To increase fertility, try to incorporate more complex ("slow") carbs and limit highly processed ones. Your body digests refined carbs (like cookies, cakes, white bread, and white rice) quickly, and turns them into blood sugar. To drive down the blood-sugar spike, the pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream, and studies have found that high insulin levels appear to inhibit ovulation.
Complex carbs (those containing fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains) are digested slowly and have a more gradual effect on blood sugar and insulin. Barely refined grains are also superb sources of fertility-friendly B vitamins, vitamin E, and fiber. "Some of my favorites are buckwheat, which contains d-chiro-inositol, a compound that improves ovulation," Krieger says.
For some people, particularly those with hormonal disorders like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), cutting back on gluten may also be advised. "Gluten has been shown to create an inflammatory response in the body, which heightens C-reactive protein and sends signals that it's not an ideal time to conceive," Vitti says. "It makes implantation more difficult and is also known to inhibit ovulation." However, you'll want to talk to your doctor before making any major diet changes and have a plan for what your meals will consist of without gluten.
Compose a quarter of your plate with more complex carbs, like brown rice. It may also pay to break out of your rice and pasta rut and sample more diverse whole grains like amaranth, millet, and quinoa. They'll help keep you full longer and maintain healthy blood sugar levels, which is also important for fertility health.
Chicken, turkey, pork, and beef trimmed of excess fat are great sources of protein, zinc, and iron—all-important building blocks for a healthy pregnancy. Excess saturated fat found in animal protein, on the other hand, may be linked to fertility issues, according to one study on nutrition and fertility.
Protein sources from the sea can also be nutritious options. For instance, coldwater fish like salmon, canned light tuna, and sardines are excellent sources of DHA and omega-3 fatty acids; they also help develop the baby's nervous system and cut your risk of premature birth, so why not start pre-conception?
You can include these options a couple of times a week in a fertility diet without worrying about mercury levels, Krieger says. But it's best to avoid other varieties, such as shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel, which are known for having higher levels of mercury.
Eggs, too, are another potent protein source in a fertility diet. "They get a bad rap from cholesterol, but the yolk has excellent stores of protein and choline, a vitamin that helps develop brain function in babies," she says.
When picking foods that increase fertility, you can also opt for plant protein (from beans, nuts, seeds, and tofu). They come with healthy fats and are relatively low in calories, which can be helpful for pregnancy if weight loss has been recommended for you as a pre-conception step.
A study published in Nutrients found that the risk of ovulatory disorders is cut in half when 5% of your total calorie intake is derived from plant proteins. The Harvard Public Health study also found that infertility was 39% more likely in people with the highest intake of animal protein. Beans are super sources, as are nuts, seeds, and other legumes, such as lentils and chickpeas.
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