Infertility is said to affect one in every six couples, and while couples cannot control all of the factors that may cause infertility, they can control their eating habits and lifestyle as these can have a significant impact on their ability to get pregnant.
Looking to start a family? The following tips are important steps to help you get ready for the healthiest pregnancy possible.
1. Maintain a healthy weight
For women, being underweight, overweight and even over-exercising may lead to infertility, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. For men, obesity is also associated with infertility due to lowered sperm count and motility, according to the National Infertility Association. Therefore, couples should maintain an optimal body weight to increase the chance of getting pregnant.
Diets favouring whole grains, fruits, vegetables, poultry, and seafood are associated with better fertility in women and better semen quality in men, according to a review published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2017.
Avoid going on fad diets, as those who take on restrictive diets for short periods of time often get fed up quickly, start over-eating, make poor food choices and regain the weight they lost. Fad diets can also deplete your body of the nutrients it needs for a healthy pregnancy. Consult a dietitian who can help you lose weight in a way that suits your lifestyle.
2. Get plenty of iron from plants
A diet rich in plant-based iron may reduce the risk of infertility, according to results from The Nurses' Health Study II. Plant foods that are rich in iron include lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, tofu, black sesame, cashew nuts, spinach, fortified cereals, and whole grains.
To enhance iron absorption from these foods, avoid drinking coffee, tea or milk with meals and add vitamin C from guava, orange, kiwi, lemon, or bell peppers to your meals to enhance iron absorption.
3. Go low GI
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of female infertility. It affects between 6% and 12% of women and appears to be more common among women who are overweight. Women with PCOS often don't get their menstrual periods, or only have them on occasion.
Because the eggs are not released, most women with PCOS have trouble getting pregnant. Research shows that weight loss of 5% is associated with improvement in amenorrhoea (absence of menstruation) for overweight women with PCOS.
Below are some healthy eating tips for women with PCOS:
- Choose high-fibre, low-glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates—at least half of all grains eaten should be whole grains such as whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, and brown rice
- Limit added sugars and refined grains such as sugary beverages, cakes, white bread and white rice
- Choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as avocados, olive oil, flaxseeds, walnuts, salmon, and sardines
- Limit saturated and trans fats such as butter, lard, stick margarine, shortening and partially hydrogenated oil.
4. Limit, or stop, drinking and smoking
Alcohol and smoking can damage the eggs and sperm, and reduce fertility in both males and females. Therefore, if you and your partner are serious about trying to start a family, you should consider avoiding alcoholic drinks and quitting smoking to increase the chance of pregnancy.
5. Increase your folic acid intake
Folic acid won’t boost your fertility, but taking folic acid regularly before becoming pregnant and during pregnancy helps prevent neural tube defects (malformations of the spine, skull, and brain) in babies.
Women who could become pregnant should take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily from supplements. In addition, choose foods that are rich in folic acid including asparagus, brussels sprouts, spinach, mustard greens, oranges, peanuts, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, liver, whole grains, and fortified breakfast cereals.