Diet and Fertility
That the food we eat can affect our overall health is anything but a secret. However, when it comes to getting pregnant, watching your diet is particularly important, as certain foods can both positively and negatively impact your ability to conceive. Read on for tips on how to improve your odds of getting pregnant naturally. And remember: these rules apply equally to both men and women!
Foods that Promote Fertility
Maintaining a proper diet is vital when trying to conceive. In general, eating balanced meals that are free of processed foods is considered one of the most basic requirements for a healthy diet. Other principles of a diet promoting fertility include:
- Organic foods, whole wheat, fruits and vegetables, as these can all help increase a woman's chances of becoming pregnant. That’s because these foods contain lots of vitamins and minerals, which are vital to both conception as well as healthy fetal development.
- Protein sources, such as lean meats and poultry, help maintain healthy levels of iron. Low iron levels at the onset of pregnancy increase the risk of developing postpartum anemia, as well as other health issues both during and after pregnancy.
If you are vegetarian, you need to be particularly careful about ensuring you get enough iron to avoid complications. If you or your physician is concerns about your iron levels, supplements may be necessary to ensure both you and your baby are healthy during pregnancy. Calcium and B12 supplements may be recommended.
- Fish is one of those foods about which it seems we are continually receiving conflicting information. While it is with reason that women are weary of canned fish due to high mercury levels, it is important to remember that fish is still an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which has been proven to be beneficial for fetal development. The secret is eating fish with low-mercury levels. These include: salmon, flounder, trout, haddock, tilapia, and canned chunk light tuna (not albacore). On the other hand, fish that does typically contain high levels of mercury and should be avoided are: white tuna, shark, frozen swordfish and marlin.
- Choosing breads made with whole grains, as this will help to ensure you are getting enough fiber. By eating foods that are high in fiber you will decrease your chance of gestational diabetes, while also promoting overall body health.
- Folic acid is another critically important nutrient both before and during pregnancy, as it can help to prevent neurological and spinal birth defects. Foods that are good sources of folic acid include fortified breakfast cereals, dried beans, leafy green vegetables and orange juice.
- It’s also important to make sure you're getting enough calcium. Low-fat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese are all good sources. Many vegetables, such as broccoli, kale and oranges also provide calcium. In addition, certain types of fish, such as sardines and salmon, are also good sources of calcium.
If you are concerned about the level of nutrients in your diet, high-quality multivitamins are an excellent way to ensure you’re getting enough of what your body needs. In particular, look for vitamins containing zinc, folic acid and B vitamins. Zinc helps cell division in the development of the fetus, while a lack of zinc can decrease the production of healthy eggs prior to conception. In fact, zinc is the only mineral conclusively shown to increase fertility rates.
A high fluid intake is also important when trying to conceive. In order to stay hydrated, a woman trying to get pregnant should be sure to drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of per day. Water also helps the body to absorb fiber.
Foods to Avoid When Trying to Conceive
Just as certain foods can help your body prepare for conception, others can hinder the process. When trying to get pregnant, it’s best to avoid the following:
- Foods containing preservatives and other chemicals, such as artificial sweeteners, should be avoided because they affect blood sugar levels and hormonal balance. Foods high in fat should also not be consumed.
- Diet soda should be avoided, as it contains aspartame.
- Caffeine should also be limited, especially if you're having trouble conceiving, or while undergoing IVF. Caffeine constricts blood vessels, which reduces blood flow to the uterus and prevents eggs from attaching to the uterine wall.
- Refined carbs, such as those found in pastries, white bread and pasta should be limited. These foods lack nutrients, such as iron and B vitamins, which are important for providing a rich nutrient base to a potential fetus. Rye and whole-wheat sourdough breads are good options. Eating whole grains is especially important if you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which can cause fertility problems.
- Soybeans are also not recommended, as they contain a component that mimics estrogen, which can increase the length of menstrual cycles. In one study, researchers found that consuming 60 mg of soy per day can add about 2.5 days to a woman's menstrual cycle, decreasing her fertility. Soy also lowers the levels of two hormones necessary for ovulation, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
Finally, it is also recommended that women avoid drinking alcohol, taking illicit drugs and smoking.