IVF Babble

Eat a rainbow of fertility foods for egg and sperm health

By Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)

Consuming a whole-food balanced diet, without a doubt, aids fertility and a healthy pregnancy. When we speak of fertility, we are referring to the three primary elements that can influence it: The quality of the egg and ovulation, the quality of the sperm, and the uterine environment in which the baby will grow and thrive are the three main factors to consider. Nutrition can have a big impact on these, which is why it’s crucial to have a fertility or IVF diet plan for both men and women.

Many nutritional and lifestyle factors influence the health of eggs and sperm. The health of your eggs, ovaries, and sperm is influenced by what you eat over the 90-day cycle of an egg’s journey to ovulation and the sperm’s life cycle.

What exactly does ‘Eat the rainbow mean’?

Eating a diversity of colourful foods can be an easy way to get a complete range of the vitamins and minerals your body needs to thrive. ‘Eat the rainbow’ means quite simply, that the colour of your food can tell you a lot about its nutritional value, and eating a variety of colours is one sure method to get as many of those vitamins and minerals as possible (and eat a broad, diverse amount of food in the process).

Since not all foods are created equal, prioritise quality over quantity. Choose organic, eat in season, and eat food that is as close to nature as possible.

The vitamins and minerals that we consume form a colourful healthy balanced diet help to improve egg and sperm quality and contain antioxidants that protect against pollutants.

‘Eating the rainbow’ is a great metaphor to use here. Increasing your vitamin and antioxidant intake by eating a diverse range of fruits and vegetables across the colour spectrum is a solid approach to help minimize some of this potential harm. Women who had higher antioxidant levels throughout IVF rounds had higher success rates, according to research. Dark leafy greens, bright orange fruit and vegetables, blue, purple and red fruits and vegetables (beetroot, peppers, berries) seeds and nuts, legumes and pulses are particularly healthy. Antioxidants in studies also have shown to have a positive impact on Sperm Health. Eat the rainbow for Egg and Sperm Health!

What nutritional benefits are supplied by foods of various rainbow colours?

Red and pink

Berries such as strawberries and raspberries are full of anthocyanins which are thought to provide protection against some cancers, cardiovascular disease and also help to slow down the ageing process. They contain antioxidants and are rich in ellagic acid- this is thought to possess antibacterial and antiviral qualities. Red vegetables and fruit usually contain some amount of lycopene (tomatoes are an excellent source) which has protective benefits to the body.

In relation to fertility, there have been some studies conducted into the beneficial effects of lycopene on male fertility. Research has been carried out to examine the effect of the antioxidants in lycopene in helping to protect developing sperm from free radical damage and possible DNA damage. In women, recent research has indicated that lycopene may be useful in reducing the abnormal activity of cells and as a result may reduce the adhesion effects of endometriosis….further studies are required.

Examples of red/pink foods: tomatoes, peppers, melon, loganberries, raspberries strawberries, red currants, cranberries, pomegranates….

Yellow and orange

Beta carotene gives the orange spectrum foods it’s vibrant colour and is thought to help boost immunity, keep our heart healthy, fight against dementia and certain cancers. Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables are abundant in vitamins C and A.

Carotenoids are the main antioxidants found in orange vegetables and fruits. Carotenoids are important for healthy eyes, mucous membranes and skin. Yellow and orange foods also contain Lutein, which helps to maintain healthy vision.

In relation to fertility, beta-carotene (which the body converts into vitamin A) helps to produce the female sex hormones (oestrogen and progesterone). These hormones are important for ovulation and for the regulation of the menstrual cycle. Beta-carotene is the plant-based precursor to vitamin A. It helps to protect us from conditions related to oestrogen dominance, including breast cysts, heavy menstrual bleeding and ovarian cancer.

Examples of yellow/orange foods: citrus, squash, peppers, oranges, gourds, satsumas, apricots, carrots.

Green

Green fruits and veggies are high in vitamins K, B, and E. Green foods often contain Quercetin which can act as an anti-inflammatory.

Green foods also contain Lutein, which helps to maintain healthy vision. Leafy green vegetables such as kale are a good source of carotenoids which may help to prevent heart problems and reduce the risk of lung and breast cancer.

In relation to fertility, green vegetables are an excellent source of folate and iron. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate and is found in supplements. Folate is important as it helps to prevent neural tube defects.

Examples of green foods: Broccoli, kale, spinach avocados, asparagus, grapes, kiwi, apples, greengages, peas, beans.

Blue and purple

Blue and purple fruit and vegetables contain high amounts of anthocyanins which help keep the urinary tract healthy and also help protect our memory. Purple fruit and vegetables are also high in vitamins C and K.

Blackberries and blueberries contain ellagic acid (thought to possess antibacterial and antiviral qualities) and catechins which are thought to help reduce the risk of cancer.

Purple grapes contain reservatrol which is a flavonoid and is thought to help protect the heart and provide some protection against certain cancers.

In relation to fertility the antioxidants in blue and purple fruit and vegetables protect against cell damage and cell aging, so help to keep those reproductive cells at their peak by eating these healthy fruits and vegetables!

Examples of blue and purple foods are Blackberries, blueberries, grapes, blackcurrants, bilberries, beetroot.

Some tips to help you include lots of colour in your diet

When you’re writing your shopping list, add 2-3 new plant foods each week.

Keep a variety of colourful produce (berries, leafy greens, etc) in your freezer for easy juice/smoothie making.          

Make time to chop some veggies in the beginning of the week or have a few bags of frozen vegetables in the freezer. This makes it easy to grab a handful of chopped veggies for a soup, casserole or stir fry in the week.

Keep fruit in your kitchen or on your desk at work for easy access to it as a ‘snack’.

Batch cook so that you reach for healthy nutrient dense meals when in a rush rather than ‘fast food’.

Interesting reading:

Albert Salas-Huetos, Mònica Bulló, Jordi Salas-Salvadó, Dietary patterns, foods and nutrients in male fertility parameters and fecundability: a systematic review of observational studies, Human Reproduction Update, Volume 23, Issue 4, July-August 2017, Pages 371–389.

Agarwal, A., Aponte-Mellado, A., Premkumar, B.J., Shaman, A. and Gupta, S. (2012) The Effects of Oxidative Stress on Female Reproduction: A Review. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, 10, 49.

https://doi.org/10.1186/1477-7827-10-49

Lambrot, R., Xu, C., Saint-Phar, S. et al. Low paternal dietary folate alters the mouse sperm epigenome and is associated with negative pregnancy outcomes. Nat Commun 4, 2889 (2013).  HYPERLINK “https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms3889” https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms3889

Meldrum DR. Aging gonads, glands, and gametes: immutable or partially reversible changes? Fertil Steril. 2013 Jan;99(1):1-4. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2012.10.044. Epub 2012 Nov 17. PMID: 23164538.

Mendiola, J, et al. “A Low Intake of Antioxidant Nutrients is Associated with Poor Semen Quality of Patients Attending Fertility Clincs.” Fertility and Sterility (2010). 93(4): 1128-33.

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