Updated: May 1, 2020
Many women struggling with infertility question if changes in their diet may make the difference. Working towards overall health can set you up for the best chances of conceiving but going on a specific diet or plan is not necessary. As a Dietitian, I always advocate for what foods can be added to the diet, instead of focusing on what foods need to be removed. The 5 foods or nutrients I recommend adding to your diet are:
Iron & Folate
Iron and folate are two very important minerals during pregnancy. Sufficient folate in the diet prevents neural tube defects and because a pregnant woman needs to produce more blood, iron is required to prevent fatigue and ensure sufficient oxygen is being delivered to their body and the baby’s. Being mindful of adding these two minerals into your diet will set you up for a healthy pregnancy.
Iron can be found in both animal sources and non-animal sources. Animal-based iron (heme-iron) is more readily absorbed than plant-based iron (non-heme iron). However, plant-based sources has the added benefit of increased fibre so a balanced approach is best.
Iron can be found in meat, fish, poultry and meat alternatives such as tofu, beans, and lentils. Dark leafy green vegetables and dried fruits are other good sources of iron. Additionally, grain products in Canada are fortified with iron making breakfast cereals, whole grain bread and pasta good sources.
Folate is found in many of the same foods as iron including beans, lentils, dark leafy green vegetables (spinach & broccoli) and is also fortified into grain products.
Antioxidants help reduce inflammation in the body that may be caused by numerous sources including stress and lifestyle. The greatest sources of antioxidants in the diet come from vegetables & fruit. Those brightly coloured greens, reds, purples, and oranges you see in the grocery store give you a clue to the types of antioxidants and phytonutrients contained within.
To get a good dose of antioxidants daily aim for half your plate to be filled with vegetables at lunch & dinner and incorporate fruit at breakfast and/or snacks. A good rule of thumb is the more variety the better.
Grain products have gotten a bad rap and with many diets eliminating them you may wonder if you should too. But grain products can be a bountiful source of nutrition, not to mention the energy and satisfaction they provide.
When choosing grain products look for whole grains which will have high fibre content. This will increase the satiating property of the food and include valuable minerals that are taken away in refined products. Choose foods like whole grain bread, brown rice, quinoa, oats, barley or whole wheat pasta.
By choosing plant-based proteins (beans, lentils, chickpeas and tofu) more often you can increase your fibre intake and decrease the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Another added benefit to plant-based proteins is cost and ease of cooking. Choosing canned legumes is perfectly acceptable and requires little to no preparation in compared to meat making your meal prep easier.
The addition of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (including Omega-3’s) have multiple health benefits including reducing cholesterol and triglycerides and reducing inflammation in the body.
Mono and polyunsaturated fats can be found in cooking oils such as canola oil, olive oil, and avocado oil. Additionally nuts, seeds, avocado and olives are excellent sources of unsaturated fats. Try incorporating some of these fat sources into your diet daily.
Omega-3 fats can be found in some plant sources such as chia and flax seed, canola oil and walnuts but the best sources would be from fatty fish. Incorporating fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring) into your diet twice per week is recommended.
The best way to promote fertility is to take care of your body. By planning nutritionally balanced and dense meals, you will ensure you are set up for the best probable success. But remember you don’t have to eat perfectly all the time. Progress, not perfection is the goal.
Jen Rawson, RD
Jen Rawson is a Registered Dietitian in Calgary, Alberta. She specializes in women's health and works to help women heal their relationship with food and reconnect with their body. She applies a holistic approach that looks beyond food and nutrition and considers the lifestyle as a whole. Jen works at Ignite Nutrition where she practices both in person and online, making her services accessible for those within the Calgary area and beyond.