While we’re used to hearing about the impact of alcohol and drugs on fertility, did you know that there are foods which can negatively impact your chances of conceiving – for both men and women?
Leading women’s health and fertility dietitian Stefanie Valakas is joining us on the blog to share her expertise.
This is a tough but incredibly common question women ask when they’re thinking about having a baby. And the more we research the impact of both women’s and men’s pre-pregnancy diets on their fertility, ability to conceive, and the health of their future baby, the more significant diet appears to be.
You’ve probably already know that during all stages of life, you should be aiming to eat a nutrias, balanced diet right in whole grains, lean proteins, and plenty of fruits and veggies. But here are six things you should aim to avoid on your trying to conceive journey:
1. Processed meats
Women who were eating too much processed meat were also 40% more likely to have ovulatory dysfunction–and if you can’t ovulate regularly, you have fewer chances of conceiving unassisted. Just one extra serving of processed meat each day reflected a 32% higher risk of issues with ovulation!
Processed red meats like bacon can include harmful chemicals such as nitrates, which are used to preserve these meats, keeping them fresher for longer. Not to mention, processed meats contain high amounts of trans fats (the “bad” fats you want to limit) and can have an inflammatory effect on your body. Plenty of studies have found eating too much of these can contribute to your risk of some cancers and other health complications. So, limiting these when trying to conceive seems like a no-brainer!
2. Excessive coffee
I know, I know, telling you to give up your morning coffee is a cardinal sin! But don’t worry, you don’t have to go to extreme lengths.
Caffeine has been found to interfere with estrogen production and other hormones essential for conception. This, in turn, can impact ovulation, the length of time a woman is fertile for, and other aspects of the menstrual cycle.
There’s some debate on whether people trying to conceive should stick to less than 200 or 300mg of caffeine per day – the equivalent to two or three cups of coffee. The good news is, there’s no need to go without your blessed morning coffee!
3. Excessive alcohol
While we all know you shouldn’t drink while pregnant, did you know that alcohol can reduce both female and male fertility? Even light drinking can affect your chances of falling pregnant.
For men, heavy drinking can lead to lower sex drive, impotence, poor sexual performance, and can also impact the quality of their sperm.
Research has shown that women who drink seven or more alcoholic drinks per week are more likely to experience fertility complications. Alcohol can affect ovulation and menstrual cycle regularity, as well as reproductive hormones such as estradiol and testosterone, making it difficult to conceive.
We’re still not certain how much alcohol is safe to drink when trying to conceive, so it’s recommended to avoid drinking altogether to make your chances as good as possible!
And sorry boys, it’s also been found that women whose partners abstain from drinking with them are more likely to be able to stay away from the booze. So that means you, too!
4. Mercury-rich fish
Mercury is an element with strong impacts on both male and female fertility and conception. Mercury can affect the shape, movement, quantity and quality of sperm, as well as impact male libido and ejaculation.
And yes, it gets worse… mercury can also influence the levels and function of estrogen and fertility in women. It can lead to conditions including polycystic ovary syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, premature menopause, and endometriosis.
Basically, it’s no good for anyone trying to conceive!
Women looking to conceive should limit the amount of mercury-rich fish they’re eating, such as shark, marlin and swordfish. The particular types of fish which tend to be high in mercury are those that live longer, or are predatory and therefore consume higher levels of mercury by eating other fish.
Stick to fish such as salmon, trout, anchovies, and sardines – rich in healthy fats and omega-3s.
5. Soft drinks and sodas
Drinking one or more sugar-sweetened soft drinks, energy drinks or sodas daily has been shown to lead to lower fertility for men and women… and significantly! These drinks have been linked to a 20% reduction in the average monthly chances of conception for both sexes.
These sugary drinks can cause increased insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and weight gain – all of which are linked to PCOS, a leading cause of infertility.
Feel the need to reach for soda? Try homemade fruit infused water and herbal tea instead!
6. Refined carbohydrates and sugars
By now, you’re probably picking up on the fact that a healthy diet = increased chances of conceiving. So, in line with that, refined carbohydrates and sugars also have a negative impact on your chances of conceiving a baby.
For men, a high intake of sugar and refined carbs has been linked to lower semen quality and increased infertility.
There’s a clear link between high sugar diets and lower fertility in women, too. Elevated levels of toxins found in processed foods (like refined carbs and sugars) can have a detrimental effect on the cells lining a woman’s womb, potentially preventing a successful pregnancy.
Basically, avoiding excessive amounts of sugar and eating more plant-based foods and whole grains is the way to go!
So when do I have to start watching my diet if I want to conceive?
Focusing on your diet for three months before you start trying to conceive is key – and that’s for both men and women! The phrase “it doesn’t happen overnight” has never been more accurate!
While a woman is born with all the eggs she’ll ever have in her lifetime, essentially making her diet choices all throughout life important, each egg takes 90 days to mature, so any eggs which start to mature today will be released in ovulation in about three months time.
Similarly, for men, sperm takes about three months to develop in the man’s body, making this three-month period equally critical!
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Stefanie Valakas is a leading women’s health and fertility dietitian and nutritionist in Australia. She specializes in preconception nutrition, and is passionate about helping couples who are trying to conceive optimize their diet–and chances of conceiving! She helps women facing PCOS, endometriosis, hypothalamic amenorrhoea, thyroid issues, and early menopause.