As we all know by now, food is super important for fertility, when trying to conceive. Therefore, we have once again turned to expert fertility nutritionist, Milena Mastroianni from Root and Leaf Nutrition, to hear about the top nutrient-dense foods that help fertility.
Over to Milena
www.rootandleafnutrition.com | @rootandleaf.nutrition
Nutrients do not exist in isolation. Multiple nutrients form powerful synergies when they are found together in food. That’s why, when it comes to pre-conception foods, there are some real stars, with formidable combinations of nutrients (minerals and vitamins) which are hard to ignore. Listed below are five of my favourite pre-conception foods which should be included in any pre-conception meal plan…
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There is a reason oysters have their reputation as an aphrodisiac. They are one of the highest sources of essential minerals like zinc, iron, selenium, copper, iodine, as well as B12, omega 3s and vitamin D. What really makes them so special for fertility is their high amount of zinc. This mineral is crucial for sexual reproduction for both men and women.
In Men – it assists healthy sperm formation, combined with selenium’s anti-oxidant properties.
In Women – it promotes the production of hormones including oestrogen and healthy testosterone levels (needed for libido). Selenium, iodine and iron are also crucial for women’s thyroid function, which is fundamental to achieving and carrying a successful pregnancy.
If you struggle to eat oysters raw, then steaming or grilling them is a good option. Canned oysters are just as nutrient-rich as fresh oysters, if finding a reputable source is hard.
Many people already know that for nutritional content, eggs are hard to beat. They are one of the primary sources of choline, which is mostly found in the egg yolk. Choline is an essential nutrient which supports a variety of processes during all stages of life: including foetal development, placental function and, just as much as folate, it helps prevent neural tube defects. Recent studies on choline show that, following typical and recommended eating patterns, it is quite difficult to reach the recommended minimum intake.
So, very regularly adding eggs to your diet is quite crucial when it comes to foods that help fertility. Eggs are also high in good quality proteins, B Vitamins especially B12, Omega 3s and carotenoids that are beneficial for egg health. Starting the day with a couple of eggs and greens is a great way to top up on choline and folate. More on this below.
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Green Leafy Vegetables
‘Eat your greens’ has never been a more of an appropriate statement when it comes to fertility. Green leafy vegetables are an important source of folate – think of the word ‘foliage’ AKA leaves. You’re probably aware that when trying to conceive, having adequate amounts of folate is crucial, as it is a very important component used during a process called ‘DNA methylation’. This occurs all the time throughout life but it’s extremely important during the first trimester of pregnancy, when DNA methylation or replication is ramped up because new cells of a growing life within you are being created. Folate is also important for blood production, which also increases significantly during the first trimester.
Having adequate stores of folate prior to conception becomes essential as these will be drawn upon enormously, especially in the fist ten weeks of pregnancy. The reason why folate is often supplemented, is that it is shown to be quite hard to absorb from food alone, but green leafy vegetables are also an important source of vitamin K1, Vitamin C, other B vitamins, carotenoids and other minerals such as potassium. One final note, greens can be quite highly sprayed with pesticides, so eating them organic if possible is even more important during preconception and pregnancy.
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Bone broths are wonderful sources of many amino-acids (Proteins’ building blocks), minerals, glycine and collagen. They are incredible tools for lower inflammation and improving gut health (a good thing for fertility). And since we are not only what we eat, we are also what we digest and absorb, it is important to think of our gut health as essential for our fertility as our hormonal health.
Glycine, which is very high in bone broths or stews cooked with meat on the bone, is needed for the synthesis of the foetus’s DNA and collagen as well as for the formation of the placenta and for protecting mum and baby from toxins and stress.
Bone broths are also an easy way of upping your protein levels during pregnancy, which sometimes are hard to reach as we transition more and more (for good reasons) towards a more plant-based diet. Bone broths can be easily incorporated into a fertility meal plan by using them as bases for soups, or using them as the cooking liquids for whole grains, such as rice and quinoa. Not only are they foods that help fertility, they will also add a good dose of flavour.
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Liver is often called Nature’s multivitamin. It’s an excellent source of phosphorous, iron, zinc, copper, B vitamins including B6 and B12, choline and folate as well as Vitamin A. It’s due to Vitamin A that liver has been the subject of controversy when it comes to pregnancy, dating back to a study in the 90s that maintained that high doses of synthetic vitamin A in supplements may cause birth defects. While it’s of course important to be cautious about Vitamin A sources during pregnancy especially in the first trimester, we now know that liver in its natural form does not have the same effect as synthetic vitamin A, because of its synergy with Vitamin K and Vitamin D which liver also contains.
In fact, liver features in many traditional cultures’ pre-conception diets and is eaten within the context of eating nose to tail. This means that its intake was proportional to the amount of meat available in the whole animal. Think of a (tiny) chicken liver being eaten in the context of having a whole chicken over the course of a week for example, which would be equivalent to a small amount of Vitamin A, but include many other important nutrients for preconception. It’s important to mention that Vitamin A plays an important role in the formation of lungs, immune function and eye development of babies, so having adequate stores in the preconception period can be beneficial. These stores are very frequently unmet, as shown by a 2020 Women’s Health research review in the UK.
Betacarotene, a carotenoid and plant precursor of the Vitamin A’s end product called retinol or retinoic acid, which is found in orange coloured fruit and vegetables, has not been associated with any risks of birth defects, and as we have seen above, it’s also important for egg health and the production of progesterone in the second phase of the menstrual cycle. Therefore, as concerns for Vitamin A are connected mostly with the first 60 days of gestation, consuming liver occasionally prior to ovulation can be considered a safer way of including this powerful food that helps fertility into a pre-conception diet.
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A final important note regarding supplementing a single ‘star’ nutrient mentioned above, is that the way these nutrients are found together in foods (as I alluded to in my introduction and throughout the article), is no coincidence. Many of these minerals and vitamins are co-factors to each other, meaning they aid each other in their absorption and metabolism in the body. So, starting with real whole foods that help fertility is always the best option. If that is not possible (due to sensitivities or other factors), then it’s important to work with a nutrition professional, who could guide you to the best way to supplement any potential deficiencies or nutrient gaps from your diet.
Contact Milena here for a consultation and an expert, individualised plan.