New year, new plan? Your pared-back fertility wellness toolkit (& the 80:20 rule to try)

Jessie Day, in partnership with TFP Fertility and Apples to Zinc Nutrition  |   29 Jan 2024

When you’re trying for a baby, and time starts ticking by, you’re guaranteed to see lots of advice around diet and nutrition. Fertility wellness is a huge, broad topic, however, and drilling down into the basic principles can be a challenge. 

From detoxes and specific eating plans to buzz-worthy superfoods, it can feel like there’s so much to wade through (and invest in), to get set with an optimised fertility diet. So, what are the basic principles to factor in? Where can we pare things back, focus our efforts and see real results? 

Women’s wellness and fertility

At the start of my own fertility journey, aged 30, I knew a fair bit about nutrition. What I didn’t appreciate was the specific areas of fertility wellness – hormonal health, micronutrient status, and egg quality, to name just a few – which could benefit from a few small tweaks to my daily food choices. 

And that’s just it – these principles aren’t about blowing a huge amount of cash on hard-to-find ingredients, or foods you just don’t enjoy. Fertility wellness is about adjusting your lifestyle to plug any core gaps, and emphasise the whole foods and food groups which can really pack a nutrient-dense punch. 

Expert nutritionist – and founder of Apples to Zinc Nutrition – Janet Padfield works hand-in-hand with UK-wide clinic network TFP Fertility to provide patients with up-to-the-minute support. Think advice and tips which work with everyday life and food budgets, backed by the latest research and lived experience. 

Plus, an 80:20 fertility diet foundation rule to go back to, whenever the wellness trends get ‘too much’. 

Here are Janet’s top 5 tips for streamlining your fertility nutrition focus, and prepping for success this year. Whether you’ve just started trying or are navigating a particular condition or symptom,  make this your starting point, and book in with TFP Fertility for integrated medical and nutrition support, all in one place.

Got questions about fertility nutrition? You can join us live on Wednesday 31st January over on our Instagram – we’ll be asking Janet a few of the top queries about eating for fertility, and chatting through some practical tips to try right now.

8020 rule diet how to calculate

What are the go-to foods and easy wins for someone starting out on a fertility-optimised diet?

There is no ‘one diet suits all’ approach to fertility, and our dietary needs are as unique as we are. That said, there are certain dietary factors that may help increase fertility treatment success, hormone balance and potentially help with both egg and sperm quality.

Stress is a key factor that is known to negatively impact fertility, but did you know that certain dietary and lifestyle factors are stressors to us too? A start-up ‘fertility-optimised diet’ would look mainly at reducing those food stressors and trying to increase or reduce body fat percentage to within a normal range. 

Food stressors are not limited to but include: 

  • foods high in sugar
  • ultra-processed foods
  • artificial sweeteners
  • a general high intake of animal products and/or low intake of plant foods 
  • not enough protein

A basic start-up eating plan doesn’t need to be fancy, expensive or include hard-to-get ingredients. It’s based on a Mediterranean-style diet, is suitable for both men and women, and might involve eating:

  • more vegetables (up to 5 x 80g portions daily)
  • two portion of fruit daily
  • protein at every meal (meat, fish, beans, pulses, natural yoghurt, cheese, nuts and seeds are all great options)
  • vegetarian or plant-based one or two days a week
  • whole-grain varieties of breads and pasta 
  • fewer sweet treats
  • switching a few of your teas/coffees to herbal teas or water
  • foods high in healthy fats every day (for example, oily fish, 25g of nuts or seeds, a drizzle of olive oil or half an avocado)
  • fewer takeaways and more meals cooked from scratch, at home 
  • limiting alcohol to just a few units a week
  • little to zero artificial sweeteners

On that sweet treats point, if you’re looking for inspo, try these chocolate pumpkin seed butter cups for a healthy fat and protein boost. 

Any tweaks or new ‘superstar’ foods to try?

The basic fertility-optimised diet is a great start, but tweaks and new additions can be supportive. Remember,

  • Variety is so important. Each and every food gives us a different set of nutrients, and therefore eating a broad range (especially fruits and vegetables) maximises the nutrients we consume. 

One great way to get variety with fruits and vegetables is to try and eat your own, personal rainbow each day. This means aiming to have something red, orange, yellow, green, purple and white – think red peppers, apricots, yellow courgettes, romaine lettuce, dark berries and alliums like onions and garlic, and you’re there!

  • Food quality helps, too. Organic foods often come with a lower pesticide residue and fewer antibiotics, if we’re talking about animal products.  There’s some evidence to suggest these and other toxins create something called oxidative stress in the body, and this is thought to link to impaired egg and sperm quality.  

So, washing fruits and vegetables well and buying fresh and frozen where possible is a good habit to get into, if you can, to nab the best quality nutrition possible. 

  • Avoiding ultra-processed foods (UPFs) is important, because these are a big stress on the body, and potentially damaging.  

These are foods that have added ingredients in them to make them last longer, look better or keep the costs down. Typically, UPFs are full of sugar, salt, preservatives, emulsifiers, stabilisers, trans fats, saturated fats and/or artificial sweeteners, and low in nutrients. 

Depending on the ingredients you see listed on the packaging, many ready meals, sliced breads, cereal bars, biscuits, jarred cooking sauces, breakfast cereals and crisps are examples of UPFs, and good to reduce in any healthy eating plan. 

  • Frying and cooking at high temperatures is likely to damage foods and reduce their nutrient content. Aim to oven cook, slow cook, steam and grill for the best outcome.
  • Look at when to eat.  A ‘grazing’ type of eating pattern – little and often – is actually quite a stress on the digestive system. A better rule of thumb is eating three meals and having a snack only if the time between meals is greater than five hours.

There’s no evidence that intermittent fasting is beneficial or damaging for fertility, so if you like that pattern, it comes down to personal choice. That said, fasting may help with weight management. So if losing a bit of weight is part of your fertility plan, it may be worth trialling a 12-14 hour overnight fast for a few weeks.

women's wellness and fertility

For age 35 and up, any nutrition specifics we should factor in?

A fertility-optimised diet is suitable at any age and there is no fundamental change needed as we age. That said, the older we get the more important protein becomes and the less we tolerate sugars, so that needs to be considered. 

When it comes to protein, we should be consuming around 0.8g of protein for every 1 kg of body weight, as a minimum. Proteins are essential nutrients for all elements of health – they break down into amino acids, which your body then uses to build and repair muscles, and to make hormones and enzymes. 

Those hormones and enzymes are then used in most of our bodily processes. If we don’t consume enough protein, the body pulls from its own muscle stores. And we want to avoid this, especially as we lose muscle mass naturally, as we age.

Ultimately, consistency with eating well is key. One of the things I see a lot in-clinic (book in with me and TFP Fertility here) is people eating healthily during the week and then having a ‘blow-out weekend’, which creates stress on the body and doesn’t help with progress. 

The best way to manage this as we age is to adopt a ‘foundation eating plan’, which works for us as individuals. This means that we eat in a way that serves our body 80-90 per cent of the time, allowing some flexibility. If eating three times a day then there are 21 eating occasions in a week. By adopting a rough 80:20 rule this means that you can have four meals/foods ‘off-plan’, and the remainder as your foundation for healthy eating. 

This helps a lot of people manage their eating in a better and more structured way.

Is it possible to increase our egg quantity, as well as quality?  

Females are born with 1 to 2 million potential egg cells in our ovaries. By puberty this number has diminished to less than 500,000.  Over a woman’s reproductive years only around 400 of those egg cells will fully mature and ovulate. 

As we age, the potential egg cell reserve falls and, as we are born with a finite number and our cells age at different rates, there’s unfortunately no way to increase egg quantity in the ovary.  

But, it’s important to remember that we may be able to work on the quality of those remaining. 

Note, the advice above is all based on generalised fertility optimisation. This might not be suitable for everyone, and those who have conditions such as PCOS or endometriosis may need more specialist nutrition support. To understand what might work for you I offer a free 30-minute phone consultation to assess needs, and discuss how I may be able to help.  

Finishing off your tool kit

Before you head off to stock the fridge with your rainbow of fruits and veg, and build out that 80:20 rule – we’re obsessed by the way – make sure you’ve ticked off these tips for further reading and action to take.

  • Find out more about integrated nutrition and expert medical fertility support and book a session with TFP Fertility today
  • Read up on the nutrition approach at TFP Fertility, and how it might fit into your new-year plan 
  • Check out Janet’s blog here – from setting intentions to winter wellness, hormone health and meal-planning, her tips are packed with ideas and real life-ready, practical support 

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