HOW CAN YOU BOOST FERTILITY ON A PLANT BASED DIET
When should you start thinking about prenatal nutrition?
In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive in how to boost fertility on a plant based diet. It’s never too early to start thinking about optimising your diet for fertility. Research suggests that 3 months prior to falling pregnant is thw most important window as it takes 90 days for an egg to mature. Therefore, the 3 month lead up to conception is a key period to support egg health, optimise chances of conception and build up stores of essential nutrients such as folate, iron and iodine.
Can nutrition impact male fertility?
It takes two to conceive a baby and as such the male’s nutrition is just as important. Sperm maturation takes roughly 60-70 days to occur. The male partner’s nutrition in the 3 month lead up conception also plays a role.
Key nutrients that men need to consider include:
- Zinc: low zinc levels have been associated with infertility. Plant-based sources of zinc include pumpkin seeds, cashews, almonds, chickpeas and sundried tomatoes. Read more on zinc here
- Vitamin C: This nutrient acts as an antioxidant protecting the sperm from damage. Men with low levels of vitamin C have been found to have a higher likelihood of having sperm dysfunction.
- Folate: low folate levels are linked with poor quality sperm. Foods rich in folate include broccoli, brussel sprouts, peas, chickpeas and kidney beans.
- Vitamin E: As a powerful antioxidant this nutrient helps to protect sperm from damage known as oxidative stress. It also helps to improve the motility of sperm (how well they move) and increase sperm count. This nutrient is rich in sesame seeds, tahini, sunflower seeds, spinach, pumpkin, sunflower oil and peanuts.
- Selenium: Lower selenium levels have also been found in men with fertility issues. As a nutrient that is often lower on vegan diets, selenium is one to pay particular attention to. It is richest in brazil nuts, but can also be found in sunflower seeds and beans.
Do plant-based diets improve fertility?
Plant-based diets are often criticised as being insufficient to provide adequate nutrition for pregnancy. However, this is not the case. A well planned vegan diet can meet all the nutritional requirements for a healthy pregnancy.
Plant-based diets are often higher in antioxidant rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes and wholegrains. These are all fertility friendly foods and provide a wealth of health benefits for families trying to conceive
Are you planning to conceive in the next year? Get expert advice from our plant based pregnancy dietitian
There are some nutrients which can be harder to obtain on a plant-based diet. These include such as iron, zinc, iodine and omega-3s. This is especially relevant pre- and during pregnancy when nutrient requirements are increased.
Here are 5 top tips to improve your fertility whilst on a plant-based diet:
1: Stock up on dark green leafy veg
Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, rocket and silverbeet are rich in many essential pregnant micronutrients.
In particular, they are a great source of folate. This nutrient is vital in the early stages of pregnancy for foetal development and the prevention of neural tube defects.
It is recommended that couples looking to conceive aim to eat 1-2 serves of green leafy vegetables per day (1 serve = 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked).
This may look like tossing them into salads, wilting into pasta sauces/curries/casseroles or blending it into a smoothie.
As dietitians, we always promote a food-first approach which it comes to getting in your nutrients. However, due to the increased requirements for folate in early pregnancy, consuming a prenatal vitamin containing at least 400mcg folate per day is recommended.
The amount and type you may require can vary from person to person. It may be beneficial to consult our fertility dietitian to determine which supplement is best for you.
2: Increase foods rich in plant-based iron
Iron requirements almost double to 27mg/day when pregnant. Optimising iron stores before falling pregnant is helpful in helping to decrease the risk of becoming deficient during pregnancy.
Those following a plant-based diet require up to 180% more iron than omnivores. This is due to plant-based foods containing non-haem iron. This form is more difficult for the body to absorb, thus requiring a higher amount.
Adding an iron rich food at each meal and snack is essential both pre and during pregnancy.
Those following a plant-based diet require up to 180% more iron than omnivores.
Iron rich foods include:
- Soy products
- Wholegrains such as amaranth and oats
- Nuts including almonds and pistacios
- Seeds particularly pumpkin and hemp seeds
- White potato
- Leafy greens
- Fortified products such as weetbix
Consuming a food rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, strawberry, broccoli and lime juice can help boost absorption further. Add lemon juice to a bean-based salad or use a tomato base in a chickpea curry.
Due to the high requirements of iron during pregnancy, obtaining enough from food can often be difficult and an iron supplement may be necessary.
Our vegan fertility nutritionist can help guide you further on supplements and assist in developing a nutrition plan with you to boost your fertility on a plant based diet.
3: Eat plenty of wholegrains
Wholegrains are an important food to boost fertility. This category include foods such as oats, barley, brown rice, freekeh, buckwheat, bulgur, quinoa, wholegrain bread, flour and pasta. These foods are excellent sources fertility friendly nutrients such as zinc, iodine and iron. These micronutrients are vital during prenatal nutrition but can be more difficult to obtain on a vegan diet.
Research suggests women who eat more wholegrains have a greater chance of implantation compared to those who don’t. Zinc may also help to reduced the risk of preterm births.
To add more wholegrains into your diet, try:
- Swapping white bread for wholegrain varieties
- Having rolled oats as overnight oats or porridge for breakfast
- Adding freekah into a roasted vegetable salad
- Swapping white rice for brown rice or quinoa
4: Boost up your omega-3
Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role as an anti-inflammatory food for fertility.
They work by decreasing inflammation around reproductive organs which can help improve egg quality, sperm quality, chances of conception and maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
Good sources of plant-based omega-3s are flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts. These can be added into your morning muesli, made into a chia pudding, blended into smoothies or added to salads. An algae-based omega-3 supplement containing DHA and EPA may also be beneficial to consider.
Our vegan fertility dietitian can also provide you with a prenatal omega-3 test. This test can help assess your omega-3 status. Your dietitian can use this information to develop an individualised fertility diet plan to improve your levels.
5: Cut down on processed foods
Highly processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, sugary drinks, ready meals and fake meat alternatives are high in added sugars.
A diet high in added sugars has been linked to infertility in both men and women.
In particular, consuming one or more sugary drinks (e.g. soft drinks, energy drinks) per day has been linked to a 20% reduction in the change of conceiving.
Processed foods are also often high in saturated or ‘bad’ fats. These fats are associated with negative fertility and pregnancy outcomes.
There are many nutrients to consider when trying to boost fertility on a plant based diet. When trying to conceive, it is recommended you fill your diet with an abundance of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, wholegrains and legumes and start on a prenatal supplement regime which is right for you.
For more individualised advice on how you can optimise your plant-based diet for fertility you can book in to see our plant based fertility dietitian here.
This article was written by fertility dietitian Georgia D’Andrea.