Eat your way to pregnancy
If you are planning a pregnancy, both mum and dad-to-be can improve their chances of a hassle free conception and healthy nine months by watching what they eat, says Elsa Jones
When it comes to getting pregnant, there is a lot of truth in the old saying "You are what you eat".
What you eat affects every single cell in your body, including the hormones that dictate fertility. Eating a fertility diet in preparation for pregnancy and to boost fertility is one of the most powerful health changes you and your partner can make.
Studies have shown that changes to the diet can increase sperm quality and quantity as well as encourage healthy ovulation and support a healthy pregnancy.
Just as nutrients can be helpful for fertility, there are foods and chemicals added to foods that can be harmful to your health and fertility. Read on for my top 10 tips on getting your diet into baby-making shape.
1 Zinc test
Zinc is one of the most widely studied nutrients in connection with fertility and several studies show even short-term zinc deficiencies can have an adverse effect. Zinc is one of the most important minerals for healthy sperm. In women, zinc helps the body use oestrogen and progesterone more efficiently. Snack on pumpkin or sesame seeds. Meat and seafood are also excellent sources. A nutritional therapist can perform a simple test to assess your zinc status.
2 Time to detox
Since the liver is the most important organ for oestrogen removal and hormone regulation, liver health is important for fertility. Research suggests alcohol and caffeine adversely affect fertility in males and females, so cutting down on both is strongly advisable. Aim to drink at least six to eight glasses of filtered water and include herbal teas such as dandelion root or ginger. Kick-start liver detoxification daily by squeezing half a lemon in a small glass of warm water first thing in the morning before breakfast. Milk thistle is a wonderful liver cleanser and thus helps balance female reproductive hormones.
3 Amazing antioxidants
Supercharge your reproductive health by eating a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, red peppers, and kale. They are packed with antioxidants, including vitamin C, which boosts sperm health. Garlic contains the powerful antioxidant selenium, which enhances male and female reproductive health. Aim for at least five portions of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables per day and use garlic liberally during cooking.
4 Pump up the iron
Studies have shown that women who do not get sufficient amounts of iron may suffer anovulation (lack of ovulation) and possibly poor egg health, which can inhibit pregnancy. It has been reported that one in three Irish women have depleted iron stores, so I highly recommend you get your iron levels checked.
5 Rethink refined carbs
When a wholegrain food is processed by machinery it strips away the bran and the germ from the food. Many key nutrients are lost during this process, including B vitamins, crucial to fertility.
6 Eat good fat
We need fat in our bodies, particularly when trying to conceive. Fat plays an important role in our endocrine function, which regulates the hormones involved in reproduction.
7 Get plastic out of your diet
There are man-made chemical compounds in our modern world which have been shown to be 'hormone disruptors', in other words they mimic reproductive hormones and cause hormonal imbalances in both men and women.
One of the biggest culprits is plastic. You can minimise the effects of plastics on your health and fertility by avoiding drinking out of, or reusing, plastic water bottles.
Also, store food in non-plastic containers such as glass, pyrex and ceramic containers and never heat food in plastic containers or cover hot food with plastic wrap.
8 Avoid hormone disruptors
Besides plastic there are other substances in the foods that we eat that have the potential to disrupt our reproductive hormones. I would recommend switching to an organic diet to avoid pesticides and herbicides.
9 Maintain your ideal weight
Being fertile is a matter of balance, especially when it comes to body weight. Being too thin or too heavy can interfere with ovulation. Shedding a few pounds (or gaining a few if you're underweight) while you're attempting to get pregnant is a good idea. Even a small weight loss can greatly increase your ability to conceive.
Stress has a hugely negative impact on fertility but, as we all know, it can be difficult to avoid. However, it's important to remember that even small lifestyle changes can dramatically turn your stress around.
Elsa Jones is a nutritional therapist and presenter of How Healthy are You? on TV3. Elsa offers one-to-one consultations to meet your individual health requirements as well as group nutrition courses. www.elsajonesnutrition.ie