., Donazar, M., Navarro-Blasco, Í., Martínez-González, M. & de Irala, J. (2011). Dietary patterns and difficulty conceiving: a nested case–control study. Fertility and Sterility, 96 (5), 1149-1153.
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Keri Filtness has worked in the Nutrition Industry for 19 years. She is regularly called upon for her professional comments on health and nutrition related news. Her opinions have been featured by BBC3, Prima, Vitality, The Mirror, Woman’s Own and Cycling Weekly, amongst others. She has also worked one to one with journalists, analysing their diets and health concerns and recommending changes and additions, where appropriate.