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9 Tips For Supporting Fertility With Nutrition

by: Raegen Barger RDN, LD, IFNCP  |  April 10, 2024

So, you’re thinking of growing your family? Getting pregnant is one of the biggest, most exciting decisions a person can make! It also is a time when clients want to dial in their nutrition to support their fertility as well as a healthy pregnancy, laying the foundation for their future child’s health. One of the most eye-opening, impactful conclusions to come out of prenatal nutrition research is that maternal diet during pregnancy can impact not only the first generation offspring, but offspring for generations. Mom's diet even prior to becoming pregnant can have similar impacts. And it's not just mom. The paternal diet also plays a role in becoming pregnant & beyond.

Preconception health is critical for everyone. Preconception is the three-month timeframe before you plan to begin trying to conceive. New sperm is made every 70-90 days and egg cells take about 90 days to mature, so there is so much that can be done in that 3 month window to optimize the quality of egg & sperm. During this pre-conception time frame, there's so much that can be done to improve both egg and sperm health to support fertility, improve pregnancy outcomes, and lay the foundation of lifelong health for your baby. A 2021 study showed that a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet before and during pregnancy was associated with a lower risk of gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, and pre-term delivery. 

So, let’s focus in on what you can do to support fertility using foods!

Up the Antioxidant-Rich Foods

Antioxidants are critical for proper female reproductive functions & for sperm health as well, so making sure you are taking in adequate amounts through a variety of fruits and vegetables each day is important. The benefits for female fertility include improved blood circulation in the endometrium, improved hormone balance, decreased insulin resistance, as well as fertile cervical mucus. The simplest way to increase your intake is aiming for 3 colors at each meal (even just start at a minimum of 1 per meal to start and go from there!). All those different colors represent different antioxidants and polyphenols. An example of this could be having a smoothie with avocado, blueberries & spinach! Added bonus of increasing variety: a mother’s diet influences the baby’s taste preferences so maybe you can avoid that picky eater!

Avoid Trans Fats & Inflammatory Oils

Partially hydrogenated oils are harmful to your health and have been linked to increased risks of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, as well as have the ability to negatively impact fertility. Consuming trans fats, as well as inflammatory oils like vegetable (think: corn, soybean, safflower) and canola, increase insulin resistance and inflammatory markers that impact ovulation. So swap in avocado, extra virgin olive oil & even some grass-fed butter in your cooking in place of these oils and check nutrition labels to limit these. Fried foods, fast food & baked goods are a common sneaky source of trans fats so aim to limit those.

Make Your Meals Balanced

Imbalances in blood sugar, as well as elevated blood sugar levels can negatively impact fertility by altering hormones, as well as health of both eggs and sperm. Blood sugar imbalances can lead to elevated levels of insulin which negatively impacts reproductive hormones. When it comes to making meals more blood sugar supportive, make sure there is adequate amounts of protein, fiber, and fat to minimize blood sugar spiking which creates an inflammatory response. Here are some great examples of ways to kick start your day with a balanced meal!

Limit Excess Added Sugar

On the note of balance, keep mindful of added sugars. Most Americans are consuming about 3x the recommendation for added sugars. The most common source remains sugar sweetened beverages (think: soda, juice, sweetened coffee & tea drinks, energy drinks); it also frequently sneaks into flavored yogurts, cereals, granola and many other packaged foods. So check your nutrition labels and try to minimize the added sugars to support blood sugar balance.

Increase The Fiber

Fiber is so powerful for many reasons including gut health, reducing inflammation, supporting a healthy metabolism, digestion & more! Yet, most Americans are consuming about a third of the recommendation for fiber. When structuring meals, it helps so much to think of how to maximize nutrient-density. Try to get an abundance of non-starchy vegetables, beans, as well as whole food carbohydrates (eg fruit, potatoes) to increase fiber. Fiber helps to slow down the breakdown of carbohydrates and the conversion to glucose. Fiber also provides food for the bacteria in your intestine through prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods. Fiber binds to excess hormones in the body and works to remove them through the colon. If you're not consuming enough fiber, then instead of being eliminated, excess hormones can be reabsorbed back into your body leading to imbalanced levels which impact fertility. Added bonus: fiber helps keeps things regular in the digestion department!

Choose High Quality Proteins

Optimal amino acids from protein are crucial for reproduction and play a critical role from preconception on through postnatal recovery. Studies have shown that low protein intake can negatively impact ovulation and egg quality. Protein-rich foods are sources of vitamin A, choline, B vitamins, iron, zinc, and DHA which are all fertility supportive nutrients. Aim to get protein from a variety of sources such as grass-fed beef and wild-caught salmon that has been tested for heavy metals. Consuming adequate omega-3s - in the diet, that would include salmon, mackerel, black cod, sardines & anchovies - has been shown to be particularly supportive of egg quality & fertility. For plant sources, opt for organically grown beans and legumes to reduce pesticide exposure. It can be helpful to ask yourself at each meal & snack occasion, "Where is my protein?" and also "Where is my fiber?" to keep you on track!

Limit Alcohol & Caffeine

While we aren’t anti-the-occasional-glass-of-wine here, alcohol consumption does not enhance fertility and can impact hormone balance. Each alcoholic drink can increase estrogen levels and interrupt your menstrual cycle. Alcohol is detoxified from the body starting in the liver, which is also response for estrogen metabolism. When the liver is focused on clearing alcohol, other functions cannot happen properly leading to the increased estrogen levels in the body. Alcohol isn’t just a maternal issue when it comes to fertility, paternal alcohol consumption is linked to decreased testosterone and lower sperm quality and production.

While the occasional cup of coffee or tea does not seem to impact fertility, moderate to high amounts of caffeine consumption have been shown to impact menstrual cycle and production of reproductive hormones. Coffee on an empty stomach has the ability to increase cortisol levels and contribute to blood sugar dysregulation which both negatively impact fertility. So aim to enjoy your cup mindfully in the morning during or after breakfast and then swap to caffeine-free options -- like a decaffeinated tea or favorite sparkling water when water just isn't cutting it -- for the second half of the day!

Adequate Supplementation

Appropriate supplementation is also key during the preconception, pregnancy & postpartum period to help fill in any nutritional gaps. And when it comes to prenatals, not all are the same. Our founder, Brigid, helped to formula WeNatal, a prenatal for both men & women - 24 essential nutrients are included in just 3 pills daily and in the most bioavailable forms to optimize absorption.

Pregnancy requires more nutrients than almost any other time in a woman’s life, followed closely by lactation. Making sure that your nutrient status is optimal is the key to support both the health of you and your future baby, but also support recovery postpartum and prevent postpartum depletion. Check out our FREE Hormone Guide for more tips to support optimal hormones!

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