Fueling for Fertility
There’s lots of advice about what to eat once you’re pregnant, but what about before? Ideally, men and women should be well-nourished three months prior to conception for optimal pregnancy outcomes. Avoiding smoking, alcohol, and minimizing caffeine intake can all lead to a shorter time to conception and healthier babies.
Diet and lifestyle choices can have a big impact on your fertility. A large study conducted by Harvard researchers showed that women who adhered to a combination of five or more lifestyle factors, including specific changes to their diets, were at a 69% lower risk of ovulatory disorder infertility than women who did not engage in any of these factors. The women with better fertility also took a daily multivitamin, had a lower body mass index (BMI), and exercised more.
Diet is quite important in fertility: it will not help everyone, but it can help improve ovulation and sperm production.
Monounsaturated fats, lower-glycemic carbohydrates, plant-based protein, and iron and folic acid from supplements are all associated with a lower risk of infertility. Soda and partially hydrogenated oils (trans-fats) are associated with an increased risk. Women who wish to conceive should start on a prenatal supplement that includes folic acid, Vitamin D, iodine, iron, and DHA.
Infertility affects men and women to the same extent. According to the CDC, approximately 6-10% of people are infertile. Twelve percent of all infertility cases are a result of the woman either weighing too little or too much.
Men and women who are overweight can improve their fertility by losing 5% of their weight, optimizing their diets, and increasing physical activity. Underweight women or women may need to increase their intake and limit excessive exercise to be able to provide adequate energy to their reproductive systems.
Limiting exposure to potential endocrine disruptors BPA (bisphenol A), phthalates, and decreasing pesticide ingestion can also be helpful. Store and reheat foods in glass, ceramic, or non-BPA plastics. The Environmental Work Group is a great source for more information.
What healthful foods should someone consume when they are preparing for pregnancy?
- Fruit: Enjoying 3-4 serving a fruit a day will provide Vitamin C and antioxidants
- Vegetables: Include at least 2-3 servings for folic acid and polyphenols
- Fats and Oils: Focus on monounsaturated fats and include at least 5 tsp. of avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive oils
- Dairy: Aim for 2-3 servings of yogurt, milk (or fortified non-dairy), and cheese for calcium, protein, Vitamin D, and probiotics
- Grains/Starches/Beans: Eating at least six servings a day including lentils, beans, oats, whole wheat breads, quinoa, winter squashes, rice and pasta will provide fiber, iron, dense energy, and B vitamins.
- Protein: Include 6 oz. of fish twice a week and some plant protein daily. Fish and shellfish (up to 12 oz./375 g per week), dried beans and legumes, nuts, tofu, cottage cheese, lean beef, lamb, poultry, and pork are all great choices.
Be sure to eat a variety, and best wishes to all who are trying to conceive!
Judy is a Roosevelt Clinic dietitian and instructor in the Nutritional Sciences Graduate program at University of Washington.
This post was originally published in the RD Blog. You can visit the RD Blog and see its archives if you have a UW Medicine ID.