Having trouble getting pregnant? Experts now believe that following the right diet could be the single most important factor for successful conception.
A Spanish study recently found that men could boost their sperm counts by eating less red meat and fatty food, and more fruit and veg.
Meanwhile, research at Harvard University also found that women who made dietary changes reduced their risk of infertility by as much as 80%.
“The food choices you and your partner make can have a major effect on improving fertility,” agrees fertility expert Dr Zita West, whose client list includes actresses Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett and Davina McCall.
Here are the foods you – and your partner – need to eat...
How to do it:
The first step to better fertility is to ensure you have a balanced diet and don’t cut out any major food groups. “Make sure you both get adequate protein from lean meat and fish, essential fats from fish, nuts and seeds, wholemeal carbohydrates and lots fruit and veg,” says Zita.
Once you have the basics right you can then add the specific superfoods that researchers have found can boost egg and sperm production. But be patient: you will both need to stick to a diet plan for at least three months before you will know if it has had any effect.
Here’s what you should be eating...
Oily fish.This is the best source of essential fatty acids (EFAs), omega-3 and omega-6 oils – all of which are vital for sperm development. They also enhance sperm quality and mobility.* Eat: Salmon, mackerel and sardines are all types of oily fish. Men should eat between one and four portions a week.
Oysters.A great source of zinc, which is needed to make the outer layer and tail of the sperm. Nutritionists believe just 15mg a day can help repair sperm that have been damaged by chemicals absorbed from the environment.
* Eat: If you can’t stomach or afford oysters, you’ll find plenty of zinc in beans, nuts, seeds and eggs.
Garlic.This is a great source of selenium, an antioxidant, which helps maintain strong healthy sperm.* Eat: Add chopped garlic to stir-fries, pasta sauces and curries. Garlic breath may not be very romantic but it can be easily neutralised by chewing a little parsley afterwards.
Spinach.This and other leafy greens are rich in folate, which improves sperm production. A study by the University of California found men with high intakes of this nutrient had up to 30% healthier sperm.
* Eat: Steam spinach lightly with garlic and chilli or eat it raw in a healthy salad.
Avocados.A rich source of vitamin E, which improves the quality of sperm. Avocados are also an excellent way to absorb unsaturated fats, which are crucial for healthy hormone function.
* Eat: Make your own guacamole as a dip for carrot sticks. Scoop flesh out of a couple of avocados and mash it up, adding a little garlic and lemon juice.
Full-fat dairy. A fertility study by Harvard University found women who eat at least one serving of full-fat dairy a day reduce their risk of infertility by more than a quarter. It’s thought that the fat in dairy helps improve ovarian function.
* Eat: Consider changing low-fat dairy foods for full-fat while you are in the process of trying for a baby. A glass of milk a day is plenty.
Water. If you don’t drink enough water the reproductive system will lose out as the body ensures that the most vital organs receive the water that they need first.Water is needed for plump egg follicles and a strong blood supply to the womb lining. If you’re dehydrated, your cervical fluid (the stuff that helps the sperm find the egg) also becomes sluggish.
* Drink: Aim to have about eight glasses per day. Try mixing water with fruit juice or a squirt of lemon to liven it up.
Orange fruit and vegetables. Peaches, apricots, carrots and mangoes all contain beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A and which helps to produce the female sex hormones important for ovulation.
* Eat: Start the day with a mango and peach smoothie, and have a bag of chopped carrots to snack on at work.
Chicken.Getting enough protein is vital for egg production. Meat is the best source of protein but go for chicken rather than red meat – as it is much lower in fat.
* Eat: Women need about 45g of protein a day but don’t have more than this. As Zita West warns: “High-protein diets aren’t good in the lead-up to pregnancy, as there’s evidence that ammonia, a by-product of excessive protein, may interfere with embryo implantation.”
Oily fish, nuts and seeds.These are all extremely rich in essential fatty acids, which are crucial for healthy ovulation. According to Zita, eight out of 10 women are currently deficient in EFAs.
* Eat: You need to eat about 30g of nuts and seeds a day – enjoy them as a snack, sprinkle them on your cereal or mix into a healthy salad. Also try to eat about 300g – or roughly two portions – of oily fish a week.