Diet and Fertility
Fertility and diet go hand-in-hand. There are certain foods that can help boost a woman's chance of becoming pregnant, while other foods can harm her chance of conceiving.
A Healthy Diet: Foods to Eat
Maintaining a proper diet is key when trying to conceive. Meals should be healthy and balanced, containing foods from every food group.
Organic foods, whole wheat, fruits and vegetables can all help increase a woman's chance of becoming pregnant. These foods contain lots of vitamins and minerals, which are key to conception and fetal development.
Protein sources, such as meat and poultry, help maintain healthy level of iron. Low iron levels at the onset of pregnancy increase the risk of developing postpartum anemia, which reduces a new mom's energy. Post-partum anemia affects 27% of women.
Vegetarian diets are generally healthy, but iron supplements are sometimes needed to avoid anemia when a diet lacks reliable sources of iron and dairy. Calcium and B12 supplements may be recommended.
While many women are wary of fish because it contains mercury, you should still try to eat fish with low mercury levels. These are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which boost fertility and heart health. Mercury is toxic to the fetus and stays in a woman's bloodstream for over a year. Fish that's high in mercury includes white tuna, shark, frozen swordfish and marlin. Fish that contain low levels of mercury include salmon, flounder, trout, haddock, tilapia, and canned chunk light tuna (not albacore). Experts say that it is safe for women to have up to 12 ounces of low mercury fish per week.
If women still feel wary about eating fish, or if they are vegetarians, flax seeds are another good source of omega-3. Extra omega-3 is now being added to many foods, including yogurts and breads.
Choosing breads with whole grains will help to ensure that you get enough fiber. Whole grains also contain nutrients that help to stimulate total body health.
Make sure that you're getting enough calcium. Dairy foods, such as milk, yogurt and cheese are all good sources, however, these foods contain saturated fats, which should only be consumed in moderation. Many vegetables, such as broccoli, kale and oranges are as good a source of calcium as dairy products. Fish, such as sardines and salmon, are also good sources of calcium.
Vegetables, such as peas, broccoli and pumpkin, are also excellent sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals. When choosing fruits and veggies, look for a bright hue; the brighter the color, the more nutrients the food contains. Blueberries, kale and red peppers are especially healthful. Antioxidants in these foods also help to counteract the negative effects of pollution and the sun on our bodies.
Oranges and lemons are a good food choice because they contain folic acid, which stimulates the development of female sex hormones, while reducing the risk of spina bifida in infants.
High-quality multivitamins are an excellent way to ensure that a diet contains enough nutrients. Vitamins containing zinc, folic acid and B vitamins are crucial. Zinc helps cell division in the development of the fetus, while a lack of zinc can decrease the production of healthy eggs prior to conception. Zinc is the only mineral conclusively shown to increase fertility rates. Vitamin B6 is rich in folic acid, while Vitamin B12 helps to absorb it. A supplement containing essential fatty acids is also important.
A high fluid intake is also important when trying to conceive. In order to stay hydrated, a woman trying to get pregnant should be doubly sure to drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water and natural fruit juices (that do not contain added sugar) per day.
An Unhealthy Diet: Foods to Avoid
Foods containing preservatives and other chemicals, such as artificial sweeteners, should be avoided because they affect blood sugar levels and hormonal balance. Foods high in fat should also not be consumed.
Diet soda should be avoided, as it contains aspartame. Caffeine should also be limited, especially if you're having trouble conceiving, or while undergoing IVF. Caffeine constricts blood vessels, which reduces blood flow to the uterus and prevents eggs from attaching to the uterine wall.
Refined carbs, such as white bread, pasta and rice, should be limited. These foods lack nutrients, such as iron and B vitamins, which are important for providing a rich nutrient base to a potential fetus. Rye and whole-wheat sourdough breads are good options.
Eating whole grains is especially important if you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal imbalance which increases insulin levels. PCOS can lead to irregular ovulation, which will hinder conception.
Eating a lot of meat is not recommended. Meat raises the body's ammonia levels, which inhibits the implantation of the egg in the uterus.
It is also recommended that you avoid drinking alcohol, taking illicit drugs and smoking when you're trying to conceive. Drinking more than two alcoholic beverages per week can increase levels of prolactin, the hormone that regulates milk production and reduces the chance of conception while nursing.
Soybeans: Helpful or Harmful?
Soybeans are not recommended when trying to conceive. This is because they contain a component that is similar to estrogen. This false estrogen can increase the length of menstrual cycles, researchers found that consuming 60 mg of soy per day can add about 2.5 days to a woman's menstrual cycle, decreasing her fertility. Soy also lowers the levels of two hormones necessary for ovulation, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
Since eating high quantities of meat produces ammonia, this can affect sperm activity. Sperm prefer alkaline conditions.
Zinc is also important to male fertility as it helps boost sperm production and testosterone metabolism. Soy is not recommended because it contains phytate, which affect the absorption of zinc disrupting those processes. Soy has also been known to reduce male sex drive. Traditionally, Buddhist monks ate tofu to lower their libido!