Optimising your nutrition before pregnancy can help to increase your chances of a natural conception. Here are just a few key foods you may want to include within your diet to support your reproductive health & fertility.
Photo credit: Charles Deluvio
Not only are avocados a super versatile fruit, tasting great in both savoury and sweet dishes, they also contain high levels of fertility friendly nutrients, such as folate, potassium, vitamin E and C and carotenoids. They’re also rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFA), which are very important from preconception, to pregnancy, and throughout lactation (1). They get added brownie points for being a great source of fibre too, and talking of brownies, avocados can be used to make these too!
Another all around nutrient packed gem. A cup of lentils will give you nearly 40% of your RDA of iron, which is an important mineral to prevent iron deficiency anaemia, which will decrease the oxygen levels in your blood. Iron deficiency anaemia has been associated with anovulation (no ovulation) (2), which in turn will prevent pregnancy taking place. If iron stores are very low, this will limit the amount of oxygen reaching the important reproductive organs and the eggs will decline in quality (2, 3). As women, it is important we are getting sufficient levels of iron and the RDA is 14.8mg (4). By obtaining adequate amounts of iron you can significantly boost your fertility levels (2). Lentils are a non-heme form of iron, which is typically harder to absorb than animal based heme iron.
Make sure you pair your plant based iron sources with vitamin C, such as red bell peppers, citrus fruits, kiwis, green leafy veg and strawberries, to enable absorption. Lentils also contain a substantial amount of fibre and are a fantastic source of plant based protein. A study by Harvard School of Public Health found that those who consumed more plant based sources of protein, compared to those who consumed more animal based protein, had a reduced risk of ovulatory infertility. In those that consumed more animal protein (mainly red meat and poultry) the risk was 39% higher (5). Plant protein also has the benefit of being high in fibre, which is importance for the excretion of old hormones. Make sure to mix your plant based sources of protein, like brown rice and beans, to gain optimum results.
A serving of asparagus will provide your RDA of vitamin K and over half of your daily intake of folate an. For people with irregular cycles, folate may increase the chances of conceiving (5), and is also incredibly important before and during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects in the growing baby. Aim for two portions of folate rich food a day to get the full benefits. Other sources include kale, Brussels sprouts, spring greens, spinach and cabbage. Asparagus also contains a significant amount of the antioxidant, glutathione, which acts as a shield to prevent damage to the egg (6).
Selenium is an important mineral for fertility in both women and men. A study on trace elements found that those with lower selenium levels took longer to conceive and it is thought that selenium may protect the follicular fluid around the egg (7). Selenium is a co-factor the antioxidative enzyme that neutralises reactive oxygen species. Reactive oxygen species are useful in small quantities for cell signalling but can cause membrane damage in large amounts (8). Just one brazil nut will provide your entire RDA of selenium, which is 60 μg (9). For this reason, it is not advised to eat many brazil nuts, so think of the brazil nut as a tasty supplement, rather than a snack.
The humble pumpkin seed, which you probably associate with your bird feeder, is actually a mighty nutritious little seed. It has high levels of zinc, which plays a big role in maintaining healthy hormone function for ovulation and the menstrual cycle which is important for fertility ( 10), alongside being important in immune function. Zinc is another micronutrient that can be hard to absorb. Like with iron, avoid caffeine with your zinc source to maximise absorption.
Comerford, K.B., Ayoob, K.T., Murray, R.D., Atkinson, S.A., 2016. The Role of Avocados in Maternal Diets during the Periconceptional Period, Pregnancy, and Lactation, Nutrients, 8 (5), 313.
Chavarro, J., Rich-Edwards, J., Rosner, B., Willett, W., 2006. Iron Intake and Risk of Ovulatory Infertility. Obstetrics & Gynecology,108(5), 1145-1152.
Sathiyanarayanan, S. et al., 2014. A study on significant biochemical changes in the serum of infertile women. International Journal of Current Research and Academic Review , 2(2), 96-115.
Cueto, H.T., Riis, H.A., Hatch, E.E., Wise, L.A., Rothman, K.J., Sorenson, H.T. and Mikellson, E.M., 2016. Folic acid supplementation and fecundability: a Danish prospective cohort study, European Journal of Nutrition, 70, 66-71.
Tola, E.N., Mungan, T.M., Uguz, A.C., Naziroglu, M.,2012. Intracellular Ca2+ and antioxidant values induced positive effect on fertilisation ratio and oocyte quality of granulosa cells in patients undergoing in vitro fertilisation, Reproduction, Fertility and Development, 25 (5), 746-752.
Grieger, J.A. et al., 2019. Maternal Selenium, Copper and Zinc Concentrations in Early Pregnancy, and the Association with Fertility, Nutrients, 11 (7).
Ruder, E.H., Hartman, T.J., Blumberg, J., and Goldman, M.B., 2008. Oxidative stress and antioxidants: exposure and impact on female fertility, Human Reproduction Update, 14 (4), 345-357.
Ebisch, M.W., Thomas, C.M.G., Peters, W.H.M., Braat, D.D.M. and Steegers-Theunissen., 2007. The importance of folate, zinc and antioxidants in the pathogenesis and prevention of subfertility, Human Reproductive Update, 13(2):163-74