Fertility nutrition is such a big part of trying to conceive. Having personally seen a nutritionist when I was on the IVF journey each time, I am a big advocate of general and holistic well-being to support natural and assisted reproductive. With this in mind, we caught up with our partner nutritionist, Kirsten Oddy to find out more about vegan fertility and offer some fertility nutrition help.
Over to Kirsten…
kirstenoddy.com | @kirstenoddynutrition
More than 250,000 people took part in ‘Veganuary’ last year – a campaign where partakers try a vegan diet for the first month of the new year – but could this popular movement be affecting fertility rates? If you find yourself facing fertility challenges you may want to consider your diet as a contributing factor, and veganism could be one of them.
But what is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet excludes all animal products including:
A vegan diet may also exclude the use of other animal-derived products such as leather, wool and some cosmetics, to name a few.
What about fertility as a vegan when trying to conceive?
A vegan diet is often filled with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, nuts, and legumes and while this does have a place in a fertility diet, there are some considerations. When you’re planning ahead for pregnancy, you’ll want to opt for a diet that is rich in specific nutrients to increase your chances of conception, optimise fetal development and meet your nutritional needs – unfortunately some of these key nutrients are only found in animal foods.
Without the addition of animal foods, you must be intentionally structuring your dietary choices to compensate. Luckily, with some careful consideration it’s easy to get the nutrients you need for optimal fertility health whilst also sticking to the principles of plant-based eating. You should also consider the above during the 2WW.
Related Article – 2WW – 7 Must Do’s to Survive Your Two Week Wait During IVF
How to optimise your vegan fertility diet
Now you’re aware there are some nutritional challenges of a vegan diet, remaining open to some small changes in your diet and supplementation are the key to successfully combining veganism with fertility and ultimately, pregnancy.
Let’s take a look at the top nutrients to consider:
1. Vitamin B12 – This is vital for reproductive health; for men it impacts sperm health and for women, it plays a role in the health of the endometrial lining and normal ovulation, however a whopping 86% of vegans are deficient in this important nutrient (1). As with folate, it plays a vital role in fetal development and reduces the risk of neural tube defects, which occurs very early in pregnancy. It has also been shown to positively affect birth weight from the third trimester (2). Unfortunately B12 is mostly only available from animal sources like red meat, poultry, dairy products and eggs and is not found naturally in plant-based foods.
2. Vegan B12 – Fortified foods such as dairy-free milk, cereals and supplementation
3. Iron – Maintaining ample iron stores is especially crucial when you’re trying to conceive, as your requirements for iron significantly increase to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Women who do not get sufficient amount of iron are at an increased risk of lack of ovulation and poor egg health, inhibiting pregnancy at a rate 60% higher than those with sufficient iron stores (3).
Checking your iron levels should be closely monitored prior to conception and throughout pregnancy, and as a vegan, supplementation may be required. You should also be on the lookout for signs of deficiency including fatigue, lack of energy, palpitations and pale skin (4).
There is iron in some plant foods but it is important to remember that in its non-heme form it is less bioavailable to the body. Making sure you also consume high vitamin C foods with non-heme iron will help to enhance absorption.
4. Vegan Iron – Spinach, sesame seeds and apricots, combined with Vitamin C: Peppers, tomatoes, citrus fruits and broccoli
5. Vitamin D – An important nutrient for fertility. It’s vital to cell growth, metabolic and hormone functions and has been associated with IVF outcomes (5). Dietary sources mainly include animal products like dairy, eggs and fish, however, Vitamin D is primarily known as the ‘sunlight’ vitamin and is synthesised through sun exposure on the skin. This means that it is difficult for anyone to get enough vitamin D from diet alone and most people in the UK are deficient in this vitamin throughout the winter months and the NHS recommends supplementation for all.
6. Vegan Vitamin D – Supplementation (from lichen) and sun exposure
7. Calcium – An important nutrient for fertility and throughout pregnancy, affecting sperm maturation and embryo development (7).
Whilst calcium is predominantly found in dairy sources, it is easy to consume enough of this nutrient through plant-based sources alone and simply requires some extra consideration to ensure you’re consuming enough.
Related Article – Vegan Recipes to Fuel Fertility – Our Top Picks
8. Vegan Calcium – Broccoli, nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, figs and whole grains
9. Omega 3 – Omega 3 essential fatty acids such as EPA and DHA are vital for both male and female fertility. Low DHA levels in particular, have been associated with infertility in both males and females and a study on preconception found that couples eating more seafood were pregnant sooner than those rarely eating seafood (8). Oily fish is the best source of omega 3 essential fatty acids and while vegans can consume some plant-based sources of omega 3 fats, they are not converted as efficiently into EPA and DHA, therefore supplementation should also be considered.
10. Vegan Omega 3 – Walnuts, flaxseeds and microalgae supplementation (9).
11. Iodine – Essential for thyroid function and low thyroid function during pregnancy can have devastating effects on infant development, so ensuring your levels are stable prior to conception is important. One study showed that up to 80% of vegans are deficient in iodine (10)) therefore it’s important that iodine levels – as well as thyroid hormones – are evaluated prior to trying to conceive and throughout pregnancy to minimise risks. Iodine is primarily found in seafood and dairy products but small amounts are also found in plant-based foods.
12. Vegan Iodine – Iodized salt and sea vegetables such as nori
There is no doubt about it – the vegan movement is increasing – 40% of all consumers are trying to include more vegan foods into every meal (11) and with this number steadily on the rise, it’s more important than ever to ensure you’re consuming the right nutrients. If you’re vegan and looking at fertility, it’s extremely important that you work with a nutritionist to ensure you meet your dietary needs and optimise your chances of a healthy conception.
Kirsten is offering our FHH Readers 10% off her nutritional programmes. Find out more and book here, quoting code ‘fertilityhelphub’.