Making the decision to have a child is a wonderful, life-changing moment in life. Having made that decision, the last thing you want is to have difficulty conceiving. Equally, you want the pregnancy to be as smooth, and the baby as healthy, as possible. In the modern world that means reducing your exposure to toxins, getting the appropriate nutrition, and getting your life in order. This blog post will specifically be focusing on the nutrition aspect of fertility.
Overconsumption of sugar, junk and refined food, caffeine,
and alcohol, indoor, sedentary lifestyles, and weight issues all contribute to
poorer reproductive health. “Being over and under-weight (either parent), can
affect the ability to conceive, have a healthy baby and pregnancy, and
successful birth,” according to fertility expert Dr Francesca Naish.
Fertility issues are far from just a female concern. According to Swisse Wellness Expert, Dr David Cannata, “It is very important that both parents undertake a preconception health program. It is fairly well established that the health of a woman during preconception not only influences the ability to conceive but is also directly linked to a healthy pregnancy and healthy development of the baby. However, men’s preconception health is also important.”
Cannata adds, “Male sperm health is easily influenced by
diet and lifestyle and poor health can be a common factor in couples struggling
to conceive. Furthermore, male preconception health can also influence early
pregnancy development, so it is important for both parents to undertake in a
health program during preconception.”
Research shows that those who follow a program of good
preconception care have an increased pregnancy success rate, healthier babies,
better births and less complications in pregnancy. A successful outcome is most
likely when both parents are involved, and adhere closely to recommendations.
In a 1995 UK study of 367 couples by Foresight and Surrey
University, 81 per cent of previously infertile couples who followed a
preconception program, successfully conceived a child. Of total births occurring
over the two-year research period, there were no miscarriages, perinatal
deaths, malformations, or babies admitted to intensive care. According to the
study authors, a normal expected outcome for a sample of its size, would have
been 70 miscarriages and six malformations. In fact, prior to undertaking the
health program, 38 per cent of the participating couples had previously been
impacted by miscarriage, 11 per cent by therapeutic abortion, three per cent by
still birth, two per cent by malformations, and one per cent by SIDS.
The following dietary changes are recommended, preferably
four months or more before trying to get pregnant. Raw, steamed, stir-fried and
dry-baked are the healthiest cooking methods. Adequate daily dietary protein
(either plant or animal), fatty acids and the rainbow of antioxidant, vitamin
and mineral rich vegetables, are particularly integral to embryo development.
Organic foods are recommended. A number of studies show these are higher in
nutrients. They are also free of genetically modified (GM) ingredients, and
endocrine-disrupting pesticides and herbicides.
– Alcohol (poisonous to foetal health, eggs and sperm).
Mineral water can be used as a replacement.
– Coffee and caffeine-containing foods and beverages.
– Junk food.
– Trans fats (found in some margarine, deep fried foods,
heated oils, snack foods, crisps, crackers, cookies, frozen foods like fish
fingers and spring rolls, commercial pastries and pies, pastry). Trans fats
play havoc on your hormones and are toxic to human health.
– Processed meats (contain carcinogenic nitrate
– Organ meats (if not organic). Organs store toxins such as
pesticides and heavy metals. If organic, organ meats are highly nutritious.
– Sausages and mince meat (if made from organs).
– Cow milk and cheese (irritates the mucosa, including the
gut and reproductive organs. Goats’ and sheep’s milk and cheese (organic only)
are generally better tolerated. Soft cheeses may also contain bacteria.)
– Sugar, honey, sugar substitutes, fruit juice, soft drinks.
– White flour and refined carbohydrate products, cakes,
biscuits. (Sugar and refined carbs sap your body of nutrients including zinc
– Pre-prepared sauces.
– Peanut butter (high in unhealthy fats and sugar).
– Dried fruit (contains sugar and preservatives, and
– Saturated fats (found in meats, dairy products). Too many
can negatively impact the very essential fatty acids, and are pro-inflammatory.
Trim off excessive fat on meat. Toxins accumulate in fat if the animal is not
– Salt. (Too much salt negatively impacts fluid and mineral
balance.) Use sparing amounts of high quality sea or rock salt.
– Soy products (Too much soy may inhibit mineral absorption
and disrupt the endocrine system, and is often genetically modified. Fermented
tempeh, tamari or miso are okay in small amounts.)
– Purified water – six to eight glasses daily. (Tap water
may contain heavy metals, pesticides and other toxins).
– Dandelion, chicory and herbal teas.
– Organic, naturally low-caffeine, black or green tea (2
cups daily maximum).
– Healthy fats from avocado, tahini, nuts, nut spreads,
cold-pressed oils such as virgin olive and flaxseed. The latter should always
be kept in the fridge. Avoid heating oils, especially do not use flaxseed for
– Raw juices and salads, especially based on vegetables,
greens and herbs.
– Vegetables in a variety of colours. (These should make up
at least 40 per cent of your diet).
– Fruit (No more than 2 to 3 pieces per day, due to fructose
content, and eaten whole rather than juiced).
– Fresh herbs (like parsley, watercress, basil, coriander,
thyme and mint) for additional minerals.
– Protein foods in each meal. If you’re vegetarian look to
nuts, legumes or pulses, grains and seeds for your amino acids. Quinoa and
buckwheat are good examples of high-protein grains.
– Eggs (free-range, certified organic).
– Fresh, raw and unsalted nuts (stored in the fridge, or the
freezer if longer than two weeks, to avoid the oil going rancid and triggering
a free radical cascade). Bitter tasting nuts are rancid and should be
discarded. Walnuts, high in antioxidants, and almonds, high in calcium,
minerals and fibre, are particularly valuable.
– Legumes and pulses, such as lentils, chickpeas, split peas
– Certified organic red meat up to three times a week.
– Fish three times a week. Avoid large fish (often high in
mercury) and farmed fish. Choose smaller, deep-sea, wild-caught fish, such as
sardines, anchovies, herring, flatfish, haddock, and mackerel, and (only if
verified wild-caught) salmon and rainbow trout.
– Wholegrain, organic grains.
– Organic, sugar-free yoghurt.
Dr David Cannata sums it up, “When trying to conceive, both
men and women may benefit from reducing the intake of processed foods,
trans-fats, sugar and caffeine (though one coffee a day is fine). You may also
want to avoid or restrict the consumption of alcohol and smoking. Heavy metal
(mercury and lead) contamination of food may also impair reproductive health,
so you may want to opt for alternatives with less heavy metal contamination risk.”
Since you are trying to be as toxin-free as possible when
conceiving, it makes sense to think about the utensils you use when preparing
and eating your food. Use stainless steel, ceramic, glass or cast iron (unless
you have raised iron levels) cookware, and beeswax or paper food wrappings.
Avoid microwaving food and try not to use plastic containers, plastic utensils,
plastic wrap (chemicals in plastic can leach into food and drinks), and
aluminium or non-stick cookware that may contain toxic metals and chemicals.
Key nutrients and helpful supplements.
In addition to a healthy, balanced diet, some level of
supplementation is recommended, given the high demands of pregnancy, and the
prevalence of nutrient deficiency in our population.
When asked to recommend his top two nutrients for conception
Dr David Cannata says, “If I had to recommend two key nutrients to support male
fertility they would be zinc and Coenzyme Q10. Low zinc levels can be common
amongst men so it is important to take Zinc because it supports testosterone
levels and sperm production. Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant which can protect
sperm from free radical damage and also plays a role in cellular energy
production, which is important for sperm motility.”
When it comes to women Cannata indicates, “Folic acid and
iron would be the obvious recommendations for women trying to conceive to
support early development and healthy fertility. After these two, research is
showing the importance of selenium in egg maturation and early development.”
Dr Francesca Naish says, “Folic acid and zinc play a key
role in closure of the neural tubes (on day 27 or 28 of your pregnancy).
Deficiency can result in your baby being born with a neural tube disorder, such
as spina bifida. However, folic acid only works effectively in the presence of
the other B vitamins, so should be taken as part of a B complex. Zinc plays a
primary role in male and female reproductive health generally and is our most
common deficiency. Antioxidants especially should be taken by the male, as they
minimise the effects of free radical damage. However, all nutrients, essential
fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, and all antioxidants, are
important in preconception and beyond as building blocks to make a baby.”
Francesca Naish’s recommended key daily nutrients for
Note: This is a guide only, not a comprehensive list of all
nutrients required. Where a specific health issue or deficiency is being
treated, higher dosages may be required. Anyone considering supplementation
should consult a qualified dietitian. Overly high doses of some vitamins and
minerals (such as iron, iodine, copper, vitamin A and D) can be toxic while
certain nutrients are best taken apart or at specific times of day. Vegetarians
may need to take supplemental iron and B12. Confirm with a blood test first.
Beta-carotene: 6mg of mixed carotenoids
Vitamin B complex with inositol, choline and biotin
– B1, B2, B3: 50mg
– B5: 100mg
– B6 – 50-250mg (More may be required for progesterone
deficiency or PMS)
– Folic acid (B9): 800-1000 mcg
Vitamin C: 2-3g plus bioflavonoids
Vitamin D: best acquired by daily, safe exposures of the
skin to sunlight. Only supplement if you’ve had a blood test to assess need.
Vitamin E: 500-1,000iu (mixed tocopherols)
Essential fatty acids (Omega 3 EFAs and DHA): 2-6g from
mercury free fish oils.
Calcium: 800 mg increased to 1200mg in the second trimester
of pregnancy. Avoid caltrate forms.
Magnesium: 400mg, increasing in second trimester. (Magnesium
should be at least half the dose of calcium)
Iodine: As potassium iodide: 10mcg. Important for thyroid
function and the baby’s cognitive development. A deficiency in pregnancy can
cause cretinism, however high doses of iodine are toxic.
Iron: Dependent on ferritin iron stores.
Zinc: 25-60mg. Greater demand in pregnancy and