What to eat when you’re trying to conceive

Much has been said about the ideal pregnancy diet, but what about foods that will increase your chances of conceiving?

If you hope to increase your chances of having a baby, you probably already know the importance of monitoring your ovulation period and timing those baby-making sessions.

But did you know that your diet plays an important part, too?

Fertility is a very complex matter and depends on a combination of biological, nutritional, social and emotional factors,” notes Karin G Reiter, functional medicine nutritionist and Nutritious N Delicious founder. “Although there is no guarantee that certain foods will ‘cure’ or ‘treat’ infertility, they can improve your overall health while laying the foundation for a healthy pregnancy.”

Add nutritionists Eleanor Thoms and Marianna Miles of The Nourished Tribe Singapore, “In order for our bodies to be primed for a baby, we need to start incorporating nourishing and nutritious foods early on.”

Stressing that fertility nutrition applies to both men and women, they point out, “Improving egg and sperm quality (through proper nutrition) is especially important in preventing early miscarriage, seeing as how 40 per cent of early miscarriages are linked to poor egg or sperm quality,” they explain.

To boost your chances of conceiving, experts say you should be eating foods rich in these nutrients.

“Although there is no guarantee that certain foods will ‘cure’ or ‘treat’ infertility, they can improve your overall health while laying the foundation for a healthy pregnancy.”

The B vitamins: Folic acid, B6 and B12

“Getting sufficient folic acid before pregnancy not only helps prevent spina bifida (a condition where a baby’s spine doesn’t develop properly in the womb), but also plays an important role in the production of DNA for both the egg and sperm,” note Thoms and Miles.

They add that along with vitamins B12 and B6, folic acid lowers a compound called homocysteine. This is important as high levels of homocysteine have been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage.”

WHAT TO EAT: Best folic acid food sources include citrus fruits, lentils, avocado and leafy green vegetables. “Leafy greens such as kale, collards, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, cabbage and brussel sprouts are also great sources of fibre and other important nutrients,” Reiter adds.

As for vitamin B6, Thoms and Miles recommended sunflower seeds, bananas, milk and eggs. For B12, load up on dairy products, eggs, fish, meat and poultry.

Zinc

“A nutrient that has been extensively studied in relation to fertility, zinc deficiency in women is linked to lowered fertility and an added risk of miscarriage,” Thoms and Miles note. “In men, insufficient levels have been linked to a reduced sperm count.”

WHAT TO EAT: To pump up your zinc intake, consume pumpkin seeds, lean meat, poultry, and shellfish (particularly oysters). Reiter also recommends raw organic nuts and seeds, which are a rich source of zinc and other minerals.

Antioxidants: Selenium, vitamins C and E

Selenium, a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the egg from free radical damage, is also important for men. “It is involved in sperm formation, and studies show that men with low sperm counts have depleted levels of selenium,” explain Thoms and Miles. Vitamin E is another antioxidant particularly essential for ovulation and healthy sperm.

WHAT TO EAT: Foods high in selenium include Brazil nuts, oysters, fish, sunflower seeds and pork. Vitamin E can be found in eggs, leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, wheat germ and cold-pressed oils.

“I would also recommend a ¼ to ½ daily serving of avocado ― it’s a great source of healthy fats that’s high in vitamin E and magnesium,” Reiter says. Citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables, red peppers, broccoli and berries are vitamin C-rich (which helps enhance sperm quality) eats.

Beta-carotene and vitamin A

“Whilst high doses of vitamin A in supplement form are not recommended during pregnancy, beta-carotene is the vegetable precursor to vitamin A and is safe to consume,” say Thoms and Miles. “Vitamin A plays a vital role in the production of healthy eggs, and also protects egg and sperm DNA from damage.”

WHAT TO EAT: This nutrient is found in sweet potato, butternut squash, yellow fruits and vegetables, milk and dairy products, green leafy vegetables, fish and eggs.


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Iron and iodine

Women can be prone to low iron especially if they have heavy periods, observe Thoms and Miles. Subsequently, these lowered iron levels may also increase the risk of miscarriage.

WHAT TO EAT: Ensure you get plenty of iron in your diet through meat (particularly red meat and liver), fish, eggs, green leafy vegetables, broccoli and dried fruit such as prunes and apricots.

Iodine plays a fundamental role in aiding the production of thyroid hormones, which have a direct impact on a women’s hormonal cycle as well as foetal development. Incorporate iodine into your diet with sea vegetables, fish, shellfish and eggs.

Omega-3 fatty acids

If you’re trying to conceive, then it’s time to ditch your phobia of eating fatty stuff!

Thoms and Miles explain, “Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats and have a significant impact on a woman’s healthy hormone function. They are equally important for men, being involved in the production of healthy sperm.”

WHAT TO EAT: “Try flax seeds ― they are loaded with omega 3 and are known to balance out excess oestrogen in the body,” suggests Reiter. “To consume them, soak 1 tablespoon in water for at least 4 hours and add them into your breakfast each day.”

Reiter also recommends alternating between chia seeds (1 tablespoon per day) and flax seeds, and experimenting with chia pudding as a yummy snack.

Of course, don’t forget other omega 3-rich foods like oily fish (such as salmon, sardines, mackerel), walnuts, leafy green vegetables and tofu.

“Vitamin A plays a vital role in the production of healthy eggs, and also protects egg and sperm DNA from damage.”

Vitamin D

This essential nutrient is pivotal to the correct functioning of your immune system. Lowered levels may also cause a drop in libido, which is definitely not helpful for fertility!

“Even though we live in sunny Singapore, many people actually avoid going into the sun and may be vitamin D-deficient,” Thoms and Miles observe. “You can get your vitamin D levels easily tested at the GP, and it’s good idea to do this in the preconception stage.”

WHAT TO EAT: Other than getting some much needed sunlight, be sure to incorporate eggs, mushrooms and oily fish in your diet to boost vitamin D levels.

Superfoods: Raw cacao powder and royal jelly

WHAT TO EAT: “Raw cacao powder is a superfood and contains all 33 important minerals,” notes Reiter. “Take 1 tablespoon 3 times a week, or try some raw cacao bliis balls.”

Another great option is royal jelly, known to improve the function of the ovaries. “I use a teaspoon in my smoothies to make them sweeter,” Reiter says.

WHAT TO AVOID EATING

Just as there are nutrient-filled foods to consume actively, there is also chow that won’t do your fertility any favours. These include alcohol, sugar, processed foods, fizzy drinks, caffeine and refined carbohydrates.

“Some of these foods contain harmful pesticides, herbicides, artificial growth hormones, antibiotics, artificial binders and colours that cause inflammation and overload our liver,” Reiter observes. “Whether you are trying to get pregnant or not, these foods are best reduced from your daily diet.”

Thoms and Miles add, “Such anti-nutrient foods will unbalance your hormones and provide no nourishment. Stick to fresh foods that have been as untampered with as possible, and try cooking at home to control what goes into your body.”

Photos: iStock

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