The human body is a highly complex organism composed of many different, yet interconnected, systems. Diet, of course, plays a crucial role in how well our bodies function, affecting everything from how our brains think to how smoothly our blood circulates, so it should come as little surprise to learn that the food we consume also has a pronounced impact on fertility.
If you’re trying to get pregnant, chances are you’ve heard of The Fertility Diet, a book based on a 2007 Harvard study that is widely considered to be the best guide on diet and fertility available today.
Unlike folklore, superfood trends and salesmen, The Fertility Diet doesn't recommend any questionable superfoods or fad diets. Rather, the book supports weight reduction approaches that have been carefully studied and proven effective. Essentially, it all goes back to the same old adage: eat well and your body will take care of the rest.
While infertility problems can stem from any number of issues, having both partners eating a healthy diet and staying at a healthy weight are great starting points. Some general rules of thumb for eating well include:
- Eat complex carbohydrates: Carbs that digest quickly, such as white bread, sugar, rice and potatoes, should be limited. Go for things that have a low glycemic load and offer a lot of fiber, like whole grains
- Eat healthy fats: Fats are necessary for a healthy diet, especially when trying to get pregnant. Healthy fats found in seafood, walnuts, and avocados are directly linked to a decrease in ovulation issues. Higher-fat dairy is better than low-fat dairy, too. Conversely, even 2g of trans fat can decrease fertility
- Eat a well-rounded diet: Supplements are great (multivitamins taken prior to conception are highly recommended!) but they can’t replace getting important vitamins and minerals from real foods like fruit and vegetables. Folic acid, found in eggs and dark leafy greens like spinach and kale, is especially important for conception
- Be protein-conscious: Plant-based proteins, which are rich in isoflavones, give you a head start over meat eaters, who should be limiting their consumption of red meat. Make sure to consume full proteins with all the amino acids you need and remember to take vitamin B12 supplements if you aren’t getting enough of it through fortified cereals, milk, nutritional yeast, or eggs
- Consume iron: Iron is one of those minerals that can make conception very difficult if it’s low in either partner. While plant sources are harder to absorb, many legumes, along with dark leafy greens, have it in abundance. Supplements can assist where diet can’t
How a Vegan or Vegetarian Diet Can Help Fertility
As mentioned earlier, a vegan or vegetarian diet gives you a head-start over meat-eaters by not eating red meat. You're also consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables, and alternative proteins, which means you’re more likely to get all of the complex vitamins and minerals you require.
Isoflavones, which are plant-based estrogens that have a high antioxidant activity, can help women looking to conceive with assisted reproductive technology. That being said, isoflavones found in soy can cause some irregularities in a woman’s body so, while soy is not a total no-no, try to regulate your soy consumption and consider switching up your non-dairy milks.
How a Vegan or Vegetarian Diet Can Hurt Fertility
You need to be conscientious about the foods you’re eating; certain important elements of a healthy diet are difficult to come by for vegetarians and vegans. Not doing so can be extremely detrimental to conception. Here are four top tips to ensure your diet is supporting your efforts to conceive.
- Diversify proteins: Grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes should make their way into your diet every day to ensure you're getting all the amino acids you need. Make sure you’re getting enough, too – a 150-pound woman needs approximately 61g of protein daily
- Get B12: While it’s an essential vitamin for optimal health, the options are limited for consuming B12 naturally through a vegan diet as is it not found in many vegetables and in no fruits. For Vegetarians, dairy can be a good way to get B12 during this time. Luckily, there are a large variety of B12 supplements on the market and multivitamins containing B12.
- Get Omega-3: This is a big one. While Omega 3 is most commonly found in fish, a vegan or vegetarian will have to look a bit harder to work it into their diet. Seek out DHA supplements if you aren’t getting enough of it in your diet
- Eat whole foods: Go organic when you can and eat whole foods as often as possible. Avoid processed snacks. Vegetarians and vegans need to be wary of excessive amounts of sugar and consuming trans fat as much as anyone else; just because a food is labelled vegan doesn’t mean it’s inherently healthy
Vegan and Vegetarian Foods to Avoid While Trying to Get Pregnant
- Junk food: Refined sugars, simple carbs, unhealthy fats – avoid them like the plague
- Unfermented soy: Fermented soy like tempeh and miso are great, but too much of the non-fermented stuff can mess with fertility
- Low-fat dairy: Your body needs fat and cholesterol. If you’re vegetarian, dairy products that have more fat generally have less sugar and more of the good stuff - just remember not to indulge too enthusiastically. Whenever diet is concerned moderation is always an important factor
Vegan and Vegetarian Foods to Eat in Abundance When Trying to Conceive
- Spinach: A food with lots of iron, folic acid, and vitamins and minerals in general
- Avocados: This fruit is packed with healthy fats, fiber, and can even help hormone regulation
- Nuts and Seeds: Some contain omega-3 while others have amino acids – either way they’re important to help supplement your protein intake
- Legumes. The other half of a solid vegetarian or vegan protein regimen, legumes contains a plethora of essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.