Fertility

Is a Vegan Diet Good if You’re Trying to Conceive? A Nutritionist Explains

Eloise Edington  |   25 Feb 2022


When you’re trying to conceive or going through fertility treatment, it’s important your body has all the vital nutrients it needs. Most of the nutrients that support fertility come from our diets but what if you avoid certain food and are trying to get pregnant?

If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, you may be wondering “is a vegan diet good for fertility?”

So, FHH asked fertility nutritionist Charlotte Grand from The Fertility Kitchen to share her expert advice on trying to conceive with a vegan or vegetarian diet. Optimising your diet is an important step toward IVF success and Charlotte’s 6-week course (starting 1st March) gives you all the tools you need to develop good lifestyle habits and improve nutrition to boost IVF outcomes.

Read on to learn more and veganism and fertility and to receive an exclusive discount on Charlotte’s 6-week fertility nutrition course.

Over to Charlotte

Plant-based and vegan diets are becoming increasingly popular for ethical, environmental or health reasons. However, there are several nutrients vital for fertility and healthy pregnancy that are either difficult or impossible to obtain in sufficient amounts from plants alone. These are:

  • preformed vitamin A (retinol)
  • vitamin B12
  • choline
  • DHA
  • glycine
  • vitamin K2
  • iron and
  • zinc

All of these nutrients are important for fertility and foetal development. Let’s look at each one in turn.

Preformed Vitamin A and Vitamin B12

Preformed vitamin A is an important nutrient for fertility as it is needed for sperm and egg cell development, fertilisation and foetal development. It is only found in animal foods such as meat, fish, poultry and dairy foods. While your body can convert beta-carotene (also known as provitamin A), found in orange fruits and vegetables, into vitamin A, conversion is inefficient for the amount of preformed vitamin A required for optimal fertility.

Vitamin B12 is vital for female fertility, sperm quality, foetal development and preventing miscarriage and is also only found in animal foods such as meat, fish, dairy and eggs. If you’re following a vegan diet, it’s important to take a prenatal supplement to ensure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs for fertility and pregnancy.

Choline

Choline is important for fertility and pregnancy. Specifically, choline supports placental function and has a similar role to folate in helping to prevent neural tube defects. The richest sources of choline are egg yolks and liver. Although some plant foods do contain choline (e.g. some cruciferous vegetables), the relative concentration is much less than the richest animal sources, making it difficult to meet your nutritional needs for optimum fertility. Egg-eaters have roughly double the intake of choline than non-egg-eaters. So, if you are avoiding eggs, you are unlikely to get enough choline.

DHA

DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid and is important for foetal brain development. The only decent plant source of DHA is algae. Your body can make DHA from another omega-3 fatty acid called ALA, found in plant foods such as chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts. However, the conversion process can be very inefficient, so ideally you would also get DHA from your diet. DHA is abundant in seafood, especially oily fish so if you’re trying to conceive or undergoing fertility treatment and avoiding fish, make sure you’re taking a quality omega-3 fertility supplement.

Glycine

Glycine is an amino acid and is considered conditionally essential for fertility and pregnancy. Our bodies can usually make enough glycine to meet our needs but under certain conditions, such as pregnancy, it becomes essential to boost glycine levels. This means that you must get it from your diet.

Glycine is needed for foetal DNA and collagen synthesis. Top food sources include bone broth, gelatine and collagen powders. The relative concentration of glycine in plant foods compared to animal foods is very low. Top plant foods include sesame seed flour, spirulina algae, pumpkin seeds, nori, watercress, beans and spinach. However, you are unlikely to get enough for optimal foetal DNA development.

Vitamin K2

Vitamin K2 is needed for early embryo development, it supports calcium use in the body and is important for strong bones for you and your baby during pregnancy and beyond. Vitamin K2 is only found in animal foods (such as liver, beef and chicken) and fermented plant foods. Natto is a rich plant source, but I’ve never met anyone who eats this! Natto is a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans and has a sticky texture and distinctive taste that has been likened to old Brie. Sauerkraut may also provide vitamin K2, however, it would be difficult to eat enough to meet your fertility needs and requirement during pregnancy. Your gut bacteria are also capable of synthesising vitamin K2 in small amounts, but this depends on optimal gut health.

Fertility Help Hub readers can claim an exclusive £30 discount off Charlotte’s 6-week Optimise IVF™ course (beginning 1st March).  Just use the code FHH when booking via this link – the offer is valid until 28th February.

Iron and Zinc

Although iron and zinc aren’t exclusively found in animal foods, the problem arises with absorption of these nutrients from plants.

There are two forms of dietary iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron, found only in animal foods such as red meat, poultry and seafood, is well absorbed; while non-heme iron, found in plants, is less well absorbed. Over 95 per cent of the iron in our bodies is in the form of heme iron.

Zinc is also found in both animal foods (red meat and seafood) and plants (nuts, seeds and legumes), and like iron, is less well absorbed from plants. It is difficult to obtain sufficient iron and zinc from plants alone so if you’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet, it’s essential to take an iron and zinc supplement for fertility, especially when trying to conceive.

The Bottom Line

If you choose to eat a vegan diet, supplements are necessary for you to meet your nutrient needs for optimal fertility and a healthy pregnancy. You’ll need to check how much of each nutrient is in your prenatal multivitamin and add in extras to plug the gaps. If you follow a vegan diet, it is worth working with a nutritionist to ensure that you are meeting the nutrient needs of both you and your baby.

If you’re vegan or vegetarian and trying to get pregnant, you might not want to change your diet so taking a prenatal supplement when TTC is important. Speak with a specialist fertility nutritionist like Charlotte and sign up to her 6-week course to optimise your diet for when you’re trying to conceive.

Grab a £30 discount using the code FHH when booking via this link.  The offer is valid until 28th February and the course starts on 1st March.

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