The phrase 'fertility diet' is a little misleading, in that there is no set, specific way of eating to follow, that will maximise your chances of conception. At the same time, it is true that incorporating certain key nutrients into your meals has been shown to have a positive impact on female fertility markers.
When it comes to what you eat and baby-making, here, from registered dietician Laura Tilt, is precisely what you need to know.
Is there any such thing as a 'fertility diet'?
Type ‘fertility diet’ into Google and it’ll duly ping back 160 million results. At first scroll, the idea that what you consume can help you conceive seems legit.
And yet, the science isn’t so sure. Last year, researchers from Harvard Medical School concluded that some foods previously considered bona fide fertility boosters actually have no effect on your chances of conception. Oh. As with most nutrition concepts, early advice around diet and fertility stems from animal studies.
Research in mice linking galactose (a naturally occurring sugar found in milk) with decreased ovulation raised concerns around the safety of dairy products.
Meanwhile, soya has been labelled a fertility no-no, too, thanks to the harmful effects of genistein (a plant oestrogen found in soya) on the reproductive systems of sheep. But we aren’t sheep, and this type of data – as helpful as it may seem – can be misleading.
Helpfully, research around diet and human fertility has expanded over the past decade, and in the aforementioned Harvard review, study authors analysed all of the available literature to provide an up-to-date picture about the dietary patterns that benefit conception.
Do any foods help with fertility?
Some key nutrients have been shown to have a positive impact on fertility markers. Dose up on the below.
The B vitamin known to protect against neural tube defects that is now being added to all UK flour was indeed associated with numerous markers of fertility and a lower risk of miscarriage at the recommended dose. (If you want to get pregnant, most women are advised to take a 400mcg supplement every day says baby loss charity, Tommy's.)
When it comes to food, you can find small amounts of folate (the name for natural folic acid, as opposed to manmade) in:
Leafy green vegetables, like cabbage, kale, spring greens and spinach
You can find these in:
Fatty fish, such as mackerel, anchovies and sardines
Algae (which you can easily find in supplement form)
Focus your diet on:
Overall, a diet abundant in the below has been shown to support your fertility markers.
But despite promising effects in animals, the authors found no evidence that taking antioxidants or vitamin D supplements can help you conceive, providing you’re not deficient.
Should I swerve any foods, for my fertility?
So, what should you avoid? The below have all been linked with a reduced chance of conception.
Trans fats (used for frying and to extend shelf life in biscuits)
Red or processed meats
In a 2018 study published in the journal Human Reproduction looking at the pre-conception diets of more than 5,600 women, those with lower intakes of fruit and higher intakes of fast food took longer to fall pregnant.
The best fertility advice is the stuff you’ll already know, and a healthy balanced diet is just one (albeit crucial) piece of the puzzle.
Team it with stress-relieving activities and regular exercise – the latter has been proven to increase the odds of conception – to maximise your chances.
Oh, and having sex helps, too.
Should I cut out dairy, for my fertility?
As for ditching dairy and swerving soya in a bid to make a baby? Quality evidence is lacking. The largest study to date found no relationship between total dairy intake and risk of infertility, and human studies have failed to find evidence that soya products harm fertility in women.
In fact, in couples undergoing IVF, soya could actually be helpful, according to a separate Harvard study. Perhaps the most surprising thing to come out of the large-scale Harvard review was that alcohol and caffeine – probably the first things you’d ditch if you started trying today – were found to be less impactful than previously thought.
While there are still concerns about the effects of alcohol and caffeine during pregnancy, whether they affect your ability to conceive remains to be seen.
Laura is a registered dietician and the founder of tiltnutrition.com
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