In this article, we explore good nutrition for conception and give you some ideas about how to really optimise your nutritionally intake, greatly improving your chances of conceiving.
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘you are what you eat’? Well, there’s not many times when this is more true than when you’re trying to conceive. What you eat can greatly affect your health and well-being and can also affect your chances of conceiving.
Optimising Your Nutrition for Conception
There’s lots of things to think about when you’re trying to conceive and nutrition is key. It’s important to note that it can take up to three months for changes in your diet to have an affect so it’s worth thinking about this as soon as you consider the possibility of becoming pregnant.
Try to Avoid Alcohol Entirely
You probably already know there is no level of alcohol consumption considered safe for a fetus, but it’s also not great for you if you’re trying to get pregnant. In fact, The American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommends a very low intake of alcohol if you’re trying to get pregnant.
If you’re serious about getting pregnant, consider just removing alcohol intake entirely for a few months. The less your body needs to work at removing toxins from alcohol, the more energy it will have for optimising nutrition.
It also ensures you won’t unintentionally drink alcohol once you get pregnant.
Cut Down the Caffeine
Like alcohol, a small amount of caffeine probably won’t get in the way of becoming pregnant. Experts generally agree that less than 300 milligrams a day (or about two 250 ml mugs of coffee) is probably OK.
However, be mindful of the same rule above, caffeine can stop your body’s ability to absorb iron and calcium (both important in pregnancy) so to reach optimum nutrition, you may want to consider dropping it altogether while you’re trying to conceive.
Going cold turkey on caffeine can cause some nasty side effects though. These include headaches, shakes and irritability, so if you decide to cut down on caffeine, take it easy and cut down slowly. Try replacing caffeinated drinks with decaffeinated options one at a time, while you wean yourself off.
The Truth About Refined Carbs
Our bodies need carbohydrates to run but we don’t need loads of refined carbs such as white bread, pasta and white rice. While they’re pretty tasty, they don’t provide much in the way of nutrients for your body.
Again – cutting back on refined carbs won’t necessarily make it easier to become pregnant, but it has a role to play. The refining process strips grains of key nutrients including B vitamins and iron, both of which are important in conception.
Try replacing refined carbs with whole grains where possible. Think whole grain bread and whole grain cereals for breakfast.
Reducing refined carbs is particularly important if you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) (the most common cause of infertility in women). PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that can be made worse through spikes in insulin and eating refined carbs can be a major culprit in this.
Eat a Rainbow Everyday
Now that you’ve removed, or reduced, the intake of food and drink that prevents you from reaching optimum nutrition, it’s time to load up on some nutrient dense foods!
By eating a rainbow of food each day, you can make sure you’re getting a whole range of vitamins and minerals into your diet. You don’t need to research the different nutrient content of foods. Just eat a range of foods with different colours every day, and you’ll be seriously upping your nutrition intake.
Try gorgeously coloured food like blue blueberries; yellow capsicums; orange carrots; purple kumara; coloured chard (or silverbeet), yellow beans, red radishes and great green veg like broccoli, spinach and kale. Aim for a minimum of around 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of veggies a day.
Vitamins and Supplements
Although there’s nothing better than fresh fruit and veg, which are bursting with micronutrients and antioxidants, multivitamins can be a great way to add vitamins and minerals to your diet. Unless you have access to daily fresh, organic vegetables, even eating 2 cups of fruit and veg a day may not optimise your nutritional intake.
That’s because our modern soils are very depleted of nutritional content, and most vegetable growers use pesticide sprays, and bulk fertilisers. In New Zealand, for instance, our soils are very poor in Selenium, Iodine and Chromium. So you want to consider supplementing these.
There are a number of very good pregnancy-specific supplements on the market. Just be careful to compare prices and stick to brands you trust.
The Power of Fish
Fish really is a superfood as it contains omega-3 fatty acids, which is essential for fertility. Not only are omega-3 fatty acids important for you, they’re also important for your baby’s development and for your well-being in pregnancy. Many sources suggest that you should try and include cold water fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, or herring in your diet two or three times a week.
Do be careful where you source it from, though, as some fatty fish can be high in mercury. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises avoiding canned tuna as well as fresh or frozen swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, tuna steaks, shark, orange roughy, Spanish mackerel, marlin, and grouper because they have the highest mercury levels.
You can also get fish oil supplements from your health shop but be sure to talk to a healthcare provider about how much you should be taking.
Keeping Strong with Iron
One of the most common side effects of pregnancy is low iron so try loading up ahead of time!
If you don’t each much in the way of red meat, you can easily source iron supplements from a health shop or from your family doctor (or midwife once you become pregnant). However, do make sure that you check with your healthcare professional about the dose that you should be taking. You can also consider asking your family doctor for a preconception checkup to check your iron levels.
Folic Acid and Iodine
Folic Acid is an essential nutrient in the development of your baby’s neural tubes. Taking folic acid pre-pregnancy can reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Iodine is another essential nutrient in the formation of your baby’s brain, and should also be taken preconception.
Taking a pregnancy multivitamin and mineral supplement, such as Elevit with Iodine, can help build up the essential nutrients required and help cover the needs of both mother and baby throughout your entire pregnancy.
Get Protein Power
Protein is a critical part of a healthy diet but most people rely heavily on meat for their protein sources. Other protein sources such as dairy protein, beans, peas, soybeans or tofu, or nuts can boost fertility and help your chances of getting pregnant. They can also be better for you overall than meat.
Nutrition for conception is really not that difficult or different from general healthy eating. It’s all about making sure that your body has the optimal nutrients for conceiving your baby. Good luck as you prepare for pregnancy!
Now that you have a handle on nutrition in pregnancy, you’ll want to find out more about Good nutrition choices during pregnancy.