When we think about nutrition and its impact on fertility, we tend to think about the many recommendations that are given to women who want to conceive. Here at the Stork we have a few of our own for ladies but don’t think that you’re off the hook, gentlemen! Both men and women can suffer from diet related fertility issues, and both can optimize their chances of conceiving simply by eating more of the right foods, and fewer unhealthy ones. We’ve already taken a look at how the right diet can help optimize chances of conceiving. Now it’s time for any hopeful parents-to-be to consider if they’re meeting these nutritional recommendations:
TIPS FOR THE COUPLE
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Fresh produce isn’t just good for your overall health – it’s also full of nutrients and antioxidants. For men that helps to keep sperm healthy with many antioxidants helping to protect sperm from potential cellular damage and chromosomal defects, whilst also promoting good motility; this helps increase the chances of the sperm successfully reaching a woman’s fallopian tubes, and also means the sperm will likely contribute to a healthier pregnancy overall. For women, some find that failing to eat enough produce impact their ability to ovulate or in some cases increased chances of damage to the ova before ovulation. The best way to take advantage of the benefits of fruit and vegetables is to eat a wide variety aiming to eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables a day, if not more.
- Add a multivitamin tablet/supplements to your day. Multivitamins can help ensure that couples who are trying to conceive are getting all of the nutrients they need. Keep in mind, however, that a multivitamin alone will never replace the benefits of eating a balanced, healthy diet. It can, however, give you what might be an extra dose of any vitamins or minerals that you need during the day, and can work alongside your dieting efforts to meet your nutritional needs – and address diet-related fertility issues. For women, it also helps you build up reserves that you will need to support a growing child such as iron and calcium which are easily depleted during pregnancy.
TIPS FOR MEN
- Actively include foods with folic acid in your diet. While folic acid is a B-vitamin and could fall under the “eat fruits and vegetables” category, it’s so important that it’s worth mentioning separately. Folic acid is best known for helping to reduce the risk of certain birth defects when it’s taken by women. Now research also suggests that it’s important for the production of healthy sperm. In fact, one study found that folic acid can actually lower the risk of sperm abnormalities by 20 to 30 percent. To be safe and to take full advantage of folic acid’s benefits, we recommend that men eat or drink 400 micrograms of it each day. Fortified breakfast cereals, leafy greens, legumes, and orange juice should be enough to help you do this – and if you’re still worried that you need more, a multivitamin supplement can’t hurt!
- Don’t forget the zinc. Zinc is a must-have nutrient when couples want to ensure that their reproductive systems are working properly. Zinc is a critical part of cell division; without it, men are more likely to experience difficulties producing healthy sperm. Eating plenty of zinc, on the other hand, can improve a man’s sperm count and help ensure those sperm are strong, fast and healthy. To help keep your zinc levels up, you should add more oysters, beef, poultry, dairy, eggs, whole grains, beans and nuts to your diet.
- Eat less of the wrong kinds of fat – and more of the right kinds. You’ve likely heard before that there are both good and bad fats that can affect your heart and overall health. It turns out that the reproductive system is also affected by the amounts of, and kinds of, fats that you consume. Research has found that men who ate a diet high in saturated fat experience a drastic reduction in sperm count; in one study, the count fell to 43 percent lower than average. Ouch! On the other hand, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and plants such as flax seed have been found to increase the production of healthy sperm. So if you’re hoping to father a child, reducing the amount of fatty meats and fast food burgers you consume – and replacing them with fresh fish, particularly salmon – may be one of the simplest and healthiest things you can do to increase your natural fertility.
- Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink – or cut it out entirely. Research has found that too much alcohol can reduce your testosterone levels and your overall sperm count, and may even affect the overall health of your sperm. The good news for men is that an occasional drink is generally considered safe; in other words, one or two glasses of beer or wine a week is probably ok. But overindulging is definitely not a good idea when you’re looking to conceive!
- Up your iron intake (with your doctor’s approval). Iron is an extremely important mineral for good health, even when women are not trying to conceive. It’s also a mineral that needs to be replenished regularly, as women lose iron during their menstrual cycle. Failing to replenish your body’s reserves can definitely impact fertility; research has even shown that taking iron supplements reduces a woman’s risk of suffering from ovulatory infertility (an inability to produce healthy baby-making eggs). The trick is knowing just how much iron you ought to consume to stay healthy. To ensure that you’re getting exactly what you personally need, meet with a doctor or nutritionist who can test your iron levels, examine your medical history, and determine how much iron would best benefit your health.
- Eat the right kinds, and right amounts, of protein. Though iron is important when it comes to fertility, it’s just as important to not go overboard when eating common meat sources of both iron and protein. Too much protein, particularly protein that’s high in calories or fat, has been linked to decreased fertility. To avoid this issue, you should at least stick to about two or three daily servings of lean animal protein sources. But there are other things you can do to make sure you’re getting the most out of your protein sources. For example, it’s recommended that you avoid processed, smoked and raw meats. It’s also recommended that you eat more than beef, pork or chicken to get your protein servings in. Seafoods, particularly those with omega-3 fatty acids, are highly recommended when boosting fertility, as long as you avoid fish known to be high in mercury. You may even be able to improve your fertility by replacing a serving of meat each day with a vegetable or dairy source of protein instead. Beans, peas, soybeans or tofu, or nuts are all great options for this!
- Don’t skip the dairy (or a good replacement). The calcium found in dairy is a must for good reproductive health. Currently experts recommend consuming around 1,000 mg of calcium daily, and advise that it’s best to get your calcium from your food rather than a supplement. To do this, try to include more milk, yogurt and cheese in your diet; and if you absolutely can’t stand dairy, be sure to up your intake of other high-calcium foods, including leafy greens, tofu, almonds, and fortified juices. One final thing to consider is that while it’s generally best to stick to low-fat dairy, some experts believe that one daily serving of whole milk can reduce your risk of ovulatory infertility. (But if you make this adjustment in your diet, be sure to stick to just one serving of high-fat dairy, as any more may lead to unintentional weight gain and even weight related fertility issues.)
- Choose your carbs carefully. When dealing with carbohydrates, it’s always important to consider the kind of carbohydrates you’re eating. White breads, pastas and white rices will not reduce fertility directly, but also often do not supply adequate amounts of nutrients that mothers-to-be want to eat while trying to conceive. To ensure that you get plenty of nutritional value from the carbohydrates you eat, stick to whole grains that have not been refined and stripped of key nutrients, including B-vitamins and iron.
*Please speak with your Healthcare Provider about your specific diet needs when trying to conceive. Not to be taken as medical advice.