Here it is! Everything you need to know to about what to eat for fertility, whilst #ttc and preparing for pregnancy. There is so much confusing, contradictory and down-right incorrect information out there, that I thought it about time we put something together that was easy to follow and doesn’t require weighing and measuring food, or counting calories. (Having said that, I will give some simple calorie advice to!). Whilst this is not specifically designed as a weight loss diet, many healthy conception dietary guidelines are the same, and sustainable weight loss may be a bonus! I have also included my top 14 essential nutrients that should be included in your prenatal, fertility & breastfeeding supplement.
This is the user friendly what, why, where from and how much guide for fertility.
“Healthy babies come from healthy parents. Let’s give your baby the best start possible”.
One of the most common questions I get asked when from my beautiful women when trying to conceive it “How many calories should I be eating to improve my fertility?” This is dependent on many factors including current weight and amount of exercise. I don’t love measuring food intake by calories (it is very ‘dietetics’), but a simple answer is about 2000 calories daily. Now, many of you will already be eating less than this, say around 1500 calories, whilst around 1200 calories is commonly recommended for rapid weight loss. If you have a healthy BMI, feel satisfied, and have plenty of energy on 1500 calories, then stick with it.
Body Mass Index (BMI), like calories, is another measurement I am not a fan of, but it is universally understood, so I’m using it here for understanding. For conception, a healthy BMI is 18-24 and should be achievable with an intake of 1500-2000 calories daily. Personally, I think 1200 calories is just too little for healthy conception. However, if obesity is an issue (BMI more than 30), then weight loss on 1200 calories prior to conception may be a good idea.
Don’t: Drink alcohol, caffeine, soft-drink. Smoke. Do drugs. Eat refined carbs, sugar, artificial sweeteners, gluten, low-fat products.
Do: Drink filtered water daily. Choose nutrient dense organic, fresh fruit and vegetables, and free range, organic chicken and eggs. Grass-fed meat. Local and seasonal produce where possible. Visit your local farmers market.
- Red meat- maximum 300g per week ( 2x 150g servings)
- Eggs- 1-2 daily
- Salmon- 150-180g, twice per week
- 5-7 cups leafy green veg daily
- 1/2 – 1 avocado daily
- 2 tablespoons oil, 1-2 times daily, including coconut/ flaxseed / olive / sesame oil
- 2 pieces fruit daily
For more information on my top 12 Fertility Foods click here
Quit caffeine, sugar, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs. Thats all 🙂
My best advice here is keep doing what you have always done! Once you are pregnant, you may need to reduce the intensity of your exercise.
If you do not exercise, then during preconception is a good time to start. Aim for raising your heart rate for 30 minutes 5 times per week. This can mean a fast walk or a slow jog, where you are still able to maintain a conversation.
My other recommendation is daily Mindful Pregnancy Yoga. I am currently undertaking this training and will soon be able to teach you (by June 2018!)
MACRONUTRIENTS- the stuff we think of as food
Ok, so this is the big stuff, the stuff required in large amounts in the diet and includes protein, carbs, fat, fibre and water. Yes water, don’t forget it!
Protein is essential for women, men and babies. It is needed for healthy eggs and sperm, for fertilisation and for subsequent embryo development. The formation of your babies organs and muscles also require an adequate supply of good quality protein. Chromosomal abnormalities can result from protein deficiencies. So, how much? Between 90-120 g protein daily. The easiest way to achieve this is the “Palm Rule”- eat a serving of protein containing foods, the size of the palm of your hand, 3 times daily.
Food sources: Eggs, meats, fish, nuts, grains & seeds, legumes, tempeh & miso. Seeds include linseeds, sesame, chia & hemp, and the super seeds quinoa & amaranth
Before and during pregnancy we need all types of fats, including saturated fats! We make cholesterol from saturated fat, needed for oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone and Vitamin D production. The omega 3 essential fatty acids EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)- are absolutely essential! EFA’s The development of the babies eyes, and nervous system need EFA’s. Foetal brain development and cognitive function specifically require ample DHA.
Frustratingly there are not precise guidelines on how much fat. Generally, aim for a minimum of 30% of your diet to be good quality fats. What does that look like?
So if you are eating 2000 calories, you need about 65 g fat per day:
- 1 tbsp oil= 20g
- 1/2 Avocado= 20g
- Handful almonds or walnuts= 15g
- 150 g serving fish, meat or chicken= 10g
Food sources: Salmon, sardines, white bait, mackerel, herring, halibut, linseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, avocado, flaxseed/olive/sesame oil, coconut oil/milk/yoghurt, egg yolks. BUTTER (not margarine)
Fibre regulates hormone levels. It binds to excessive, unwanted oestrogen and clears it from our system. We need 25-30 g daily.
Food sources: Bran, psyllium husks, flaxseed, chia seeds, split peas, lentils, lima beans, artichokes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, pears, avocados
Water helps to regulate hormone levels, by flushing our system. It increases circulation and blood flow to the uterus. We need 33 mL water per kg of body weight daily. So, if you are 60 kg x 33 mL = 1980 mL (2 litres, 8 glasses)
Food sources: Filtered water from your kitchen tap!
MICRONUTRIENTS- the stuff in food & supplements
These are the teeny, tiny little nutrients that we need in smaller amounts everyday and include vitamins, minerals, trace minerals and phytonutrients. Whilst they may be tiny they sure pack a punch and are essential for fertility, conception and a successful pregnancy.
During the preconception period and pregnancy, I always recommend good-quality, practitioner-only, appropriately prescribed pregnancy supplements. No, they are not just making expensive wee. They are your insurance policy that you and your baby are getting what you need.
Note of caution: Pleessaaaassssseeeee do not just simply on pills for your nutritional requirements. They are called supplements for a reason- to supplement your diet. So, I have not only given you the amounts of each nutrient that would be perfect in your pills, but also the perfect food source of each.
So what should be included in the perfect baby-making supplement? This is not an exhaustive list; most of the pregnancy supplements will have little bits of everything . This is simply my top 14 fertility nutrients that should be included and their amounts. It is important to note, that not everything will fit neatly into one tiny pill. You may need several different pills to get everything you need. I have noted which to have individual supplement. We don’t give you loads of pills just so you can gag on ’em. They are for a reason.
Folate (Vitamin B9): 500-800 mcg
Folic acid is the natural type of folate found in food. Folate is one of the most important nutrients for men and women to take during preconception. The healthy production of eggs and sperm require folate. A deficiency of folate may lead to infertility.
In the early stages of pregnancy, folate is required for cellular differentiation and tissue growth. Folate prevents neural tube defects, recurrent miscarriages, chromosomal abnormalities & congenital heart defects.
Along with vitamins B6 and B12, folate helps to regulate homocysteine levels. Elevated homocysteine may lead to recurrent miscarriages and neural tube defects.
Food sources: Green leafy vegetables (spinach & baby spinach, rocket, kale, bok-choy, choy sum (all Asian greens), silver-beet, broccoli, brussel sprouts, mustard and collard greens), cabbage, avocados, lentils, fruits (oranges, berries and bananas). It is also found in cereals, legumes and liver.
NB/ Not all folate supplements are the same:
There are many different types of folate supplements- folic acid, folinic acid and 5-methyltetrahydrofolate. Most of the research to date has been conducted on folic acid, and that remains valid. Individuals however may require alternative forms. As part of preconception health care screening, your enzymatic use of folate can be tested via MTHFR.
Vitamin B6: 40-50 mg
Vitamin B6 increases progesterone levels. Progesterone is necessary for implantation and subsequent pregnancy. Vitamin B6, B12 and folate regulate homocysteine levels. Elevated homocysteine can lead to recurrent miscarriages and neural tube defects.
Vitamin B6 may alleviate morning sickness and PMS.
Food sources: Nuts & seeds, especially sunflower seeds & pistacchio nuts, tuna*, salmon, turkey, chicken, beef, bananas, avocado, spinach, dried fruits
* Tuna is a great source of B6 however regular consumption (no more than 1/week) is not recommended in preconception care. Avoid during pregnancy.
Vitamin B12: 400 mcg
Vitamin B12 and folate are both required for cell division and foetal growth and development of the nervous system
Food sources: Mainly animal products including beef liver, mackerel, sardines, red meat, salmon & eggs. Plant sources include fermented foods such as tempeh & miso.
Vitamin C: 300 mg
The ovaries contain a rich supply of vitamin C, required for ovulation. Vitamin C improves hormone levels and increases fertility in women.
Vitamin C is imperative for the health of the sperm. Sperm are protected from free radical damage with sufficient Vitamin C. A very important function of vitamin C is it prevents sperm sticking together (agglutination). This improves sperm motility and increases male fertility.
Food sources: Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, especially kiwi, red capsicum, green leafy vegetables, (spinach & baby spinach, rocket, kale, bok choy, choy sum (all Asian greens), silverbeet, broccoli, brussel sprouts, mustard and collard greens), strawberries, cranberries, rosehips, citrus fruits, guava
Vitamin D: minimum 1000 IU (25 mcg)
The production of our sex hormones is dependent upon adequate levels of vitamin D. Even though we are the “sunshine country”, most Australians have suboptimal levels of Vitamin D. It is important to screen for vitamin D during preconception health care.
Food sources: Cod-liver oil, fatty fish, eggs, dairy, sunshine!
Vitamin E: 500 IU (335.6 mg). Separate; stop once pregnant
Once known as the fertility vitamin, Vitamin E can improve the health of the uterine lining (the endometrium) which is beneficial for embryo implantation. It improves blood flow and nutrition to the uterus. Sperm count, motility, DNA quality and fertilisation require adequate Vitamin E. A total lack of sperm in the semen may be due to Vitamin E deficiency.
Food sources: Wheat germ, dark leafy greens (spinach & baby spinach, rocket, kale, bok choy, choy sum (all Asian greens), silverbeet, broccoli, brussel sprouts, mustard and collard greens), sunflower seeds, almonds, pumpkin, avocado & olive oil
Calcium: 600-800 mg, separate
Calcium, magnesium and vitamin D work in conjunction with oestrogen. It is important for uterine tone, fertile mucous production, and the future development of babies bones.
Food sources: sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, nuts (brazil, walnuts, almonds), sardines, green leafy vegetables (spinach & baby spinach, rocket, kale, bok choy, choy sum (all Asian greens), silverbeet, broccoli, brussel sprouts, mustard and collard greens), watercress, parsley, kelp, salmon, chickpeas, amaranth, millet brown rice, nori, fish with bones.
Iodine: 270 mcg
Healthy thyroid glands require iodine, which influences hormonal levels and ovulation. An underactive thyroid may contribute to difficulties getting pregnant, and miscarriage rates.
Food sources: Kelp, seafood & eggs
Iron: 24 mg, separate
Great quality eggs & ovulation, red blood cell production and oxygenation all depend on sufficient dietary iron. Iron deficiency is very common in pregnancy
Food sources: Red meat, garbanzo & kidney beans, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables (spinach & baby spinach, rocket, kale, bok choy, choy sum (all Asian greens), silverbeet, broccoli, brussel sprouts, mustard and collard greens), dried fruit (raisins & apricots), sesame & pumpkin seeds, liver & brains.
Magnesium: 300 mg, separate
Magnesium is essential for hormonal health, as it increases the production of oestrogen and progesterone, and Vitamin B6 utilisation.
Food sources: walnuts, nuts generally, dark green leafy vegetables vegetables (spinach & baby spinach, rocket, kale, bok choy, choy sum (all Asian greens), silverbeet, broccoli, brussel sprouts, mustard and collard greens)
Selenium: 50-150 mcg
Selenium is a brilliant antioxidant that detoxifys heavy metals. Semen contains high quantities of selenium, required for sperm count, motility, and the number of normally shaped sperm, DNA quality and fertilization.
Food sources: Brazil nuts, oysters, tuna, seeds, lean meats, chicken, oatmeal, brown rice & quinoa
Zinc: 15- 45 mg
Zinc is one of our greatest antioxidants. It is one of the most important nutrients for female and male fertility. In women, oestrogen and progesterone balance, normal egg production and development all require zinc. Like selenium, semen contain high quantities of zinc frequently lost through ejaculation. Sperm count, motility and the number of normal shaped and live sperm depend on zinc. Overall, zinc improves sperm quality. Zinc deficiency can significantly reduce testosterone levels and semen production. Zinc supplements improve DNA quality. It is best to start zinc supplements 3 months prior to conception attempts.
Food sources: Food sources: Oysters, shellfish, seafood, beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds & cashews
CoQ10: 300-600 mg. Separate; reduce when pregnant
Coenzyme Q10 is a naturally occurring enzyme found in the mitochondria of every cell. Energy production and circulation require CoQ10. Sperm motility improves with CoQ10 use.
Blood circulation to the uterus increases with CoQ10, which thickens the uterine lining for implantation. increase follicle numbers and egg quality.
Food sources: Liver, beef, salmon, sardines, mackerel, poultry, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, legumes
Resveratrol: 200 mg. Separate; stop when pregnant
A compound from grapes, growing evidence indicates the benefits of resveratrol in improving egg quantity and quality. Resveratrol is beneficial for women over 38 attempting to conceive. Resveratrol can improve egg quality within one month of starting supplementation.
Food sources: Grapes, beetroot, blueberries, cranberries, cocoa, and pistachios
Dr Miranda Myles, The Fertility Expert, Naturopath & Acupuncturist and Australia’s leading natural health expert in donor support. Dr. Miranda is passionate about working with couples in the management of their fertility issues. Miranda is dedicated to help couples achieve optimal physical and emotional health prior to conception. Dr Miranda provides a beautifully supportive and nurturing environment to allow you to reach your optimal health goals, to enable you to achieve a successful conception, pregnancy and baby.
Disclaimer: The information provided is not meant to diagnose or treat. It is meant as a guideline only. For further information regarding your personal health and circumstances, please discuss with your Naturopath, Doctor or health care provider