At The Health Coach academy, we often get asked what is a good fertility diet. And the answer is simple, really…get your body into the healthiest state it can be!!!
Nutrition, lifestyle and fertility are always inter-linked. If you and your partner enjoy a healthy, balanced lifestyle and diet you will increase your chances of conceiving, having a complication free pregnancy and a healthy baby.
Being your optimal weight primes your body for conception, thus being physically active and eating a nutrient dense diet will get you on the right path to a successful pregnancy.
What exactly is a healthy diet?
A healthy diet is one that provides your body with the adequate, balanced amounts of all the macro and micro nutrients your body needs to thrive.
Stay hydrated, start and end your day with some lemon water to cleanse the system, and drink at least 6-8 glasses of water throughout the day.
Eat a nutrient dense and breakfast, a healthy lunch and a light early dinner. Don’t forget some small but nutritious snacks in between.
Eat a large variety of fresh fruit and vegetables to help you get all the vitamins, mineral and phytonutrient. Fruit and vegetable freshly squeezed juices and smoothies, fresh salads and cooked vegies are all great options, but we must keep in mind that it is best to have the larger portion of our diet comprise of raw or lightly cooked produce. We should be mindful that, as fruit juices may contain high amounts of sugar, we may want to ensure that we limit them to one 150ml glass a day. Alternatively, try preparing them out of whole fruit, in a high-power blender with a little water or coconut water, and where possible do not peel to keep the fibre content high, which will slow down the release of sugars and prevent sugar spikes. Don’t forget about the benefits of consuming green juices, full of health leafy greens.
Healthy carbohydrates such as quinoa (containing carbohydrates and a complete protein), basmati rice, brown rice, bulgur wheat and other whole grains will provide starchy carbohydrates and fibre, as well as multitude of essential vitamins and minerals.
Include some protein at each meal such as chia seeds, quinoa(other than soy the only other complete protein of non-animal origin), beans and lentils, fish, eggs, some poultry and lean (trying to keep the quantities of the latter to not more than 0.8 per kg of your current weight per day). Eat at least two portions of fish a week. One of these should be an oily fish, such as salmon.
Some calcium rich foods, such as dark leafy greens, broccoli, sesame seeds and limited amount of cultured dairy, such as kefir, yoghurt and cottage cheese.
Some iron rich foods; leafy green vegetables like spinach, peas, pumpkin seeds, legumes such as chickpeas, beans and lentils, dried fruit such as raisins and apricots, seafood such as oysters and some red meat. These build up your resources of iron in preparation for pregnancy.
Foods rich in folate such as asparagus, cruciferous vegetable like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and bok choi, citrus fruit, papaya, avocado, okra and pulses and non-starchy root vegetables.
Try to have something containing vitamin C, such as a glass of fruit juice, about half an hour prior to the consumption of iron rich foods, as it will help you to absorb iron from non-meat sources. Chilies are also high in vitamin C and can be added to your meal.
Avoid sugar in all its forms (other than fresh and dried fruit); in sweets, cakes, pastries, fizzy drinks and boxed juices. Fast foods tend to be high in fat, sugar and salt and though they may fill you up, they aren’t usually nutritious and are full of empty calories not to mention preservatives and other additives detrimental to our health.
You can occasionally treat you sweet tooth with some high quality, artisanal, dark chocolate or some Medjoul dates, for example, or search for other naturally sweetened healthy deserts.
There's no official guideline on what counts as "occasional", so be realistic and set your own limits. You could nominate a specific day as your treat day - whatever works for you. But remember that "occasionally" does not mean daily!
Exercise portion control - eat small but regular meals throughout the day.
If you’re wondering when you should start improving your diet, there’s no time like the present. A healthy diet is important both before and during and after pregnancy.
What about my weight?
Try to get as close as possible to a healthy weight for your height and bone structure before trying for a baby. Ideally, your body mass index (BMI) should be between 20 and 25. Being overweight or underweight can reduce your chances of conceiving. But that's not the only reason for getting to a healthy weight before you begin trying for a baby.
Being underweight before conceiving is linked to an increased risk of having a baby that is premature or with low birth weight. Babies who are born small are at a higher risk of a range of health problems as they grow, so gaining a few pounds now, if you are underweight, would be a great way to give your baby a stronger start in life.
Being overweight before conceiving has been linked to increased risk of complications during pregnancy. In particular, obese women have a higher risk of health issues including gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and, sadly, miscarriage.
Dieting during pregnancy is not recommended. Extreme weight loss from crash-dieting can use up the vitamins and minerals in the body, and that will not lead to a healthy pregnancy. Losing weight gradually through healthy eating and regular exercise prior to pregnancy, is the best option, so now is a great time to start making healthy eating choices that you can stick to once you do conceive.
An active life style is just as important as balanced nutrition. Try to build a little extra activity into your daily life, perhaps by walking briskly, taking the stairs instead of the lift, ridding a bicycle, swimming, yoga or aerobic exercise.
Aim to lose no more than between 0.5kg and 1kg a week, even if you're very overweight. This kind of long-term lifestyle change is more successful than a quick-fix approach.
If you're overweight and are trying to eat healthier, these tips may help:
Never skip breakfast, and try to include protein-packed foods such as chia seeds, eggs plain yogurt and cottage cheese. These can help you feel fuller for longer and prevent hunger pangs later on that may lead to unhealthy snacking.
Keep an eye on your portion sizes at mealtimes. You may find that eating from a smaller plate helps you to keep your portions in check. Drinking a glass of warm water 10-15 minutes prior to eating not only curbs appetite but also aids digestion.
Have healthy snacks to hand, such as a handful of nut or seeds, fresh or dried fruit. That way you won’t succumb to high-sugar, high-fat options when you’re out or at work.
Keep diner light and have your last meal if possible before 6 pm, or a minimum of 3 hours before going to bed.
Do I need a vitamin supplement?
You should take a daily 400 microgram (mcg) supplement of folic acid from the day you start trying to conceive until the 12th week of pregnancy. This helps to protect your baby from potentially serious neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.
Keep in mind that your doctor may prescribe a higher daily dose of folic acid (5mg, which is 5000mcg) if:
you have had a child with a neural tube defect, such as spina bifida
you, your partner or an immediate relative has a neural tube defect
you have coeliac disease, diabetes or thalassaemia
you are taking anti-epileptic drugs
you have sickle cell disease
your BMI is higher than 30
Most women don't need a general preconception multivitamin, as it's better to get all the nutrients you need from your food if you can.
If you do decide to take a multivitamin, make sure it's suitable for use in pregnancy.
If you're taking additional, individual supplements, such as folic acid, check whether the multivitamin contains the same nutrients, and make sure you're getting the right amount in total. Inquire with your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions.
Ensure you get 20-30 minutes of early morning sun to get you vitamin D. Once you're pregnant, you should take a daily 10mcg supplement of Vitamin D, if you have a darker skin tone or don't get much sunlight, your GP may recommend you take a higher dose.
Should I give up alcohol and cigarettes yet?
Moderate, occasional consumption of alcohol (a unit or two of alcohol one or twice a week) is unlikely to affect your fertility, though heavy, regular or daily drinking may affect your partner's sperm and your fertility. Drinking can be harmful to a developing baby, particularly in the early weeks. Cigarettes contain nicotine, tar and over 4000 other toxic and addictive chemicals detrimental to your health and that of you baby. Reducing the toxic load of your body will significantly improve your chances of conception. It is therefore recommended that when trying to conceive one should stop drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco products altogether as well as throughout the gestation and breastfeeding period.
Will caffeine make it harder for me to conceive?
There’s no clear scientific evidence that caffeine causes fertility issues if you're trying for a baby naturally. However, it could affect your chances of success if you're having fertility treatments such as IVF.
Once you do conceive, caffeine could be harmful to your growing baby. To be on the safe side, you may prefer to limit your caffeine intake to one small cup a day or eliminate it altogether.
Dietary precautions while trying to conceive
While you're trying to conceive, you may prefer to steer clear of any foods that aren't safe in pregnancy. That way, when you do become pregnant, you'll know that you haven't had anything that could harm your baby.
Foods to avoid in pregnancy:
Vitamin A supplements or foods that are high in the Retinol form of vitamin A, such as liver and including fish liver oil.
Shark, swordfish and marlin (high mercury content). Avoid eating more than two portions of oily fish, such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and trout, per week.
Soft, mould-ripened, or blue-veined cheese such as brie, camembert or Danish blue. However, hard blue cheeses such as stilton, and non-mould-ripened soft cheeses such as cream cheese and cottage cheese as well as brined white cheese such as feta are fine.
Foods with an increased risk of food poisoning, such as raw or rare meat, fish and shellfish, under-cooked or raw eggs, and unwashed fruit and vegetables.
As you have probably noticed but for a few exceptions a healthy pre-pregnancy diet is just like a healthy regular diet. So clean out your pantry and fridge of junk and load up on fresh produce. Prepare homemade nutrient dense meals, made with a sprinkle of love and you should be on your way to a healthy pregnancy and a happy baby. And for more in depth information on what to eat in preparation for, during and post pregnancy join us for our Eat Right Workshop.
Results may individually vary. Information and statements made in articles of The Health Coach academy Blog are for education purposes only and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. The Health Coach academy does not provide medical advice, prescribe medication and treatment plans, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by The Health Coach academy are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. Should you have a medical condition or health concern, consult your physician.