The start of a new year offers the chance to set intentions and goals for the months ahead. And for many people, it’s a milestone opportunity to prioritise their fertility, and optimise their chances of falling pregnant and starting a family. While this can be incredibly exciting, it can also feel overwhelming and scary. Where do you begin?!
Let’s take it back to basics. The first point of call for supporting your fertility and chances of conceiving is to consider the health of both the eggs and sperm required to create a healthy embryo. By implementing the following tips, you can improve the health of mum’s eggs and dad’s sperm, in order to give yourself the best chance of creating a viable embryo, which goes on to develop and grow into your future healthy bub! Egg and sperm health are so important, as they ultimately determine the health of your embryo and future baby, meaning they can either increase or decrease the risk of potential DNA abnormalities, future disease, and other health complications in your unborn bub. Let’s dive into some key nutrition strategies to assist you on your reproductive health journey in 2023.
Consider your dietary choices.
Your nutrition choices are critical in influencing your reproductive health. Interestingly, many of the foods to eat or avoid to support fertility affect the health of both eggs and sperm. So let’s start with what foods to avoid or limit, whether you’re looking to optimise egg or sperm health.
Foods to limit or avoid
1 – Processed meats
Studies have shown that high intakes of processed red meat has a negative impact on both male and female reproductive health. Particularly when it comes to sperm health, men in the highest quartile for consuming processed meats had 23% fewer healthy sperm with normal morphology, compared to the quartile who ate the least processed meats.
Similarly, women who ate processed meat regularly had an increased risk of ovulatory complications. The effect of processed meats on egg and sperm health is largely owing to the high amounts of nitrates they contain, which are harmful chemicals used to preserve the meats for longer periods of time. These processed meats also often contain trans fats, which create inflammation in the body and can interfere with healthy reproductive function if consumed excessively.
Instead of processed meats, consider switching your protein sources for things like chicken, fatty fish, tofu and legumes – but more on this to come!
2 – Fish high in mercury
We often hear how pregnant women should limit the amount of mercury-rich fish they consume, in order to prevent any health complications in their unborn child. However these varieties of seafood, such as swordfish and shark, can actually have a detrimental impact on the health of sperm too. Eating mercury-rich fish multiple times per week can impact the shape, movement, quality and number of sperm being produced in males, potentially interfering with your chances of conceiving.
Instead, consider choosing fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are incredibly beneficial for both egg and sperm health, and general reproductive function. Think salmon, anchovies, mackerel and sardines.
3 – Processed foods
Highly processed, sugary and refined foods can impair egg and sperm health and quality, and compromise your chances of conceiving. Often these foods are not very nutrient-dense, and contain large quantities of trans or saturated fats, refined sugars and excessive salt. Each of these can contribute to inflammation in the body, as well as weight gain and insulin resistance, which can impair sperm count and health, and egg quality. In fact, a study found that young men who increased their intakes of trans fats experienced proportionate decreases in sperm quality. Similarly, high intakes of sugar and refined carbohydrates has been found to reduce semen quality in men, and impair female fertility too, owing to the elevated levels of toxins caused by these foods, and the inflammation they create in the body.
High energy intake and saturated fat intake have been linked to decreases in both sperm and egg health parameters, and given the often high energy content of processed foods, they regularly end up replacing nutrient-dense whole foods in your diet, further exacerbating the damage being done to your fertility health. Ideally, instead of going all out on processed foods and refined sugary options, opt for whole foods rich in fibre, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.
Now we’ve covered some key foods to minimise to support egg and sperm health, let’s focus on the positives – the foods you should prioritise and include in abundance.
What to prioritise
4 – Increase Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fats are one of the most critical nutrients to prioritise for anyone looking to optimise egg and sperm health. These fatty acids play an essential role in the production of reproductive hormones and healthy eggs and sperm.
Women who consume adequate omega-3 fats regularly have been found to produce higher quality eggs, and experience a slowed ovarian ageing process, meaning their chances of conceiving are improved over the long-term. While it’s not entirely clear exactly how these fatty acids support the ovaries to produce better quality eggs, the ability of omega-3s to reduce inflammation in the body and prevent disease, insulin resistance and other health concerns may be a key contributing factor. Regardless, the evidence is conclusive: omega-3s are excellent for both egg health, and sperm health too.
Omega-3 fatty acids can improve both sperm motility and concentration, with polyunsaturated fats playing a key role in the development of the sperm membrane. In fact, studies have shown men who don’t eat enough polyunsaturated fatty acids (including omega-3s and -6s) are at risk of low sperm counts.
So consider prioritising omega-3s in your diet each day – including foods like oily fish, avocado, nuts and seeds, and extra virgin olive oil. Or, you may choose to opt for an omega-3 supplement under the guidance of your dietitian or health professional.
5 – Fruit and vegetables
Some of the most beneficial nutrients to support sperm and egg health include vitamin C, folate, fibre and antioxidants, which are found in abundance in fruit and vegetables. A diet rich in:
- Vitamin C & antioxidants have been linked to improved sperm health, given their ability to combat free radicals, which can cause damage to cells and reproductive health. Antioxidants including beta-carotene and lutein have been associated with increased sperm count.
- Folate – an essential nutrient involved in the synthesis of DNA, cell growth and the development of the nervous system in your growing baby.
6 – Eat enough
It’s important to maintain a healthy weight in order to support the health of both egg and sperm, which requires consuming adequate energy each day to meet your body’s individual needs. While we often focus on the damaging impact of eating too much and the potential this can have on impairing reproductive health, it’s just as concerning and harmful if you’re not eating enough. Without adequate food and energy intake, your body begins to conserve energy by “pausing” functions it deems less immediately “critical” – with one of the first to go being reproductive function. In women, often this presents as absent or irregular menstrual cycles and problems with ovulation, while men often experience sexual dysfunction and low energy levels and libido, as well as impaired sperm health.
It’s important to eat enough nutrient-dense whole foods to support the optimal functioning of your body, and therefore reproductive system, in order to optimise egg and sperm health too.
7 – Mediterranean diet
If you find all the “dos” and “don’ts” of preconception nutrition a little overwhelming, there’s a simple place to start: the Mediterranean diet. One of the major benefits of the Mediterranean diet is that it focuses on what you should include, rather than eliminate, making it a great option for anyone concerned with maintaining a positive relationship with food. It’s more of a lifestyle than a diet, emphasising an abundance of veggies and fruit, nuts and seeds, legumes, fish, olive oil and other healthy fats. It recommends a moderate intake of dairy, and limited consumption of red meat and processed meats. It suggests reducing high-sugar and processed foods and carbohydrates, as well as saturated and trans fats. So, in essence, it combines all the tips we’ve just discussed!
This way of eating is incredibly beneficial for anyone trying to conceive, or looking to improve their egg or sperm health. Not only do the high amounts of healthy fats and fatty acids significantly improve reproductive health, this dietary pattern is also incredibly rich in antioxidants and other key nutrients linked to fertility. The Mediterranean diet has anti-inflammatory effects, as well as benefits for weight management, satiety, insulin resistance, and general mental and physical health, making it a great starting point for anyone wanting to improve egg or sperm health.
There you have it, seven nutrition key factors to consider if you’re looking to support the health or your eggs or sperm. If you’re hoping to conceive in the near future, or simply wanting to improve your fertility and reproductive health, let 2023 be the year you take action!
Book in to work with me today to get a personalised plan to take control of your fertility and health!