Does diet really affect fertility? – A few useful tips from Fertifa’s nutrition expert

Most people have heard of that phrase “you are what you eat”, but other than prenatal vitamins, doctors and fertility clinics don’t always advise what you should be eating when trying to conceive, either naturally or through assisted means.  So, is diet really an important factor to consider?

Simply put…yes it is!  A good pre-conception diet is necessary to:

  1. Produce optimal quality egg and sperm
  2. Reduce the risk of an adverse pregnancy outcome
  3. Promote the health of a future child

Here are a couple of reasons why…

  • The foetus’ chromosomes are an extension of your own, therefore your child’s health may be mapped way before conception even occurs, and you can appreciate that maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle may help ensure your future child’s health.
  • Many women choose to eat healthier during pregnancy, avoid certain foods and lifestyle habits e.g. alcohol, smoking or certain medications. They do this because they are worried that these things may adversely impact their developing baby.  However, the best time is actually at least 3-4 months before conception.  And this goes for both partners as there is research to suggest that eating healthily can help boost male AND female fertility as well as improving egg and sperm quality.

Improving your chances through diet and lifestyle made easy!

Many of us think we’re eating healthily, but what does that really mean when you’re thinking of starting a family?  What does a good pre-conception diet look like?  Here are some tips on the kind of things you should be including in your diet on a daily basis and also avoiding completely if possible:

INCLUDE Details Examples of food
Antioxidants Antioxidants help to reduce damage from chemicals, pesticides, caffeine, alcohol, smoking and other environmental pollutants.  They can also help to improve sperm quality. Berries, carrots, spinach, kale, mango, pumpkin, squash, pineapple, oranges (basically, any fruit or vegetable that is red, purple, orange, yellow or green in colour)
Fats (only the good ones) We need an optimum level of fat to reproduce, but stay away from the fried, processed foods and takeaways… and instead, think Mediterranean diet. Salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies, sardines, olives, avocado, coconut, nuts, seeds, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil (not for cooking)
Plant protein Animal protein in moderation is fine, but plant protein is equally as important for conception as it contains fewer potential toxins and is easier to digest. (Please note: If you are vegetarian or vegan, it is important to ensure you eat a wide variety of plant proteins) Quinoa, tofu, lentils, beans, chickpeas, nuts, seeds, edamame, tempeh
Fibre Dietary fibre helps to control your blood sugar and enables excretion of excess hormones through the digestive tract.  Vegetables, berries, pears, oranges, peas, beans, lentils, potato skins, whole grains (oats, rye, brown or wild rice, barley)
AVOID Details Alternatives
Alcohol Alcohol is an oxidant, which may cause sex cell damage, and has been linked to preeclampsia and increased miscarriage risk. Excessive alcohol may reduce sperm count. Mocktails, tonic water with non-alcoholic mixer, Seedlip gin alternative, non-alcoholic beer/wine/cider (please note: be careful as some of these do contain a small amount of alcohol and/or a lot of sugar)
Smoking Smoking is also an oxidant. It has been associated with reduced overall fertility in females and may reduce sperm count. None unfortunately.  Appetite often increases when smoking ceases, so ensure you are making nutritious food choices (as mentioned above)
Caffeine In females, just 5ml of caffeine per day has been associated with increased time to conception. Excessive caffeine may also reduce sperm count. (Please note: ‘decaffeinated’ drinks contain tannins which have the same effect as caffeine) Herbal teas, hot water and lemon/lime.  (Please note: green tea does contain caffeine)
Compulsive strenuous exercise Excess endorphins secreted during exercise may interfere with sex hormones, which may in turn decrease chances of embryo implantation and increase first-trimester miscarriage risk. Excessive exercise has been associated with reduced sperm count. Moderate exercise 30-60 minutes a day is recommended e.g. walking, yoga, Pilates, moderate exercise classes, swimming. 
Stress High levels of stress or stressful life events may reduce sperm count and reduce sex hormone levels in males. In females, positive thinking and reducing stress and anxiety is associated with increased chances of conceiving, and reduced miscarriage risk.   Hobbies, relaxation, meditation, moderate exercise, arts and crafts.

These are just a few of the things you could be eating in moderation or avoiding to support healthy conception and pregnancy.  If you can afford to eat organic, that’s also a great choice to limit the amount of chemicals in your food.  If you’re unable to choose organic fruit and vegetable, using a vegetable wash will help to remove some of the pesticides.

Overall, the key thing to focus on is that both parents are eating a varied diet full of natural, unprocessed food as much as possible, without overdoing any particular food group.

Finally, we all fancy the occasional treat on a weekend, and that’s completely fine – just don’t overdo it and don’t beat yourself up about it – enjoy it as your 10% weekly soul food allowance!


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