The natural way to support your fertility

Nutritional therapist Henrietta Norton gives her top tips for improving your chances of conception, the natural way

Whether you are planning your first pregnancy or thinking about having another child, trying to conceive naturally or undergoing fertility treatment, the period of time before you conceive gives you a window of opportunity to evaluate your nutrition and general lifestyle. Small changes to your diet can help you to optimise your ‘fertile’ ground.

Fertility is partnership

Very often fertility preparation is seen as the preserve of women. In fact, for over half the couples in the UK who experience subfertility (i.e. they are less than normally fertile), it is the result of problems on the male side.

If you and your partner know you want to conceive, you should both try to make some dietary changes three months ahead of that time. During these months, immature eggs, known as oocytes, mature enough to be released during ovulation and sperm cells develop before being ready for ejaculation. Eating a nutritious diet during this time greatly influences the quality and efficiency of this process and gives you an even greater opportunity to create a healthy pregnancy.

Making dietary changes and improving nutrient stores may also help to correct factors that may be affecting your ability to conceive, such as a low sperm count in men or hormonal imbalances during the menstrual cycle in women.

Eating to support your fertility journey

Eat protein with every meal
Protein provides the building blocks of the body and is especially important for hormone production and healthy cell development. Good sources of protein include free-range poultry, eggs, yoghurt, fish such as wild salmon and trout, lentils, nuts, seeds, quinoa and grass-fed red meats. If you are vegetarian, combining pulses and grains provides the optimum amount of vegetarian protein. High protein sources are ideal providers of iron and of the amino acids L-methionine and L-arginine and Co-enzyme Q10.

Eat healthy fats with every meal
Healthy fats are vitally important for health and fertility as they support hormone production and healthy cell formation. You will find them in avocado, linseed oil, nuts, seeds and fresh oily fish. However, limit oily fish to three portions a week because they may contain pollutants that could affect fertility if consumed in high amounts. These food sources are also excellent sources of vitamin E, vitamin D and important minerals, such as chromium and selenium.

Eat whole foods
Eat as close to nature as was intended by choosing whole grains such as brown rice, red rice, wild rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, rye and oats. These are also excellent sources of the B vitamin family, including B12, and minerals such as manganese, zinc and chromium.

Eat a rainbow every day
Eating a colourful variety of fruit and vegetables each day naturally increases your intake of important antioxidants and phytochemicals shown to support pre-conceptual health, such as beta-carotene from carrots, sweet potatoes and squashes.

Eat green, leafy vegetables
As well as being an excellent source of folate, green leafy vegetables provide a great source of fibre for healthy digestion, which helps to prevent hormonal imbalances. Steam them to retain their nutrients. Increase your intake by using them to make juices, soups and smoothies.

Foods to be mindful of

Sushi
This is a common source of trace metals, such as mercury, so eat in moderation, in line with the oily fish advice given above.

Sugar
Sugar robs vital nutrients from bodily stores and can activate a ‘fight or flight’ stress response. Sugar is not only found in the obvious foods, such as cakes, biscuits and pastries so read the labels on foods such as healthy-looking cereals and yoghurts. Look for hidden sugars with names such as maltose, dextrose, high fructose and corn syrup. Substitute sugar with healthier alternatives, such as small amounts of raw or manuka honey or agave syrup.

Trans fats
These fats have been shown to have a detrimental effect on many aspects of health. Foods rich in this type of fat include chips, fried foods, many ready meals, pre-packaged popcorn, biscuits, mayonnaise, margarines and many pre-prepared salad dressings. Eating a diet high in trans fats can reduce how well your body uses the group of essential fats called omega-3. In essence, it is advisable to remove or significantly reduce your intake of these damaged and damaging fats.

Adapted from Your pregnancy nutrition guide: what to eat when you’re pregnant by Henrietta Norton, published by Vermilion. For more information on Henrietta, visit www.wildnutrition.com

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