“Healthy babies come from healthy parents. Let’s give your baby the best start possible.”
You are what you eat. Your baby depends on you. If you are thinking about having a baby, or you are starting to try, you probably already know some of the dietary basics.
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. Choose free range, organic chicken and eggs. Choose organic, grass-fed meat. Choose local and seasonal produce where possible. Visit your local farmers market.
This is more what I want to focus on here- what you do eat, what you can eat, what to include in your diet. Be sure to pack your diet with fertility promoting nutrients. Our food provides the building blocks for hormonal production & function, antioxidants to help protect sperm and eggs from toxins & free radical damage, and growth promoting nutrients for foetal development.
But how much? How often? When should we start? What does it look like on my plate?
“Optimal health of both parents, prior to conception, is a major factor that will positively influence reproductive outcomes.”
Specific dietary changes and the inclusion of important nutrients can improve fertility and support a healthy pregnancy. Approximately three-four months is the ideal time to start eating well, as it takes about 100 days for sperm and egg formation and maturation.
Here are my top 12 fertility foods. Of course, there are many more that could have been included. I wanted to make this a practical blog. I have included a guide that indicates the amount of each food to have on a daily or weekly basis, and how to use them; what they can look like on your plate. At the end, I have included a FERTILITY NUTRIENT LIST, which describes some of the most important fertility nutrients, and alternative food sources, just in case you don’t like my top 12!
12 TOP FERTILITY FOODS
The Doctrine of Signatures (http://www.jcrows.com/signatures.html) contends whole-foods resemble body parts indicating health benefits for those parts. Avocados, pears and eggplants resemble women’s bodies (ie pear-shape). It takes exactly 9 months to grow an avocado from blossom to ripened fruit. When sliced, an avocado resembles a uterus with a single seed. Turn one half of an avocado on the side, and it resembles a pregnant woman.
Avocados are the fertility fruit from the gods that helps to regulate hormones. Avocados are a rich source of folate, vitamin B6, vitamin E and beautiful monounsaturated fats. Folate is for healthy eggs and sperm production. Vitamin B6 increases progesterone levels and is necessary for implantation. Vitamin E, once known as the fertility vitamin that improves the health of the uterus, and is required for adequate sperm count, motility, DNA quality and fertilisation.
Contains: Essential fats, fibre, B6, folate & vitamin E, vitamin K, potassium
On my plate: ½ avocado daily. Smashed avo & eggs on paleo toast (might even like to include salmon), in salads, with a squeeze of lemon juice, omelettes, frittatas, guacamole (avocado dip) spread on rice crackers or with veggie sticks.
Eggs are so amazingly versatile and are a reminder that we can be anything we want to be. Pregnant! Eat healthy eggs for healthy eggs! Eggs are the most perfect of protein that is essential for the number and quality of healthy eggs and sperm, and is required for fertilisation. The development of the embryo also requires adequate protein.
Don’t forget to use the egg yolk- this is the most important part that contains choline. Like folate, higher choline levels are associated with lower risk of neural tube defects. Iodine is essential for a healthy thyroid gland, hormonal regulation, ovulation and the prevention of miscarriage.
Contains: Protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12, choline, iodine
On my plate: Be creative with eggs. Eggs are a reminder that we can be anything we want to be; omelets, fritattas, scrambled with smashed avo on paleo toast, fried, poached, boiled, add to fried rice, add to smoothies, buckwheat pancakes, in healthy cakes, slices, deserts. Be sure to cook the egg whites, otherwise a protein in the egg whites called avidin will block biotin (a type of B vitamin) absorption.
Blueberries & raspberries are the berry, berry best berries, but blackberries, strawberries & cranberries are great too. Loaded with natural antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that protect your cells from aging, including our reproductive cells ~ our eggs and sperm. The ovaries are rich in Vitamin C, thus a continuing rich supply of vitamin C is required for ovulation. Vitamin C improves hormone levels and increases fertility in women. As an antioxidant, it will assist toxin elimination and protects immune function. Vitamin C is imperative for the health of the sperm. As an antioxidant, it will protect sperm from free radical damage. Vitamin C importantly prevents sperm sticking together (agglutination), which would otherwise reduce sperm motility and increase infertility.
Contains: Antioxidants, fibre, vitamin C, folate, resveratrol
On my plate: If the berries are not in season (or too expensive) you can purchase snap frozen berries that still contain all their goodness. Eat one generous handful daily and add to smoothies, with raw coconut yoghurt, to your favourite raw breakfast cereal ((I love @mojosmuseli, #mojosmuesli), or combine with chia seeds, quinoa, yoghurt & coconut in a parfait glass for a healthy breakfast.
LSA (linseeds, sunflower seeds and almonds), chia, pumpkin & sesame are the super seeds of health and fertility. All seeds are brain foods, particularly high in omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA’s) EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), required for development and function of the baby’s brain and nervous system.
LSA is a combination of linseeds (same as flaxseed), sunflower seeds and almonds, already ground up, blended & ready to go. LSA is available at all good supermarkets and health food shops. Almonds are a great source of protein and fats. In fact, all nuts and seeds contain proteins and fibre, imperative for hormonal manufacture and regulation. Sunflower seeds are another great source of Vitamin B6 and calcium. Sesame seeds are particularly high in iron & zinc, whilst pumpkin seeds are full of iron, zinc & calcium.
Contains: Essential fats, protein, fibre, vitamin B6, vitamin E, calcium, selenium, iron, zinc
On my plate: Add 2 tablespoons daily to your morning smoothies, favourite raw wholegrain muesli (I love @mojosmuseli, #mojosmuesli), salad or stir-fry, or combine with berries, quinoa, yoghurt & coconut in a parfait glass for breakfast (pictured)
Quinoa is a highly nutritious, and although it is often referred to as a grain, it is in fact a tiny little super seed. Quinoa contains complex carbohydrates and is gluten free. Quinoa is a fantastic source of essential fats and protein, a perfect addition for vegetarians and vegan diets. It is a beautiful combination of some of our most important fertility nutrients including folate and antioxidants zinc and selenium. Folate and zinc are both required for healthy eggs and sperm. Zinc and selenium are essential for sperm motility, morphology and count.
Contains: Protein, essential fats, fibre, folate, calcium, zinc & selenium
On my plate: ½ cup, 2-3 times per week. Quinoa is available in black, red and white, and comes in all sort of different forms including as a seed, flakes or puffed. As the seed it can be used (and is cooked) similarly to rice as a side dish and in salads. As flakes it can be cooked like porridge and is delicious combined with brown rice. Puffed quinoa is a great addition to your breakfast cereal. It can be combined with chia seeds, berries, yoghurt and coconut in a parfait glass as a gorgeous healthy breakfast (pictured above).
Referring again to The Doctrine of Signatures (http://www.jcrows.com/signatures.html), it contends that whole-foods resemble body parts indicating health benefits. A walnut looks like a brain, thus it is a magnificent brain super food. Walnuts are a fantastic source of omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, important for brain development and function. Walnuts also contain vitamin E & B vitamins, and are a great source of magnesium. Magnesium and vitamin E improve uterine health and blood flow to the uterus, and magnesium and B6 both help to increase progesterone levels. Such great combinations! Magnesium is known as natures relaxing mineral and may help during times of stress and anxiety whilst you are “trying”. Walnuts are superb for sperm quality, motility and morphology.
Contains: Protein, fibre, essential fats, magnesium, calcium, B vitamins
On my plate: Eat a handful of walnuts daily, however you would like! As a simple snack, or to add a bit of crunch to a super salad.
Deep sea, wild caught salmon is the king of fish. Fatty fish such as salmon are the best sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA and DHA are essential for foetal brain development & growth, nervous system development, cognitive function, and the health of all cell membranes. Healthy semen requires EFA’s. A deficiency of EFA’s may be implicated in chromosomal defects, spontaneous miscarriage and congenital malformation. EFA’s are also anti-inflammatory & analgesic. Calcium is important for fertile mucous production and uterine health. CoQ10 may increase blood flow to the uterus, improving uterine lining in preparation for implantation.
Contains: protein, essential fats, B12, calcium, CoQ10
On my plate: Ideally 150-180 grams, 2 times per week. Grilled, pan-fried, raw in brown-rice sushi, added to omelettes, with eggs, spinach and paleo bread for breakfast
There is not to many nutrients that dark green leafy vegetables do not contain! Green leafy veggies such as spinach, kale, rocket, silver-beet and chard are a great source of many of our important fertility minerals. Calcium, magnesium and Vitamin D work in conjunction with oestrogen, thus essential for fertility. Calcium is important for fertile mucous production and uterine health.
Contains: fibre, folate, iron, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, calcium, CoQ10
On my plate: at least 3 cups daily (5 is ideal!)- kale and spinach are great in your morning smoothy, green leafy veg stir-fried with tamari & your favourite herbs & spices and served with meat/chicken/fish, as a warm salad, hidden in an omelette or frittata, hidden in homemade chicken/beef burgers.
Beetroot & Beet Greens
Beetroots are a beautiful blood red, and accordingly beetroots improve blood flow to the uterus, essential for embryo implantation. Beetroot (and red grapes) is rich in antioxidants including resveratrol, one of the most important nutrients to improve egg quality in older women, especially over 35. So beetroots may help combat age- related fertility issues. Resveratrol may also boost testosterone levels in men. One of the healthiest part of the plant are the beet greens, the leafy tops, rich in zinc, magnesium, calcium and even more iron than spinach.
Contains: resveratrol, vitamin c, fibre, folate, potassium, iron, B vitamins
On my plate: beet soup (Russian borscht), roasted beetroot salads, freshly squeezed juice, homemade dips.
The Doctrine ofSignatures (http://www.jcrows.com/signatures.html) contends wholefoods resemble body parts indicating health benefits. Figs are jam-packed full of seeds and when they grow; they hang together in pairs resembling testes. Figs are recognised to increase the motility of sperm, increase sperm numbers and help improve male fertility. Figs also contain high levels of iron for ovulation and healthy eggs.
Contains: fibre, vitamin B5 & B6, potassium, iron
On my plate: Lets face it, figs are probably not something you will be able to include regularly, unless you have a fig tree. When available, try poached figs with coconut yoghurt, in a fruit salad, baked figs.
Traditionally we know oysters to be an aphrodisiac and increase libido, and they are probably one fo the best known fertility foods. Like figs though, oysters are probably not something you will eat everyday…unfortunately. They are our greatest source of zinc and selenium, two of the most important fertility nutrients for both men and women. Zinc and selenium are both brilliant antioxidants and help protect sperm and eggs against free radical damage. Zinc and selenium improve sperm quality including motility, morphology and count. Zinc regulates hormones, and improves the quality of eggs.
Contains: zinc, selenium
On my plate: treat yourself and have oysters as an entrée every week! Oysters Natural, are the best. Of course Kilpatrick or Mornay are the favourites, and…the goodness outweighs the badness here!
Pomegranates (& Pineapple)
Pomegranates are the latest in our superfoods, absolutely packed full of free-radical fighting antioxidant nutrients. Like vitamin E and CoQ10, pomegranate & pineapple may increase blood flow to the uterus, improving uterine lining in preparation for implantation. Is it rumoured that pomegranates and pineapples combined are absolute infertility fighters.
Contains: folate, vitamin C, vitamin K
On my plate: Include 1 pomegranate, 2-3 times weekly, or 1 glass of pomegranate juice daily. Absolutely fantastic mixed with spinach leaves, quinoa and walnut salad, add to quinoa & chia seed breakfast parfait.
Fertility Nutrient List
Is essential for the number and quality of healthy eggs and sperm, and is required for fertilisation. The development of the embryo also requires adequate protein; a deficiency may lead to chromosomal abnormalities.
Food sources: Eggs, meats, fish, nuts, grains & seeds, legumes, tempeh & miso, quinoa
Before and during pregnancy we need all types of fats, including saturated fats! Saturated fats are required for cholesterol production, and cholesterol is the basis of all our hormones, including oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone and Vitamin D, thus vital for fertility.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids such as EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)- are absolutely essential! EFA’s are required for the development of the babies eyes, and nervous system, and DHA is vital for foetal brain development and cognitive function.
Food sources: Salmon, sardines, white bait, mackerel, herring, halibut, flaxseeds, linseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, egg yolks.
Fibre helps to regulate hormone levels by ridding excess unwanted oestrogen
Food sources: Bran, psyllium husks, flaxseed, chia seeds, split peas, lentils, lima beans, artichokes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, pears, avocados
Folate is the natural form of folic acid found in food. Folate is one of the most important nutrients to take during preconception, both for women and men. Folate is required for the healthy production of both eggs and sperm, thus a deficiency can lead to infertility.
Along with vitamins B6 and B12, folate helps to regulate homocysteine levels, which if elevated can lead to recurrent miscarriages and neural tube defects. In the early stages of pregnancy, folate is required for cellular differentiation and tissue growth; it helps to prevent neural tube defects, repeated miscarriages, chromosomal abnormalities & congenital heart defects.
Food sources: Green leafy vegetables (spinach & baby spinach, rocket, kale, bok choy, choy sum (all Asian greens), silverbeet, 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 is essential for hormone production and regulation in women. It has been shown to increase progesterone levels, necessary for implantation and subsequent pregnancy. Along with folate and B12, vitamin B6 helps to regulate homocysteine levels, which if elevated can lead to recurrent miscarriages and neural tube defects.
Vitamin B6 is used to 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.
Along with foate and B6, vitamin B12 helps to regulate homocysteine levels, which if elevated can lead to recurrent miscarriages and neural tube defects Food sources: Mainly animal products including beef liver, mackerel, sardines, red meat, salmon & eggs. Plant sources include fermented foods such as tempeh & miso.
The ovaries are rich in Vitamin C, thus a continuing rich supply of vitamin C is required for ovulation. Vitamin C improves hormone levels and increases fertility in women. As an antioxidant, it will assist toxin elimination and protects immune function.
Vitamin C is imperative for the health of the sperm. As an antioxidant, it will protect sperm from free radical damage. Vitamin C importantly prevents sperm sticking together (agglutination) which would otherwise reduce sperm motility and increase infertility.
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
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!
Once known as the fertility vitamin, Vitamin E can improve the health of the uterine lining (the endometrium) which is beneficial for embryo implantation. Vitamin E also improves blood flow and nutrition to the uterus. Vitamin E is required for adequate sperm count, motility, DNA quality and fertilization. A total lack of sperm in the semen may be due to Vitamin E deficiency. In women, vitamin E can improve the health of the uterine lining (the endometrium) which is beneficial for embryo implantation. Vitamin E also improves blood flow and nutrition to the uterus.
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, magnesium and vitamin D work in conjunction with oestrogen. Calcium 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.
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
Poor egg quality and difficulty ovulating may be consequences of iron deficiency for reproductive health. General fertility requires adequate iron.
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 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 is another of our antioxidant nutrients, fantastic for detoxifying heavy metals. Selenium is generally present in high quantities is semen but is lost in ejaculation. Selenium is 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
One of our greatest antioxidants, zinc is perhaps one of the most important nutrients for both female and male fertility. In women, zinc is required for oestrogen and progesterone balance and normal egg production and development. Like selenium, zinc is present in high quantities in semen but is frequently lost through ejaculation. In males, zinc is specifically required to increase sperm count, motility and the number of normal shaped and live sperm. Overall, zinc improves sperm quality. Zinc deficiency can significantly reduce testosterone levels and semen production. Taking a supplement can improve DNA quality and is best started 3 months prior to conception attempts.
Food sources: Food sources: Oysters, shellfish, seafood, beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds & cashews
Coenzyme Q10 is a naturally occurring enzyme found in the mitochondria of every cell, required for energy production and improves circulation. In men, CoQ10 has been found to increase sperm motility. CoQ10 increases blood circulation to the uterus, thus improves uterine lining in preparation for implantation. It has been found to increase follicle numbers and egg quality.
Food sources: Liver, beef, salmon, sardines, mackerel, poultry, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, legumes
A compound from grapes, growing evidence indicates the benefits of resveratrol in improving egg quantity and quality, especially beneficial for older women over 35 yrs, helping to combat age-related fertility issues.
Food sources: Grapes, beetroot, blueberries, cranberries, cocoa, and pistachios
Dr Miranda Myles Natural Health & Fertility, Naturopath & Acupuncturist, 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. 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.