One in six Australian couples will have a fertility issue at some point in their lives and one in 10 couples will have trouble conceiving their second child. You are not alone.
Don’t panic, your fertility journey doesn’t have to be an express service straight to IVF. Some simple changes can improve your chance of conceiving naturally.
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As an Accredited Practising Dietitian I have worked with many couples trying to conceive. Often they are looking for some sort of elusive superfood to eat, to act as a magic bullet to fall pregnant. If only it was as simple as incorporating a new food!
A healthy diet is critical, and not just for a week. Good, long-term nutrition in both partners is essential for establishing a healthy environment for a baby to develop and to promote both sperm count and motility. Studies show the ideal BMI to conceive is between 20 and 25. Getting into a healthy weight range is important – and not just for conception, but for pregnancy and the future health of your child.
Forget cutting carbs, converting to strict Paleo or quitting sugar. Rather than cutting foods from your diet, boost your diet with nutrient-dense foods. Eat healthy portions of plant foods, lean protein, ‘smart carbs’ and healthy fat.
What does this look like? It’s half a plate of plant food (non-starchy vegetables, or a smaller portion of fresh fruit), a palm sized serve of protein and no more than a quarter plate of ‘smart carbs’ - such as wholegrain bread, sweet potato, lentils, brown rice - or starchy vegetables. Among all this, a good dash of healthy fat is great for your reproductive hormones.
A diet consisting of fresh, unprocessed foods should supply you with all the nutrients you need for healthy reproductive function. Think wholegrains, legumes, fruit, vegetables, lean meat and dairy. Limit your intake of processed foods, high in salt, sugar, saturated fat, artificial sweeteners, flavours and additives.
Omega 3s help regulate the sex glands' function to produce healthy eggs and sperm. Try to consume at least two serves of low mercury*, oily fish each week (salmon, trout, sardines). Try dressing your salads with flaxseed oil and add a sprinkle of chia seeds to your cereal, smoothies or porridge.
Zinc is absolutely essential to fertility in both men and women. For women, zinc helps mature eggs that are ripe for fertilisation. For men, zinc is necessary for creating the outer membrane and tail of a sperm. Think about sprinkling some pumpkin seeds over a salad, snacking on some Greek yoghurt and enjoying some beef and lamb each week. If you enjoy oysters, they are a superb source of zinc! However, once you fall pregnant, you must not eat any raw seafood.
Consuming low GI carbs across the course of the day ensures that you won’t have sudden bursts of insulin that might disrupt a menstrual cycle. Swap all your refined breads and cereals for wholegrain versions. Try oats for breakfast, a wholegrain salad sandwich for lunch and some mashed sweet potato for dinner.
Consuming a healthy diet can make a big difference to a couple’s chance of falling pregnant. Making changes for a few days or for just a week is not enough. It’s about making long-term changes for the health of your reproductive organs and your future child. Swap your packets and tins of food for whole, fresh foods. Be mindful about your intake of Omega 3 fatty acids and zinc, and don’t forget to substitute refined carbohydrates for wholegrain varieties. It’s about boosting and enriching your diet for the best chances to conceive and making a healthier version of you – for life!
Written by Lisa Donaldson APD (nee Simpson)
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