On a vegan fertility diet? Here’s how to optimise for protein

Eloise Edington  |   20 Jun 2022

Words by Jessie Day 

Protein and fertility go hand in hand. If you’re eating vegan, filling your diet with a variety of protein-rich plant foods will be key in your TTC plan.

Expert fertility nutritionist Charlotte Grand, the genius behind The Fertility Kitchen, gives us the vegan fertility diet lowdown, from increased protein needs in pregnancy to the best protein powder for female fertility.

Why is protein important for fertility?

Protein is fundamental for optimal health and fertility. Proteins are comprised of amino acids, which provide the building blocks for your body, and those of your future baby.

Protein is particularly critical in the first and third trimesters of pregnancy. As well as being important for growing your baby, it allows your body to adapt to pregnancy.

It also provides the raw materials to make certain hormones, antibodies, enzymes, neurotransmitters, and haemoglobin (which delivers oxygen throughout your body, through your blood).

And while trying to conceive (TTC), protein is important for healthy hormones, your menstrual cycle, immune system, thyroid health and detoxification.

Amino acids explained

20 amino acids are used to build the proteins in your body, nine of which are considered ‘essential’.

The nine essential amino acids are:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

Your body can’t make these nine amino acids, so you’ll need to get them from the food you eat.

You can make the other 11 amino acids, but six of these are still considered ‘conditionally essential’, meaning the way they synthesise with your body can be limited under certain conditions. For example, glycine becomes essential in pregnancy – and you may need to make it a diet focus – because your metabolic need for it will be higher.

The remaining five amino acids are nutritionally dispensable, so you don’t need to worry about getting them from food. That said, for optimal health and fertility, it’s definitely preferable to eat a diet rich in all 20 amino acids.

Complete vs incomplete protein

Complete proteins deliver enough of all nine essential amino acids, and mostly come from animal foods (meat, poultry, eggs, fish, seafood and dairy), with a few exceptions.

Animal proteins also contain all twenty amino acids, so when you eat these foods your body doesn’t have to rely on a complex conversion process to get the protein it needs.

Most plant foods are incomplete proteins and will be missing at least one of the nine essential amino acids. The exceptions are the pseudo-grains amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa, which are complete.

Being vegan, protein and fertility – how to strike the right balance

So, that’s the science.

Moving to everyday life, if you follow a vegan diet, you’ll need to consciously eat a wide variety of plant foods at every meal. This will help ensure you’re getting the full spectrum of amino acids needed to make complete proteins.

Include a range of legumes, wholegrains or ‘pseudo grains’ (see above), nuts and seeds in your diet every day.

Here’s a good vegan fertility shopping list to start out with, optimised for your protein goals:

  • beans and legumes (aduki beans, black beans, borlotti beans, butter beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, mung beans, pinto beans, split lentils)
  • nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts)
  • seeds (chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds)
  • wholegrains and pseudo grains (amaranth, buckwheat, brown and wild rice, oats, quinoa)

Protein powder and fertility – what’s best on a vegan diet?

Vegan protein powders can be a powerful tool to help you meet your protein goals, often providing upwards of 10g per 20g serving.

Go for a great quality, organic one, while TTC or pregnant, check the ingredients and choose one which uses 100% plant protein, like a hemp protein option, avoiding unnecessary fillers and gums (they do creep in).

You can add your protein powder to your breakfast oats, bakes and, of course, all those delicious fertility smoothies.

Shop up and make our top picks – three fertility-boosting smoothies this week, with a scoop or two of your favourite protein powder. Plus, try out Charlotte’s Fertility Kitchen Hummus Three-Ways recipe, to smash your plant food protein goals.

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