The benefits of a plant-based diet
While it’s not advisable to cut out entire food groups (such as animal protein, dairy or carbohydrates) while trying to conceive, there is evidence of the benefits of a plant-based diet for fertility. “Eating a well-balanced diet (rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables) enhanced with supplements that boost levels of all essential nutrients, is the best route to achieving good health and maximising your fertility,” says nutritionist Patrick Holford. In his latest book, Optimum Nutrition Before, During and After Pregnancy, co-authored with Susannah Lawson, Patrick gives the following guidelines:
- Eat regular sources of the key fertility nutrients – in particular, zinc (in nuts, rye and oats), B6 (in cauliflower, watercress, bananas and broccoli) and essential fats (in fish oils and unsalted seeds).
- Boost your intake of antioxidant nutrients – aim to eat at least five portions of different coloured fruits and vegetables a day, plus a handful of nuts and seeds.
- Supplement a good diet with a daily multivitamin and mineral formula.
- Reduce your intake of antinutrients, including alcohol, caffeine and refined foods made with sugar and white flour, and try to limit your use of industrial chemicals and pharmaceutical drugs.
From extensive research and case studies, Juliet Gellatley from vegan organisation VivaHealth also believes that one of the best ways to boost your fertility is to eat a highly nutritious diet that includes complex carbohydrates, fibre, protein, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. A balanced plant-based diet is packed with disease-busting, body- and brain-nurturing nutrients, and is ideal for boosting fertility and for a healthy pregnancy, she explains.
A diet that’s primarily focused on plant-based foods also lacks nasties you need to avoid, such as saturated animal fats, cholesterol, concentrated pesticides, dioxins and mercury that are often found in processed meats, some types of fish and dairy products. But rather than focusing on what you can’t eat, focus on what you can eat, and eat more of it. Find inspiration in cookbooks and experiment with different herbs, spices and flavour combinations. Try a new vegetable every other day and use grains in different ways. For example, quinoa is delicious as a breakfast porridge served with honey, cinnamon and almond milk.
Maintain a healthy weight
A study published in the journal Lancet suggests that soaring levels of obesity may have triggered an infertility crisis among women. This is because obesity is linked to fertility-related problems and menstrual disorders such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, explains Emma Cannon, complimentary fertility specialist and author of the Baby Making Bible. In her experience, one of the most effective diets for weight control is the glycaemic index (GI) diet, which focuses on the effects of certain foods on blood glucose levels. The aim is to keep blood glucose levels stable throughout the day to avoid energy dips and spikes, as well as cravings and overeating. Emma’s suggestions for a healthy fertility diet include foods with a low GI, such as:
- Porridge, rice, bran and multigrain breads
- Legumes, including beans and lentils
- Low GI fruits, such as apples, pears, berries, oranges and kiwi fruit.
When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight before, during and after pregnancy, Emma also believes that it’s important to address any underlying emotional issues, because those who work on their mental outlook and the way they view themselves have far more success battling weight issues than those who purely concentrate on diet.