Sunday July 21st 2019

Foods for Fertility

Preparing for a healthy conception and pregnancy takes place in many ways. Diet is important if you’re planning on becoming a parent, so nurture yourself with the right foods to boost fertility and promote a fit, healthy body.

For a woman trying to conceive, it’s imperative to create a good nutritional environment for the body, says Cape Town clinical nutritionist Sally-Ann Creed, author of best-selling book Let Food Be Your Medicine (South Africa Storm Books, 2006).

“If mom-to-be is not optimally nourished up to three months prior to conception, her egg will be of lesser quality than if she had taken time to invest more in her health,” explains Sally-Ann.

“A baby at conception is the product of a healthy or unhealthy egg and sperm. Think about it – it’s very important to be healthy enough to produce healthy DNA for your baby.”

Of course, many factors influence compromised fertility, but laying a firm foundation of wise nutrition is a part of the jigsaw which would-be parents can so easily control – but often neglect.

“It’s important to realise that there are many fads out there – and fads are dangerous to your precious pregnancy. Sticking with proper, scientific and sane principles is best,” says Sally-Ann.

In a nutshell, you can boost your chances of conception by following, as much as possible, these nutritional principles :

  • Eat enough healthy animal protein (choose free-range or organic if you can and avoid processed meats such as bacon, ham or intensively-farmed, chemical and hormone-treated products such as battery chicken)
  • Enjoy healthy fats, mainly from fish, nuts, seeds, avocados and eggs
  • Don’t choose low-fat products! This is a big mistake, since our hormones are made out of healthy fats
  • Boost your egg consumption, as their nutritional profile is outstanding (choose free-range or organic eggs, as these contain more Omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Avoid unhealthy fats and oils such as sunflower, safflower, canola or pastries and other ‘treats’ containing trans fats
  • Concentrate on getting enough vegetables into your system (five daily portions of different colours) and two portions of fruit
  • Drink plenty of water (choose pure, filtered water where possible)
  • Include healthy fibre from oatmeal at breakfast, vegetables eaten cooked and raw and plenty of fibrous food instead of processed, fibre-poor food (think big salads, stir-fry, veggie crudités and dips, wholegrain bread and pasta, brown rice and baby potatoes in their jackets)
  • Maintain blood sugar balance by always mixing protein with carbohydrates (don’t separate them) and some healthy fat at each meal
  • Avoid stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine, chocolate and fizzy drinks
  • Be happy, relaxed, positive and forgiving – this is super-important for conception!

Fertile foods

Eating healthily and having a healthy body are winning ways to promote natural fertility and conception. So, which foods contain the vital nutrients for any woman trying for a baby?

“It’s no secret that oily foods (healthy oils, that is) are big players in the fertility stakes, so it should come as no surprise that oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are the best source of essential fatty acid (EFA) Omega-3, which improves all reproductive functions,” says Sally-Ann.

“Although dairy is not, in my humble opinion, a healthy food, if a woman is having dairy products, she should be having full-fat dairy, in order to absorb the necessary Vitamins A and D from the milk.”

Whole grains are also a must-eat, because certain grains such as oats, brown rice and quinoa are complex carbohydrates full of Vitamins B and E, which are vital for hormone balance, healthy eggs and sperm. These should be mixed with plenty of protein at meals for optimum effect.

“Interestingly, garlic is a fertility-boosting food owing to its selenium content and it’s also important for preventing early miscarriage,” says Sally-Ann.

“The Vitamin B6 component helps to regulate hormones and strengthens the entire immune system too.”

Lean red meat is also a winner – it’s rich in iron-preventing anaemia, which in itself can lead to infertility. Red meat is a great source of Vitamin B12, an essential nutrient for a balanced nervous system, but should be eaten free-range or organic where possible, in order to avoid pesticides and hormones.

Fittingly, oysters are known as the ‘food of love’ – and they really do improve the chances of pregnancy because of their high zinc content, says Sally-Ann.

“If you absolutely can’t stand oysters, then try eating other zinc-rich foods such as baked beans, nuts, whole grains, pumpkin seeds (very rich in zinc) and eggs.”

Most women are aware that folic acid is necessary both before and during pregnancy. Find this nutrient in spinach, watercress and other green leafy vegetables to optimise your chances and prevent neural tube defects in early pregnancy.

Greens also provide iron and Vitamin C, which protect the fragile DNA from damage.

Other foods thought to improve fertility include organic honey, chillies (they improve blood flow and happy hormones), avocado for its rich source of Vitamin E, plus healthy fat profile and extra-virgin olive oil.

Overall, products rich in Vitamin E (such as sunflower seeds), Omega 3 (fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, anchovies and mackerel) and zinc are all strong fertility boosters.

“In general, eat good quality, fresh, unprocessed food, as it will be far richer in vitamins, minerals and nutrients and also free from pesticides and added oestrogens that may disrupt reproductive functioning.”

What about dad? Is there anything in particular that would-be fathers should do to contribute towards a trouble-free conception?

Foods rich in zinc are a perfect choice for would-be fathers, who should also avoid alcohol and try to be as relaxed as possible, says Sally-Ann. Following the same general nutritional plan as mom’s is the safest bet.

What NOT to eat

Clinical nutritionist Sally-Ann Creed suggests that the following foods and lifestyle gremlins be crossed off your list or avoided as much as possible :

  • Alcohol and coffee
  • Cigarettes
  • Additives, preservatives and colourants (read labels)
  • Processed foods
  • Damaged fats (sunflower and canola oils, baked goods and takeaway foods),
  • Microwaved food
  • As much ‘technology’ as possible (computers and cellular phones).

Sally-Ann explains that some foods, substances and habits may actually decrease fertility, so these are best avoided too :

  • Late nights
  • Stress and emotional upheavals
  • Smoke (including passive smoking)
  • Processed foods
  • Any food not freshly prepared
  • Re-heated foods
  • Too little vegetable content
  • A vegetarian diet that is not strictly followed, with expert nutritional input
  • A low-fat diet (this lowers fertility dramatically)
  • Fizzy drinks
  • Fructose

That’s not to say that would-be parents can’t have a life! It’s simply a good idea to be as healthy and relaxed as possible – and to spend as much time in a natural environment as you can – in order to get body, mind and spirit into the right ‘place’ for conception to occur.

Should I take a supplement?

A properly formulated pregnancy vitamin (not your usual multi-vitamin) is best, as this will ensure sufficient folic acid and iron, says Sally-Ann.

In addition, take an Omega 3 supplement from fish oil (not flaxseed oil, as this has been linked to miscarriages), such as The Omega-3 Solution (2 x daily).

You should also take a Vitamin C supplement such as Ester C (2g daily) and a good probiotic (for example, MaxiBiotic 5).

Our modern, fast-paced lifestyles make it increasingly difficult to eat whole, nutritious food. Therefore, don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t find organic meat or vegetables (or can’t really afford them), as putting pressure on yourself is just as damaging as eating ‘bad’ foods.

Health experts agree that a happy, relaxed state of mind creates an optimum environment for health, so concentrate on finding ways to release anxiety, such as meditation, spending time in nature or reading an inspirational book.

Fertility is a complex subject, and while food does have an important role to play, it should not cause you stress or worry. Simply eat foods as close to their natural state as possible, make wise choices and try to follow the guidelines above.

Aim for a balanced and holistic lifestyle – lots of water, plenty of sunshine, enough sleep and a happy, trusting relationship with your partner. Enjoy fresh foods as much as possible but above all, enjoy life!

“It’s important to realise that there are many fads out there – and fads are dangerous to your precious pregnancy. Sticking with proper, scientific and sane principles is best,” says Sally-Ann.

Sources

Sally-Ann Creed, clinical nutritionist (www.sallyanncreed.co.za – largest independent, free informational health website in South Africa), email sally@sallyanncreed.co.za, visit specialist health store online (www.creeds.co.za) or phone (021) 702-0036

Copyright : Beth Cooper, 2010. First published in Living & Loving magazine.

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