Your preconception health can have a huge impact on your fertility. And, your health at the time of conception will impact your child’s health. For these two reasons alone, optimizing health before getting pregnant is really important.
Ideally, you will want to start working on your preconception health about 6 months to a year prior to conception. For men, at least 3 months prior to conception is optimal.
When thinking about where to start, step #1 is to talk to your health care provider about your overall health. Have a full physical with labs. Since thyroid function, Vitamin D, iron and glucose levels can play a role in fertility, it’s important to know where you are starting from.
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Our main goals with nutrition are to use food and supplements to help build up nutrient stores, reduce inflammation, reduce oxidative stress and regulate hormones.
Choose Real, Whole Foods!
- Opt for nutrient dense, low glycemic foods
- Incorporate lots of colorful fruits and vegetables (organic when possible)
- Aim for ½ plate worth of colorful non-starchy vegetables and balance meals with adequate:
- High-quality protein (grass-fed, pasture raised meats when possible)
- Healthy fats (i.e. raw nuts and seeds, avocado, cold pressed olive oil)
- Nutrient dense, whole food carbohydrates (i.e. sweet potatoes, quinoa, whole fruit)
- Aim for 2-3 servings of omega-3 rich fish per week (i.e. wild salmon, sardines, herring)
- Consume 2 servings of full-fat dairy per day (grass-fed yogurt or kefir is best)- this has been shown to increase fertility
Limit or Avoid:
- Oxidized fats, industrial seed oils
- Highly processed foods in general
- Fast food
- Artificial sweeteners
- Caffeine (limit to 200mg per day)
Special Nutrients for Fertility
Include plenty of these key nutrients in your diet:
- Choline: needed for the production of cell membranes (you will be “making” trillions of cells!) and early brain development
- Selenium: needed for sperm production, thyroid function, DNA synthesis, cell division and protection from oxidative stress
- Folate: needed for ovulation and proper cell division; must have adequate stores at time of conception to help prevent neural tube defects
- Zinc: needed for production and proper function and quality of sperm, needed for proper cell division, DNA synthesis and hormone regulation in women
- Iron: an essential component of hemoglobin which transfers oxygen from the lungs to the tissues; needed for ovulation and cognitive development of baby in utero
- Vitamin B12: required for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function and DNA synthesis; deficiencies can reduce sperm quality and effect ovulation
For a list of food sources of each of these nutrients, check out this handout.
And don’t forget about Omega-3 fatty acids!
EPA and DHA are the two most beneficial omega-3 fatty acids with many beneficial functions in the body. They help increase overall fertility in men and women and help to regulate hormones, promote ovulation and reduce inflammation. DHA is also crucial for proper brain development.
Cold water fish like wild salmon, sardines and herring are great sources of EPA and DHA. Choosing low toxin fish is extremely important while pregnant.
- Choose wild salmon and sardines in water or olive oil the most.
- Avoid large deep-water fish like swordfish, ahi tuna and Chilean sea bass due to their likely high levels of mercury or other toxins.
- Also, avoid farmed salmon as it can contain high levels of toxins.
Check out EWG.org for more information on safe seafood.
Not all prenatal supplements are equal. There is NO regulation around what can be called a prenatal or what a prenatal needs to contain.
In my experience, most women do best with a high-quality prenatal and omega-3 supplement. Many women, but not all, may need additional Vitamin D and possibly additional iron. When thinking about supplements, it is ideal to talk with a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist who can help customize your supplement needs.
Paying attention to quality is also very important. Most top-quality prenatal vitamin/mineral supplements will contain the most absorbable forms of the nutrients and will contain the methylated form of folate instead of the synthetic form, folic acid.
Here are my top choices for the most commonly needed prenatal supplements:
- Seeking Health Optimal Prenatal Capsules or Protein Powder
- Nordic Naturals ProOmega 2000 or Ultimate Omega2x (at Whole Foods or Earth Fare)
- Thorne Iron Bisglycinate
- Thorne D/K2
*Remember to talk with a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist first. You may not need all of these or your special circumstances may require different supplements.
We know that inadequate sleep and chronic stress can impact overall health, but they both can also dramatically impact fertility.
- Prioritize sleep, aiming for 8 hours each night.
- Make sure you have tools in place to handle stress such as meditation, biofeedback, yoga, deep breathing or even play.
Exercise is another aspect of our lives that can have a positive impact for most of us. However, balance is the key:
- Regular exercise is crucial for overall health and can have an impact on fertility for men and women.
- Too much exercise can actually lower fertility, so start simple and incorporate a variety of cardio, strength training and flexibility activities.
Toxins in our everyday lives have been shown to reduce fertility and impact our overall health. The chemicals found in our food, food wrappers, personal care products, drinking water or the air at home can negatively impact chances of conceiving. Realistically, you can’t avoid them all so do the best you can to minimize your overall toxin exposure:
- Buy organic when possible.
- Buy grass fed, pasture raised, organic animal products whenever possible.
- Switch to “cleaner” personal care products and household cleaners.
- Limit use of plastics around food and don’t heat anything in plastic.
- Avoid plastic water bottles – use glass or stainless steel.
Check out EWG.org for more suggestions and information regarding brands to purchase.
Instant Pot Chinese Beef Stew
Makes 6 Servings
Adapted from: NomNomPaleo.com
This delicious stew doesn’t make for the prettiest blog photos, but trust me, you want to make this! Pair it with a simple green salad for a full meal.
- ¼ cup reduced sodium soy sauce
- Juice from ½ an orange
- ½ Tbsp rice vinegar
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp ginger powder
- 1 Tbsp avocado oil or cooking fat of choice
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 5 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 3½lbs grass fed beef chuck roast, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 4 dried shiitake mushrooms, rinsed
- 1lb Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1½ inch cubes
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch slices
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced (optional)
- Combine soy sauce, orange juice, rice vinegar, garlic powder and ginger powder in a small bowl and set aside.
- Turn on the Sauté function on your Instant Pot.
- When hot, add avocado oil and sliced onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are slightly softened.
- Stir in minced garlic and beef cubes.
- Plop in the dried shiitake mushrooms (no need to rehydrate them) and stir in the soy sauce mixture.
- Lock the Instant Pot lid and program it to cook under High Pressure for 35 minutes.
- When the stew is finished cooking, wait for the pressure to release naturally. (Impatient? After 15 minutes has elapsed, release the pressure manually.)
- If you are eating the stew right away, add the potatoes and carrots and program it to cook for 3 minutes under High Pressure. When it finishes cooking, release the pressure manually.
- Check that the root vegetables are fork tender and taste the stew to check the seasoning.
- Transfer the stew to a serving bowl and top with sliced scallions. Enjoy!