If you’re trying for a baby, typing the words ‘fertility foods’ into a search engine can immediately pull up a mammoth list of lotions, potions. As well as foods that are all supposed to help support conception. However, the truth is that most of these ‘quick fixes’ are not going to help you at all. Lots of people ask me “What Foods are Best to Help with Fertility?” Which is why I thought this would be a great subject to talk about.
I’ve written previously for Harper’s Bazaar Magazine all about Fertility Foods and the truth behind these. But I wanted to write a short post for my own readers as well as it’s such an important topic.
Trying to conceive can be hard. It can be stressful and it can also be really disheartening. The last thing you need is the false promise of a faddy food or diet that suggests a quick fix to conceiving. That just doesn’t exist, sorry!
If you’re preparing your body for conception, check out some of these tips on Trying for a Second Baby from my latest blog with Dr Brooke Vandermolen – the OBGYN mum. She focuses on trying for a second baby, but some of the tips may be useful for your first attempt too!
What if I’m struggling to conceive?
First of all, it’s pretty common. Even if you might not feel like it, it really is (I think the average time to conceive in the UK is around 12-18 months). Infertility affects 15% of all couples of reproductive age in the US, and the UK are fairly similar. 25% of that infertility is actually due to male factors. So ensuring that both parties think about making any positive changes may be important too.
If you are struggling to conceive, it’s certainly worthwhile visiting your GP first and foremost. They can help to put your mind at ease , check you over and refer you to the right people, if necessary. They can also help by doing some preliminary and important checks e.g. thyroid function, coeliac disease or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). To make sure your health is up to scratch and there aren’t any underlying reasons which may be making it difficult to conceive. This can be vital feedback and I’d recommend asking for this as soon as you’re starting to worry about your fertility.
Can diet and fertility foods help?
Eating well and living a healthy, active lifestyle is of course important if you’re trying to conceive. Trying to get the most out of your body and your health can help ensure your fertility is up to scratch, as much as possible. As long as there are no underlying medical issues.
Other factors at play
It’s so important to remember that your fertility can be affected by a number of things, including environment, physiological factors, genetics and lifestyle. Essentially, “living a healthy lifestyle” is going to put you in an ideal position for a healthy conception, but the reality is that it doesn’t always work that way. I know plenty of SUPER healthy people who exercise well, look after their body and their diet and it still might not happen easily.
Getting your stress levels, smoking, weight and diet in check can help though. Extensive research does back this up.
Have you tried relaxing, meditation or yoga for reducing stress? Have you tried making mini changes to your diet or getting more active? Getting good rest/sleep and quitting smoking – all and any of this could certainly help.
What foods are best to help with fertility?
When it comes to food and diet, there really isn’t anything that you need to cut out or add in, specifically. It’s more about eating a generally healthy, balanced diet (click link to find out what that REALLY means). However, there has been some research on this in the recent years, and although (as always) more research (especially large scale RCTS) is needed, there are some interesting consistencies that we can see from the majority of research to date.
I’ll get straight to the point. A healthy diet, similar to that which we call “The Mediterranean Diet” has been shown in much of the research to be beneficial for improving fertility. In fact in one study, a “Fertility Diet” similar to the Med Diet led to 66% lower risk of infertility related to ovulatory disorders.
Some of the following foods also come up time and time again in the research as being beneficial:
- “Healthy Fats” such as Omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats (think fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds and avocados) seem to have a benefit on fertility in both men and women. Similarly, a diet high in saturated and trans fats seems to have a negative impact. Especially on semen quality.
Take Home: Try including more beneficial fats in your diet and less in the way of fried foods.
- Plant-based proteins may help too – so stock up on beans, lentils, pulses and nuts and seeds. Which are great for health, lower in calories and a great replacement to meat every now and then.
Take Home: Why not try out Meatless Mondays, for example?
- Antioxidants, such as vitamin C, E, selenium, zinc also seem to be beneficial too so try stocking up on your fruit and veggie intakes. Additionally folate or folic acid may be beneficial in egg production in females. Which is another reason (along with the reduced risk of neural tube defects) to take a supplement & increase your intake of folate rich foods (e.g. dark green leafy veggies, eggs and lentils) when trying for a baby.
Take Home: Eat your 5 A Day!
- Research around meat, dairy, alcohol and caffeine is fairly mixed. But some research does suggest that eating more protein from plant sources and reducing processed meat consumption could be beneficial. Alcohol and caffeine aren’t recommended during pregnancy either (caffeine in small amounts) so it makes sense to at least reduce these when trying for a baby.
Take Home: Don’t cut anything out necessarily, but you might want to look at the balance of foods you’re eating.
- Consuming plenty of wholegrains, plants, legumes, fish, cereals, fruit and veg, poultry and some dairy seems to be the answer here. Seems to fit pretty well with our recommendations for a Healthy, Balanced (and the Mediterranean) diet.
Take Home: Check out The Mediterranean Diet and incorporate some of those foods into your own lifestyle, where possible.
It’s also worth thinking about taking a pregnancy supplement or, at least getting 400mcg of folic acid & 10mcg of vitamin D, which is recommended for anyone women trying to conceive. Read more about pre-pregnancy nutrition supplements.
Lastly do check out my video all about Fertility Foods below and let me know if you have any comments, queries or general feedback too. Happy conceiving!