There is increasing evidence that a Mediterranean-style diet reduces the risk of having difficulty becoming pregnant and may improve the chance of pregnancy using treatment.
What is a Mediterranean-style diet? Lots of vegetables, fruit and vegetable oils, fish, poultry and lower fat dairy products are typical. While the relationship between diet and fertitily is still being studied, this sort of diet is healthy.
Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day
Don’t panic about your meals needing to be perfectly balanced – a piece of fruit, some yoghurt or a couple of bits of toast are all better than stopping at a cafe or getting takeaways.
Choose lots of wholegrain and high-fibre carbohydrate foods – these give us most of our daily energy requirements. Unless you have Coeliac disease, you do not need gluten-free foods (which are often expensive, low in fibre, and higher in unhealthy fats and sugars).
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables
Most of our antioxidants and fibre come from fruit and vegetables, so start upping your intake. We recommend at least two handfuls of fruit and three handfuls of coloured vegetables per day.
- Organically grown fruit and vegetables are not nutritionally superior to regular ones – just ensure you always wash them thoroughly.
- Frozen vegetables are an excellent choice, and often much cheaper than buying fresh.
- Canned fruit and vegetables are also good, but aim for low sugar/low salt varieties.
- Choose plenty of colourful vegetables with main meals, as the vitamin C in these will help increase your iron absorption.
- Despite what most people think, fruit juice is not a great drink choice, and should be limited to one glass a day or less. It contains the same high level of sugar as regular soft drink, cordial, and fruit-flavoured drinks, and none of the fibre of actual fruit.
Focus on eating some protein-rich foods each day
Most New Zealanders eat plenty of protein, and it’s unlikely that you’ll need more while having fertility treatment. However, make sure you keep your intake up.
Red meat is the richest source of easily absorbable iron.
Contrary to popular belief, hormones are not permitted in NZ chicken!
If you’re vegetarian, make sure you consume a variety of legumes (such as chickpeas, beans and lentils), tofu/tempeh, nuts and seeds.
White fish is a great source of lean protein, and oily fish is a key source of healthy omega-3 fats.
You may have heard warnings about mercury in fish, but most fish and seafood varieties commonly eaten in NZ (including canned tuna) are safe at around 3-4 servings per week.
Keep your calcium intake up
Dairy products are our main source of calcium, with low-fat milk varieties such as calci-trim/trim/reduced fat (lite blue) milk higher in calcium and protein than standard (blue) milk.
If you are lactose intolerant or avoiding cow’s milk for any reason, the best substitute is fortified soy milk. Rice and oat milks are less nutritionally balanced.
Greek and plain yoghurt can be quite high in saturated (unhealthy) fat; choose reduced fat yoghurt instead.
Most cheese is high in saturated fat, and doesn’t contain as much calcium or protein as milk and yoghurt, so keep your cheese intake low.
Most lactose intolerant people will be able to eat regular yoghurt and cheese without issue.
Lower your saturated (unhealthy) fat intake
Most of the saturated fat in New Zealanders’ diets comes from meat fat, chicken skin, takeaways, pastry-based items, butter, high-fat dairy products and processed snack foods (e.g. baking, crisps and chocolate). To lower your saturated fat intake, try reducing your consumption of these types of foods.
Margarine is a healthier choice than butter, and alternative spreads such as avocado, hummus, relish, pickle and sauces are great substitutes for fatty spreads.
Unsaturated fats such as those found in nuts, seeds, avocado and oil are very good for us. Be warned though, they are very high in fat and will easily cause weight gain if portions aren’t kept small.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol
Coffee and alcohol are a big part of life in New Zealand, and making changes to your intake can be difficult.
Despite this, avoiding alcohol and limiting caffeine is important as these drinks have been shown to decrease fertility in both sexes in some studies. Many people wait until treatment before cutting back, but it is beneficial to start well in advance.
Common sources of caffeine are coffee, tea, green tea, cola and energy drinks.
Cocoa-containing food and drinks (chocolate, drinking chocolate) also contain caffeine but only a small amount.
Try using decaffeinated varieties of coffee, caffeine-free coffee substitutes, and herbal teas.
Water and low fat milk are the healthiest drinks.
Take folic acid supplements
There’s no need to take nutritional supplements during or prior to treatment – you will get adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals from a varied diet, and these are more easily absorbed from food than pills.
The exception is folic acid; women need to be taking 800mcg/day of folic acid for at least a month prior to fertility treatment and for the first three months of pregnancy. Some women need higher levels of folic acid – your doctor will advise you if you need more.
If you become pregnant, your doctor will also give you a 150mcg/day iodine supplement while pregnant and breastfeeding. You can choose between getting an 800mcg folic acid supplement and the Neurokare 150mcg iodine supplement on prescription from your doctor, or use ‘Elevit with Iodine’.
There is no evidence that omega-3 fish oil or B-vitamin supplements make a change to fertility status; aim to get these instead from oily fish and wholegrain carbohydrates.
Ensure your iron and selenium levels are up
Women with low iron should make specific dietary changes, and take a combined iron and vitamin C supplement.
Many New Zealanders also have a low selenium levels, so try eating small amounts of brazil nuts and sesame seeds to boost your intake, as well as including chicken, eggs and seafood in your diet.
Fertility Associates Dietician:
For a tailored nutritional programme to meet your fertility needs you can access our dietician Alice.
You're welcome to email Alice and ask her a question regarding your lifestyle and current dietary habits. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
Book an Appointment:
Our nutrition service is offered in our Auckland clinic, however as well as face-to-face consultations, Alice also offers phone or Skype consultations for people who cannot make it to the clinic.
You do not have to be a Fertility Associates patient to make an appointment to see Alice. To book a phone or Skype consultation, please click here.