Evidence-based articles written by our team of Accredited Practising Dietitians and Nutritionists.
What are the Key Nutrients for Pregnancy and Fertility
Key nutrients for fertility and nutrition. Great low FODMAP options for those on the low FODMAP diet.
Jane Martin, Accredited Practising Dietitian
So, you’re trying to get pregnant or have recently found out the good news that your expecting? You may be overwhelmed with all the conflicting information out there telling you what you should be eating, what you can’t eat, and all the expensive pills and potions that you’re now meant to be consuming. Don’t worry, we’re about to set the record straight and separate the facts from the fiction so you don’t waste your money on expensive supplements you don’t need.
Key nutrients for fertility
In a recent study investigating the impact of diet on fertility, researchers found that for women trying to become pregnant naturally, the nutrients that were linked to having a positive effect on fertility were:
- Folic acid
- Vitamin B12
- Omega 3 fatty acids
- Healthy diets such as the Mediterranean diet
Food sources of these nutrients include dark green leafy vegetables, eggs, dairy, animal products, fish, nuts and seeds, and fortified bread and cereals.
Low FODMAP green leafy vegetables include:
100g of kale
100g of spinach
100g of lettuce
100g of cabbage
Low FODMAP nuts and seeds include:
30g of almonds
30g of walnuts
30g sunflower seeds
In this study, antioxidants, vitamin D, dairy products, caffeine, soy, and alcohol appeared to have little or no effect on fertility. Trans fats and ‘unhealthy diets’ (diets rich in red and processed meats, sweets, and sugary drinks) were found to have negative effects. In terms of men, studies have found similar results when investigating semen quality.
The take home message from this research is if you’re trying to get pregnant, eating a healthy diet is beneficial for both men and women. Taking a prenatal vitamin which includes folate and vitamin B12 is also recommended however, this is already recommended for women trying to conceive.
Key nutrients for pregnancy
The notion of ‘eating for two’ is common however, good nutrition in pregnancy is more about the quality of food eaten rather than the quantity. Yes, you may need to eat more of certain foods to meet the demands of pregnancy but you do not need to drastically increase the amount of food you eat as a whole.
During pregnancy, nutrient needs that increase include:
- Folic acid
- Vitamin D
Food sources of these nutrients include dark green leafy vegetables, fish, dairy and meat products, red meat, legumes, nuts and seeds, mushrooms, eggs, and fortified breads and cereals.
Ensure your diet is varied and includes adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables, breads and cereals, dairy foods, and lean meats, chicken, and fish. You do not necessarily need to eat more, but you do need to eat more variety. By doing this, you should be able to achieve the recommended intakes for various nutrients.
Some of these nutrients are needed in amounts which cannot be achieved through diet alone and supplementation is needed. For example, it is recommended to take a folate supplement for the first three months of pregnancy to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Some women may also need to supplement iodine, iron, and vitamin D for various reasons however, always speak with your GP first.
A multivitamin supplement may also be recommended for some groups of women including vegans and vegetarians, teenagers who have an inadequate food intake, and women with a history of substance abuse. It is important to always talk with your GP before taking any vitamin or mineral supplement.
You may be thinking, but what about calcium? Until 2006 it was recommended to increase calcium intake during this time however, the advice has since been revised. Although the developing baby has a high need for calcium during the last trimester of pregnancy, the mother’s increased capacity to absorb dietary calcium means there is no need for extra intake. The recommended dietary intake for pregnant and breastfeeding women is the same for non-pregnant women due to this increased absorption.
Pregnancy can be a difficult time to meet ideal nutrient recommendations due to many factors such as morning sickness and food aversions. If you are concerned that you are not getting adequate nutrition for pregnancy or fertility, always seek help from your GP or an Accredited Practicing Dietitian specializing in women’s health. They can assess your diet, order blood tests, prescribe supplements if needed, and work with you to create an individualized plan to assist you with your goals and needs.
Written by Jane Martin, Accredited Practising Dietitian