Can a vegetarian diet affect fertility and pregnancy?
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If you're a vegetarian and you're trying to get pregnant, you might be concerned about whether your plant-based, meat-free diet is affecting your chances of conception. But should you be concerned?
While a veggie diet can certainly be a healthy one, it's important to be mindful of what you choose to eat, especially if you're trying to get pregnant. We speak to Sophie Medlin, Registered Dietitian and director of City Dietitians about vegetarianism, fertility and pregnancy:
Does vegetarianism affect fertility?
Overall, being a vegetarian shouldn't impact your chances of being able to conceive. "In general," says Medlin, "a well-balanced vegetarian diet that still contains eggs and dairy products can provide almost all the nutrients we need to optimise fertility."
That means that if you're eating enough variety, including lots of dairy, whole-grains, fruits and vegetables, you do not need to worry about your vegetarian diet negatively impacting your fertility. Having said that, there are ways to improve your chances of getting pregnant as a vegetarian.
Can a vegetarian diet benefit fertility?
Generally, a vegetarian diet is a healthy one - and a healthy diet is one lifestyle factor which comes up time and time again when discussing how to increase your chances of getting pregnant.
"Vegetarians generally include more vegetables, nuts and pulses and less saturated fat and salt than an average omnivorous diet," Medlin explains. "However, the important thing to remember about the health benefits of a vegetarian diet is that we think it has far more to do with the addition of more fruit and vegetables, nuts and pulses than the act of removing meat and fish."
"If a vegetarian diet is full of processed food, low in fruit and vegetables and low in protein, it will affect fertility in the same way that any poor quality diet would," Medlin adds.
Are there any potential risks?
Generally, if you're eating a healthy vegetarian diet, it doesn't carry risk. However, "intakes of vitamin D, B vitamins, iron and essential fatty acids can be lower in a vegetarian diet," says Medlin. "The best sources of essential fatty acids for brain development come from fish or algae oil so supplementation is recommended."
"Vegetarian iron sources are more difficult for our bodies to access but having them with vitamin C really helps," Medlin adds, "so make sure you have a glass of juice or plenty of fruit and vegetables with sources of iron."
How to have a healthy vegetarian pregnancy
When you do become pregnant, it's important to maintain a healthy diet throughout your pregnancy so that both mum and baby are healthy.
"Make sure you include plenty of fruit and vegetables, high quality protein (eggs, dairy or soya), pulses and nuts," says Medlin. "Consider supplementing with a pregnancy focused multivitamin and an algae oil supplement."
"Ensuring you are getting plenty of food that is fortified with B12 or eating extra dairy and eggs during pregnancy is important," Medlin adds.
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