Zita West, a midwife and fertility expert, believes a good diet ‘forms the bedrock of getting a woman’s body baby-ready and a man making healthy sperm’. In her new book, Eat Yourself Pregnant: Essential Recipes for Boosting Your Fertility Naturally, she explains which foods can help with conception. Fascinated by the role nutrition takes in every couple’s ability to have a baby she came to the conclusion that micronutrients play a big role in getting pregnant – both naturally and through assisted conception – with deficiencies having significant effects on fertility for both men and women. When meeting a couple she investigates their digestion and gut health, toxicity, immunity, and how much their states of mind are affecting their bodies. But don’t worry this book does not eliminate bread, chocolate, cheese and dairy. It is not a faddy diet. The focus is on nourishing the body in a positive, sustainable way.
She explains that mood, weight and hormones can change rapidly according to where a woman is in her cycle. It is possible to support your body’s monthly shifts through your diet. Here are her rules for your cycle.
On the first day of your period when you may feel lethargic enjoy warm, nourishing foods and a diet rich in iron and vitamin C, as these nutrients help to replenish the iron that you lose with your period. Good sources of iron include lean red meat, pumpkin seeds, beans and pulses, dried apricots and raisins, shellfish and dark green leafy vegetables. For B-vitamins include whole grains, lamb, beef, poultry, shellfish, eggs, and dairy products, leafy green vegetables, yeast extract and nutritional yeast flakes. Most fruits and vegetables will provide good levels of vitamin C particularly citrus fruits, berries, kiwi fruit, leafy green vegetables and red pepper.
During phase two of your cycle oestrogen is on the rise as your body prepares for ovulation. This is usually a time when you’ll burst with energy. Foods rich in capsaicin, isoflavones and L-arginine (such as spicy foods, tofu and watermelon) encourage the body to make nitric oxide (NO). This compound helps to dilate your blood vessels, easing blood flow through your whole system, which is good news for your reproductive organs. During this phase, stock up on your B-vitamins, which are important for hormonal balance. B-vitamins also help with healthy cell division. Lecithin will help to keep your cell membranes healthy. Keep eating the vitamin-C-rich foods as this vitamin is thought to increase the amount of water in your cervical mucus, making it more plentiful. For healthy implantation of an egg, the immune system needs to be strong. For this reason, stock up on vitamin D. Exposing your skin to sunlight is the best way to get your body to manufacture this vitamin, but it is also present in salmon and sardines, and in shiitake mushrooms.
Next is the luteal phase of your cycle. The corpus luteum, that produces progesterone to thicken the womb lining, close the cervix and maintain a pregnancy, contains a high level of betacarotene. During this phase, try to include plenty of betacarotene-rich foods, including butternut squash, carrots, collards, kale, spinach, potato and mustard greens.
Lastly, in stage four, if no fertilisation has occurred, your hormone levels start to fall. During this phase you may begin to feel more lethargic again and crave sweet foods. Allow yourself the odd treat, but try to keep your blood sugar stable.
Finally do not forget that substituting foods containing fat with low-fat products, to avoid weight gain is a bad idea as these products often contain trans fats, sugar and sweeteners. Ovulation rates were 38 per cent better among women who used whole milk, a study found.
Wow some pretty amazing advice there. Happy fertile eating!