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Does diet have an impact on fertility? You bet it does!
When looking to conceive, adopting a balanced diet is so important to be able to support your body in sustaining a healthy pregnancy and delivering a healthy baby. This can make a world of difference to whether you experience a smooth pregnancy or a more challenging one.
What you eat does matter. You may be hitting your caloric targets but are you actually getting all of the nutrients you need from your food? During pregnancy, your body's demand for nutrients actually increases significantly due to the fact that you are carrying a little human inside of you.
Certain nutrients such as the B vitamins play an important role in fertility:
Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects, serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord, and the risk of miscarriage. Because it has such an important role in pregnancy many women are recommended to consume a prenatal with folate included. Always choose methylfolate over folic acid. Folate rich foods include leafy greens, dates, whole grains, and legumes.
B12 supports methylation and neurological function, and deficiency is associated with neural tube defects. You can find B12 in seafood, eggs, beef, organ meats, and fermented soy products. Vegan women should be supplementing with B12.
B6 decreases inflammation and the risk of recurrent miscarriages as well as pre-term labor. B6 rich foods include molasses, leafy greens, meat, fish, eggs, and whole grains.
Undereating or over overeating can also impair your chances of becoming pregnant because females need about 22% of body fat for healthy ovulation to occur. On the other end of the spectrum, being overweight can also inhibit ovulation due to excess estrogen and inflammation being produced.
So which foods are considered important in a fertility diet?
The essential fatty acids, omega 6 and omega 3, are required for brain, nervous system, and vision development which is why it is critical to be getting these fats into the diet around the time of conception and during pregnancy. Fats are also needed for proper absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K.
Deficiency has been linked with preterm labor and pre-eclampsia. You can find these fats in cold-water fish, algae, flaxseeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and even dark leafy green vegetables. Supplementation may be required especially for omega 3 fats which tend to be lacking in the standard diet.
Pregnancy is a time of growth that makes the consumption of protein vital. This ensures the body has the building blocks that are essential for making hormones, achieving ovulation, and supporting a growing fetus.
Quality animal protein is also a good source of iron, the most common deficiency among women and during pregnancy. Iron is a mineral required for placenta and brain development, blood formation, oxygen supply to the baby, and hormone production. Deficiency can be associated with premature birth and low birth weight.
Protein-rich foods include lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, legumes, and soy. Make sure you are choosing quality organic and grass-fed products whenever you can which reduces exposure to toxins and increases the nutrient density of the food.
Including more plant-based protein sources into your diet may actually protect against infertility (1).
Leafy green vegetables include spinach, kale, collard, swiss chard, bok choy, cabbage, and lettuce. These contain important nutrients such as folic acid, vitamin K, and magnesium, as well as antioxidants that help protect the cells from damage.
Leafy greens are also a great source of calcium as an alternative to dairy. Calcium is needed for nerve regulation, muscle and heart function, and of course healthy bones and teeth. In pregnancy, the need for calcium can increase by up to 50%.
Look for vibrant looking plant foods because this means they will be rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants, essential for egg quality and protecting against free radical damage.
Berries are a great example of a fertility-boosting food as they are low glycemic, high fiber, and rich in antioxidants.
This can help balance blood sugar, reduce inflammation, and support the removal of toxins and excess estrogen which can interfere with hormonal balance.
The more variety of colourful foods you include in your diet the more nutrients you receive while decreasing the risk of deficiency.
Choose organic or use the dirty dozen list and clean fifteen to verify which foods have the highest levels of pesticides. We recommend rinsing all fruits and vegetables in some vinegar or a fruit and veggie wash for about 20 minutes to reduce chemical exposure.
If you are looking to conceive and plan a healthy pregnancy, we recommend monitoring nutrient status with a health care provider and working with a nutritionist to ensure all your needs are met.