We caught up with expert nutritionist, Sandra Greenbank, to find out how to improve egg quality through nutrition. This fertility blog will provide you with expert advice and help, to benefit your fertility when trying to conceive.
Over to Sandra…
sandragreenbank.com | @Greenbank.Nutrition
It is now widely accepted that a healthy diet is fundamental for optimum health and well-being, as well as female fertility. Myths abound about foods that help fertility, with pineapple being hailed as a fertile icon. But what exactly constitutes a healthy diet for women who are trying to conceive?
A woman’s diet ultimately affects ovulation and egg health, two of the most important areas of female fertility to focus on, as well as the environment inside the womb, in which the baby will grow and thrive for the duration of the pregnancy. It takes three months for an egg to mature, ready for ovulation, so it is best to allow this time to prepare for a healthy conception.
The main building blocks of our diet are the proteins, fats and carbohydrates. It seems that the quality of these are very important when it comes to female fertility and increasing egg quality. The carbohydrates give us energy, while the proteins contribute the building blocks we need to building and repair. The fats also provide energy, as well as making a key part of the cell membrane in every cell in our body. A healthy cell membrane is important for a well functioning cell.
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The quality of our dietary proteins, fats and carbohydrates has an impact on female fertility. Studies show that replacing carbohydrates with animal protein may be detrimental to ovulation, however replacing carbohydrates with vegetable protein was found to have a protective effect. This is not to say that a vegan or vegetarian diet is the way to go, as those diets would be devoid of many crucial nutrients for fertility, however it is worth considering increasing vegetable sources of protein such as nuts, seeds, pulses and legumes, while limiting animal protein somewhat.
There are, however, no studies that look at the quality of this animal protein so it’s worth taking these studies with a pinch of salt. Conventionally reared animals are kept in confinement and fed a soya-based feed, given prophylactic antibiotics, and potentially have a very different effect on our biochemistry from those that are grass fed and pasture-raised without unnecessary antibiotics. It’s a good idea to choose organic and pasture-raised animal protein, as it will contain a more favourable fatty acid composition, lower levels of antibiotics and less pesticide build-up – all of which may individually have an impact on fertility.
Speaking of fats, just like every cell in the body, the female egg is also surrounded by a lipid membrane. This membrane needs to be supple in order for the sperm to be able to successfully penetrate it. The wrong types of dietary fats make our cell membranes rigid which is not a desirable situation. Choosing trans fats in the diet instead of monounsaturated has been shown to drastically increase the risk of infertility associated with ovulation and fertilisation problems. Trans fats come from pre-packaged and shelf-stable foods such as cake, cookies, margarine, chips, fried potatoes etc. Monounsaturated fats on the other hand are known to enhance fertility. Good sources of healthy monounsaturated fats include avocados, nuts, and olive oil.
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Several studies show that the type of carbohydrate consumed can make a significant difference, with one study showing a marked improvement in female fertility just by swapping from simple to complex carbohydrates. Always good to know when trying to conceive.
Simple carbohydrates are what you may hear a nutritionist refer to as the ‘sticky, fluffy, sweet’’ foods:
Complex carbohydrates are those that are more close to their original form:
Brown whole grain rice
The mechanism behind this is possibly due to the different effects that these types of carbohydrates have on blood sugar. The simple carbohydrates cause blood sugar levels to spike, which in turn creates raised inflammation in the body. The simple carbohydrates also tend to have a negative effect on hormones such as testosterone, which is associated with the ovulation problems in women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
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Aside from the main building blocks, the vitamins and minerals needed to build a healthy egg are many, but let’s highlight some of the main ones. The antioxidant nutrients are mostly talked about in relation to male fertility, however they are crucial for female fertility also. As we age, oxidative damage causes more and more problems for eggs. This is partly due to a reduced production of antioxidant enzymes in eggs from older women. Unfortunately, eggs from older women also produce more of the oxidising compounds, a combination which leads to poorer egg health as we age. However, the same scenario has also been found in younger women with unexplained infertility.
So how can we improve egg quality through nutrition?
Fortunately, it is thought that dietary antioxidants can help prevent or reverse some of this damage. Research shows that women with higher antioxidant levels during IVF cycles have greater IVF success rates. Some good sources of dietary antioxidants include the deeper coloured vegetables and berries, such as blueberries, beetroot, as well as nuts such as almonds and Brazil nuts. In reality the best policy is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables each day of a wide variety.
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These are worth including in the female fertility diet, as they can help support a healthy endometrium (womb lining) and progesterone production. The corpus luteum – Latin for ‘yellow body’ – produces progesterone, which is necessary for pregnancy to progress. A study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility in 2014 suggests that when women boost their beta-carotene intake, their chances of becoming pregnant seem to improve.
Some orange foods that help to provide Beta-carotene in the diet include:
Most women who are trying to conceive will also have heard that folate is an important ingredient in the fertility diet. Folate is a type of B vitamin which is heavily involved in energy and cell replication – two processes that are key to a healthy conception.
Foods rich in folate include:
The most important take-home message for anybody who is trying to navigate the fertility diet maze is this: It takes 12 months to make a baby, so what you eat in the 3 months prior to conception is arguably just as important as what you eat during pregnancy. Focus on eating foods as close to their natural state as possible. Eat mostly home cooked food, including a wide variety of plant foods every day. Would you eat it if you were pregnant already? If not, perhaps make a different choice.
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We realise how important your diet is when trying to conceive. Hopefully this fertility blog has given you a deeper understanding of just why this is, whilst offering you ideas of foods which help fertility, when trying to improve your eqq quality.