When it comes to fertility there is no magic answer. Many things can influence fertility including lifestyle, biology, pollution and other environmental factors. But can making changes to your diet really improve your chances of conceiving?
Of course there are no guarantees but evidence does show that good nutrition can have an impact on fertility for both men and women.
FERTILITY DIET TO HELP WOMEN:
To support fertility in women, the age-old message of a healthy balanced diet prevails. This means women should eat a variety of foods from the 4 main foods groups. To be more specific, the key foods or nutrients which may be increase fertility are outlined below.
Wholegrains – aim to focus on wholegrain carbohydrates such as wholegrain breakfast cereals, brown rice, wholewheat pasta, brown, wholemeal or granary bread, bulgar wheat, quinoa, plain popcorn, oatcakes and wholegrain rice cakes.
Fruits and vegetables – much like all the other healthy eating advice, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables will be no bad thing when you’re trying to conceive. Choosing a variety of fruits and vegetables of different colours will provide you with a variety of vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants.
Good sources of protein such as beans, lentils, nuts, eggs, fish, shellfish and lean meats. Some evidence suggests that choosing mostly plant-based proteins such as beans, pulses, lentils, nuts and soya can benefit fertility.
Omega 3 fatty acids – (particularly DHA and EPA) also have the potential to improve fertility in women. These fatty acids are found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, trout and pilchards although its important to remember that women of child bearing age should not consume oily fish more than twice per week because these fish also contain some level of pollutants which may be harmful to an unborn baby. Omega 3 fatty acids can also be found in walnuts, ground flaxseeds, linseed oil, rapeseed oil, soya and soya products such as tofu but don’t provide as much EPA and DHA as fish sources.
Folate & folic acid – good quality sources of folate, found in broccoli, brussel sprouts, peas, green leafy vegetables such as cabbage and spinach can support reproductive health in women. Studies have also demonstrated that supplementing the diet with folic acid, particularly at levels above 400 micrograms per day, is related to lower frequency of infertility.
FERTILITY DIET TO HELP MEN:
Diet is one of the strongest ways to improve sperm quality and men should focus on consuming a balanced diet (no surprises there!) with a particular focus on fish, shellfish, lean poultry, fruits, vegetables and wholegrain carbohydrates. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, high intakes of caffeine, red meat and processed meats such as sausages, bacon and ham may reduce sperm quality. The production of sperm takes approximately 90 days so what a man eats today will determine his sperm quality and quantity in 90 days’ time.
Key nutrients to support fertility in men include:
Good quality, dietary sources of folate. One of the most important nutrients for producing healthy and abundant sperm is folate. Folate can be found in broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, spinach, peas and fortified breakfast cereals.
Zinc. Zinc is another essential nutrient for the production of sperm, increasing sperm count and for the motility of sperm. Zinc can be found in lean meat, bread, shellfish, dairy foods and cereals.
Wholegrains such as; wholegrain breakfast cereals, brown rice, wholewheat pasta, brown, wholemeal or granary bread, bulgar wheat, quinoa, plain popcorn, oatcakes and wholegrain rice cakes. As well as providing fibre, wholegrains also contain b vitamins, vitamin E, zinc and selenium all of which have been associated with improved sperm quality.
Antioxidants. Studies show that antioxidants protect sperm from free-radicals that circulate around the body. Although more research is needed to identify exactly which antioxidants have the largest protective effect it is widely accepted that consuming a variety such as of foods fruits & vegetables nuts, seeds, and wholegrains, all of which contain antioxidants, will protect from oxidantion.
Omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, trout and pilchards), walnuts ground flaxseeds walnuts, linseed oil and rapeseed oil have also been linked to improved sperm quality.
Whilst its useful to be aware of these key nutrients when trying to conceive, it’s important to remember that many of the foods mentioned here comply with general healthy eating advice for the whole population. There is not one magic ingredient or food that will make or break a pregnancy. Eating a varied diet including fish, shellfish, poultry, wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and dairy foods and limiting processed meats, caffeine, alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages, saturated fats and trans fatty acids will support good health and fertility.
Catherine is a Registered Nutritionist specialising in paediatric and maternal nutrition. You can find out more about Catherine by clicking on her profile at the top of the page.