By Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
The importance preconceptionally of eating a healthy diet and living a healthy lifestyle is becoming more recognized and researched. Foods, as well as other lifestyle factors, can support fertility through their impact on your gut, blood flow, mind, hormone levels and overall health. Following a Mediterranean ‘diet plan’ is a good place to start in relation to preparing the body for conception and at least six months before hoping to conceive is ideal (or as soon as you can).
But can following a Mediterranean diet plan really support fertility? There is increasing evidence that it can, although further research is still required in certain areas.
It is important to recognize that there is no one ‘miracle’ fertility food, instead, there are nutrients that have been shown in studies to support reproductive health, such as folate, B6, B12, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and some antioxidants such as vitamin C, D and E, many of which are provided by the foods that comprise the Mediterranean ‘diet plan’.
What exactly is meant be a Mediterranean diet?
A Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional eating and living habits of people from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. A typical Mediterranean diet includes lots of vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds, herbs, cereals and cereal products. It also contains moderate amounts of dairy, eggs, fish, and some meat. It also includes consuming a good amount of healthy fats. Olive oil, which is a monounsaturated fat, is the healthy fat which is most commonly associated with the Mediterranean diet, but polyunsaturated fats are also present in nuts, seeds and oily fish.
The health benefits gained from following the Mediterranean type diet plan, seem to be acquired from the combination of all these different elements.
Look out for a spotlight each week on a ‘fab fertility food’ and some delicious recipes too!
Raspberries have been linked in studies to protecting sperm from oxidative stress. Raspberries contain a high level of Vitamin C which is a key nutrient in male fertility. They also contain magnesium, which is involved in the production of testosterone helping to give male fertility a further boost. Raspberries supply vital folate to women, which is essential at various key stages of female fertility and early embryo development. They are also packed full of vitamins and antioxidants which are important to egg health and to health in general. Raspberries support both male and female fertility as they help in the management of obesity. This is important as it is the key to balancing sex hormones. They have one of the lowest GI (Glycemic Index) of any fruit, meaning their sugar is released into the bloodstream slowly and so therefore Raspberries help to balance blood sugar levels, which is important when trying to conceive – so why not pop a handful in your smoothie, yoghurt or onto your porridge each day!
Did you know that eggs (the yolk!) contain a whole range of vitamins and many minerals except for vitamin C ? Eggs are low in calories and packed with nutrients and the cornerstone of a huge range of sweet and savoury dishes that are ideal for fuelling your body preconception. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked with female infertility. Also, those with PCOS usually have low vitamin D levels. How do you like you eggs for breakfast?
Walnuts are the only nut to contain omega 3 (apart from butternut)– linked in studies to improving sperm, motility, shape and quality. A great source of vitamin E – important for endometrial health. Also rich in magnesium the ‘happy mineral’ linked to improving sleep and reducing stress and anxiety. Magnesium also helps in producing progesterone and increasing blood supply to the uterus, which are both important for fertility.
Folate is abundant in this gorgeous vegetable, which is important as it has been linked to helping reduce birth defects and also ovulation problems. Asparagus is high in vitamin C and E, as well as zinc, manganese, and selenium, making it an important fertility food for both men and women looking to conceive. Excellent in salads or as a side dish to meat and seafood recipes and particularly lovely dipped into runny boiled eggs for breakfast or brunch.
Prawns, lobster, crabs, oysters, clams and mussels are rich in iron, zinc, magnesium and vitamin B12. Zinc is needed to maintain normal levels of the male sex hormone testosterone in the blood and to convert it into the female sex hormone oestrogen. Zinc is also critical in prostate function, sperm formation and sperm motility. As zinc is needed in cell division it plays an important role in foetal development. In women it is needed to ensure correct egg formation, regulate hormones and maintain follicular fluid.
Dimitrios Karayiannis, Meropi D Kontogianni, Christina Mendorou, Minas Mastrominas, Nikos Yiannakouris, Adherence to the Mediterranean diet and IVF success rate among non-obese women attempting fertility, Human Reproduction, Volume 33, Issue 3, March 2018, Pages 494–502.
Amini N, Shiravi A, Mirazi N, Hojati V, Abbasalipourkabir R (2021) Protective effects of the fruit extract of raspberry (Rubus fruticosus L.) on pituitary-gonadal axis and testicular histopathology in streptozotocin induced diabetic male rats. Avicenna J Phytomed. ;11(2):199-209.
Gaskins AJ, Chiu Y-H, Williams PL, et al. Association between serum folate and vitamin B-12 and outcomes of assisted reproductive technologies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015;102(4):943-950. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.112185.
Serapinas, Boreikaite, Bartkeviciute, Bandzeviciene R3, Silkunas M2, BartkevicieneThe importance of folate, vitamins B6 and B12 for the lowering of homocysteine concentrations for patients with recurrent pregnancy loss and MTHFR mutations. Reprod Toxicol. 2017 Sep;72:159-163. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2017.07.001. Epub 2017 Jul 6
Thomas E. Schmid et al (2012) Micro-nutrients intake is associated with improved sperm DNA quality in older men, Fertility and Sterility, Volume 98, Issue 5,Pages 1130-1137.e1,ISSN 0015-0282,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2012.07.1126.