Nutrition & Food For Trying To Conceive, R.D. Approved
Written by: Co-Founder Amanda Capriglione, RDN, CDN
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Nicole Palmer, DO
IN THIS ARTICLE
What to focus on while choosing foods for fertility?
Consume foods from mother nature (mostly). It’s not realistic to completely eliminate packaged and processed foods, but aim to try and minimize them if possible. Any food that doesn’t make you feel your best or if it keeps your body from functioning optimally, ditch it. For example, some people may feel like after the consumption of fried foods they feel more sluggish.
Limit intake of added sugar on most days. Blood sugar balance is key for optimal health all around. Elevated blood sugar may disrupt ovarian cycles and the amount and quality of carbohydrates in a women’s diet may be important determining factors of ovulation and fertility. Choose foods with little to no added sugar (Always check the label and ingredients list- the label contains a section for added sugars and the ingredients list is where you will find any words for “added sugar” like “cane sugar” or “corn syrup.”). Choose high fiber foods like whole grains (with at least 2 grams or more of fiber per serving) and fruits and veggies.
Choose anti-inflammatory foods to help reduce any lingering inflammation in your body. Reducing inflammation helps to balance out hormones and gets your body ready to make a baby. Inflammation is a basic method, immune response, by which humans respond to infection, irritation, or injury. Increased stress (which is sometimes associated with trying to conceive) can cause inflammation in the body. Decrease inflammation by decreasing stress (easier said than done, we know) and consuming anti-inflammatory foods such as colorful fruits and veggies (dark leafy greens, berries), whole grains, fatty fish, nuts, and beans. Foods to try and limit are ones high in saturated fat and added sugar—these foods can lead to inflammation in the body.
Maintain balanced gut health by choosing foods that can heal your gut in order for your body to better absorb the nutrients that it needs. The small intestine carries most of the nutrient absorption and of course, it is part of “the gut.” The different nutrients that are absorbed can then carry out their jobs such as reproductive hormone development. A healthy gut is also a result of consuming a balanced diet, decreasing inflammation, and limiting sugar intake. A healthy digestive system determines much of our overall health.
Probiotic foods are needed to maintain healthy bacteria in the gut. Probiotic foods consist of yogurt (plain, full fat is best for women TTC), kimchi (fermented cabbage), pickles, sauerkraut, kefir, and miso soup. Make sure to also consume prebiotic foods such as whole grains, fruits, and veggies, to which, probiotics cannot exist without.
We love consuming yogurt with berries or yogurt or kefir in smoothies. Try the pickled veggies in salads or on top of sandwiches, or even on their own.
What else can I do to help increase fertility?
Manage Stress is 100% needed to help with fertility. Stress can harm you both mentally and physically. It is key to try and manage stress. Exercise by doing yoga or walking to clear your mind and head. Talk to a friend or visit a therapist to help release harmful stress. When you feel a particularly stressful moment coming on, try to take deep breathes and count to 10. Worry about the present moment and less about what will be happening in the future. Try a new hobby or do something that you enjoy to help ease tension and stress. Seek help from a professional if you need to.
Take prenatal vitamins along with a healthy, balanced diet, and prepare your body with the necessary food stores that it needs to grow a baby.
Minimize exposure to toxins in the environment around you. Little things like cleaning products, air fresheners, and other fragrances around your house could be doing more harm than good. Opt for natural cleaners and fragrance-free products to help decrease potential contaminants. You may have heard of volatile organic compounds or VOCs. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a large group of chemicals that are found in many products we use to build and maintain our homes. The risk of health effects from inhaling any chemical depends on how much is in the air, how long, and how often a person breathes it in. It is nearly impossible to eliminate VOC’s but you can invest in an air filter like the Air Doctor to help decrease the VOCs in your home. And cigarette smoke is the ultimate toxin. If you are a smoker, quit ASAP.
When your body is nourished before creating life you will become more confident in making healthy food choices that benefit you and your growing babe. Your body will have the stamina it needs to make everything from a nervous system to a little toe and everything in between. While we realize a woman may need a little extra help from science when trying to conceive, nutrition remains a significant component, as well as love, to grow a little human.
The benefits of nourishing your body before conceiving
Your obstetrician may tell you that you have a 15-25% chance of conceiving a child each month that you ovulate. Those are statistics for you. And as women age, the chances of conceiving can decrease (but this is a whole other story for a different day). While there are many factors that play into trying to conceive a baby, nutrition remains a significant one. When you prepare for pregnancy, you have the opportunity to correct any nutrient deficiencies and make the necessary dietary changes. Your body relies on food for the fuel to create life therefore your body needs certain nourishment for growth.
Some preliminary research reports that preconception nutrition is tied to fertility health in both men and women. Maintaining an overall healthy, balanced diet along with a focus on a few key nutrients may help your body better prepare for pregnancy and thus increase fertility. Diet and nutrition can make a huge impact on the quality of a woman’s egg. In addition to food, experts recommend taking a prenatal vitamin three months prior to trying to conceive to help your body prepare for pregnancy. Doctors make this recommendation largely because it takes about 3-4 months for an egg to mature, and during that time nutrition is of utmost importance. However, just like it takes “two-to-tango,” it also helps if both the mother and father are well-nourished!
Here are some essential nutrients & foods for preconception:
Vitamin D may be needed to help maintain egg quality. Also, vitamin D deficiencies are linked with infertility. Women with high levels of vitamin D are more likely to conceive than women with a vitamin D deficiency. The vitamin D receptor is present in many organs such as the ovaries and uterus. When bound to its receptor, vitamin D has control over the genes involved in making estrogen. Estrogen is a hormone needed for reproduction.
Food high in vitamin D includes liver, fatty fish like salmon, and egg yolk. Most people get vitamin D from the sun or even supplement. Fifteen to twenty minutes of daily sunlight can help your body produce vitamin D however, with sunscreen and clothes it can be difficult for your body to catch the rays. Supplements are a good choice to help increase a vitamin D deficiency. Make sure to ask your OB what the right vitamin D supplement dosage is for you. Dosage varies based on deficiency level.
FOODS HIGH IN VITAMIN D INCLUDE:
Baked salmon with herbed breadcrumbs takes minutes to make and taste delicious. Serve with potatoes and greens and you have yourself a balanced meal filled with a variety of nutrients needed when trying to conceive. Try our recipe for baked salmon in our e-book.
*It is safe for pregnant women to consume up to 12 oz of low mercury fish like salmon weekly.
Eat the egg yolk! Egg yolks contain so much needed nutrition for women. Our favorite ways to enjoy eggs are in omelets and in an egg salad made with avocado in place of mayo (don’t knock it ‘til you try it!).
Antioxidants can protect reproductive eggs from damage and can improve egg quality. They also can help regulate a women’s cycle. Antioxidants are good for fertility because they help to limit the harmful effects of free radicals by inactivating them and mending damaged cells. Free radicals are potentially harmful, naturally occurring molecules that are a product of energy production in humans. Free radicals can also result from our surrounding environment. Environmental free radicals include pollution, stress, and toxic substances (sometimes found in household objects and cleaners). We cannot 100% avoid free radicals in our environment, but we can try and limit them as best as we can. (link to end of the post what else can I do to help increase fertility).
FOODS HIGH IN ANTIOXIDANTS INCLUDE:
Dark chocolate is a great snack with almonds and some fruit! It’s all about the balance. Melt it in your favorite milk for a deliciously rich and healthy cup of hot cocoa.
Berries taste great in everything from on top of yogurt to salad. Add them to smoothies or just eat them on their own. Smash berries for a no-sugar-added, fiber-rich “jam” on top of a peanut butter sandwich, or try chia jam (link our cookie recipe).
Cabbage can be enjoyed in salads or as part of a slaw. Sauté with other greens in garlic and oil. Pickled cabbage is called kimchi, which is also a probiotic!
Beets taste wonderful when roasted with oil and enjoyed in a salad. Roast beets with other root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, turnips) and create an antioxidant-rich root vegetable medley. Don’t feel like cooking them? Canned and packaged beets also contain antioxidants and nutrients.
Kale is a super dark green veg, which means it contains so many powerful nutrients. We love using kale as the base for salads or making simple kale chips with olive oil and sea salt. Kale and beans sautéed in olive oil and mixed with whole-grain pasta is a simple and healthy recipe for the whole family too!
Magnesium is required in higher amounts during pregnancy so making sure you are getting enough pre-pregnancy may help maintain a healthy pregnancy. Magnesium also works to help keep your cortisol levels under control, which indirectly may help with decreasing nausea and vomiting symptoms during pregnancy. Make sure to address any magnesium deficiencies prior to conception.
FOODS HIGH IN MAGNESIUM INCLUDE:
Dark chocolate – just eat and enjoy it! And see above for our favorite ways to enjoy it! Make sure to get the variety that has at least 80% cacao in it.
Avocado can be made into anything from guacamole to chocolate pudding. We have both recipes in our e-book, Feel Good Food for a Healthy Pregnancy. Avocado also contains lots of fiber and heart-healthy fats so it’s really a pregnancy power food! Plus, it’s super versatile in recipes and can just be simply diced and added to salads or smoothies.
We are nuts for nuts! They are a great grab-and-go food. Enjoy them in salads and smoothies or of course, our favorite, nut butter. Just be sure to consume a nut butter with an ingredient list of whichever nut and/or salt. Many jars of nut butter out there contain unnecessary added ingredients.
Our favorite legume is the lentil. Lentil soup is simple to make and taste great too. Our favorite lentil soup contains all the veggies, herbs and spices, chunk tomatoes, and cooked for hours in vegetable broth. Make one big pot and freeze or enjoy the whole week.
Tofu is a curd made from mashed soybeans. The flavor is bland but it takes on any flavors that you are cooking with. For example, if you make a Chinese-style stir-fry, it will take on the flavors of ginger and soy sauce. Soft tofu can also be added to smoothies and firmer tofu is used in soups and stews. It’s also rich in protein.
Folate is one of the most important nutrients for women when trying to conceive and during pregnancy. It is recommended to make sure you are getting enough folate through both diet and supplementation when trying to conceive. Folate is naturally found in foods like green leafy veggies, legumes, and eggs, while folic acid is synthesized and added to foods such as cereals and some supplements. Adequate folate prevents birth defects of the brain and spinal cord like spina-bifida. During the first trimester of pregnancy, the baby’s nervous system begins to develop so sufficient folate is crucial.
Prenatal supplements generally contain about 400 micrograms of folic acid, which is sufficient for most pregnant women to take daily. Experts recommend women who are trying to become pregnant take a prenatal vitamin to ensure adequate folic acid stores. It is generally 100% safe if pregnant women consume foods high in folate in addition to taking prenatal supplements. Look for supplements that contain the active form of folate, methylfolate. It can also be found naturally in foods such as leafy vegetables, eggs, and citrus fruits. Methylfolate is the most absorbable form of folate.
As you can see, many of these foods contain many of the same nutrients that women who are trying to conceive need. Aim for consuming at least 2 servings of a variety of these nutrient-rich foods daily.
- Grieger, Jessica A et al. “Maternal Selenium, Copper and Zinc Concentrations in Early Pregnancy, and the Association with Fertility.” Nutrients vol. 11,7 1609. 16 Jul. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11071609
- Mulla, A. , Fazari, A. , Elkhouly, M. and Moghaddam, N. (2018) Role of Antioxidants in Female Fertility. Open Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 8, 85-91. doi: 10.4236/ojog.2018.82011.
- Chavarro, J., Rich-Edwards, J., Rosner, B. et al. A prospective study of dietary carbohydrate quantity and quality in relation to risk of ovulatory infertility. Eur J Clin Nutr 63, 78–86 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602904
- Weiss, Gerson et al. “Inflammation in reproductive disorders.” Reproductive sciences (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) vol. 16,2 (2009): 216-29. doi:10.1177/1933719108330087