Green leafy vegetables
Green leafy vegetables are rich in many beneficial compounds including antioxidants, nutrients that support healthy detoxification pathways, fibre that supports digestion and iron for healthy blood and energy levels. Even more relevant to pregnancy health is the presence of folates. Folate is a vitamin we are familiar with as being important for preventing neural tube defects, but when you look closely at the many roles folate plays in supporting healthy DNA, mood, detoxification and foetal development, it makes sense to consume sufficient amounts. Many processed cereals are fortified with folic acid (the synthetic form of folate), however your body doesn’t utilise this form as well as it does the natural forms, and therefore it’s a great idea to consume natural sources that also provide many other health-promoting compounds.
A healthy, balanced immune system has been found to be important for supporting fertility. Long-term inflammation is associated with reduced fertility, as are nutrient deficiencies. Prebiotic-rich foods (e.g. many high-fibre foods such as lentils, cruciferous vegetables, certain fruits like apples and bananas) promote the growth of health-promoting bacteria within the digestive tract, which in turn supports immune balance, gut health and subsequent nutritional status. As an unhealthy gut = poor absorption of nutrients.
Iodine rich food sources
Iodine deficiency has been a growing concern in Australia, leading to the fortification of flour. Natural sources of iodine include seaweed, oysters, cranberries, salmon, eggs, other seafood, and iodised salt. Iodine plays an essential role in supporting the functioning of your thyroid gland. Most people know the thyroid gland to play a role in maintaining metabolism, but a lesser known fact is that it has an intricate relationship with balance of other chemicals in our body, such as those involved with brain development, mood and hormones. Other factors that can interfere with healthy thyroid functioning include low selenium (so consume healthy amounts of foods rich in this trace mineral such as raw nuts (e.g. brazil nuts) and seeds, fish (e.g. tuna), eggs, chicken, spinach).
Healthy animal protein sources (e.g. eggs, lean meat) for B12 and choline
Protein provides the essential amino acids that the body utilises to create its own functioning proteins. These can include muscles, skin, and hair enzymes that allow chemical reactions to occur and antioxidant/detoxification compounds. Meat, poultry, fish and eggs are great sources of protein, while also being foods which provide the essential nutrient, vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is essential to support folate in doing its job, while also supporting healthy blood, energy and nervous system function. If you’re vegetarian, or especially if you’re vegan, you may need to consider a supplement to avoid deficiency.
Antioxidant rich foods
Bright and deep coloured fruits and vegetables are rich in a vast array of beneficial phytochemicals that provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits and also support normal, healthy detoxification pathways. These benefits result in your body functioning optimally so that hormone levels have a greater chance of being balanced to support fertility. High levels of inflammation due to an unhealthy diet may push sex hormones out of balance, while toxicity due to toxic exposure coupled with dysfunctional detoxification can interrupt hormone-producing organs.
Avoid excess caffeine and alcohol
Alcohol not only impacts your liver and contributes to inflammation and hormone imbalances, but also can lead to nutritional deficiencies that impact fertility (in both men and women). Therefore, it is best to have most days of the week alcohol-free and avoid consumption of more than three drinks in a day. Excessive caffeine consumption from lots of coffee or black tea can also stress the body out and result in imbalances. A couple of cups per day is OK for most people, but try to switch to natural herbal (not artificially flavoured) teas that nourish the body (e.g. white tea that is rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory ginger, calming chamomile).
Belinda Reynolds is a dietitian, nutritionist and Education Manager at BioCeuticals. Belinda Reynolds graduated with a Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2003. She has been involved in the complementary medicine industry for nearly 15 years. Outside of this Belinda has spent time working in hospitals and lectured at the Australasian College of Natural Therapies. Belinda’s greatest passion is assisting practitioners in developing their knowledge by presenting new research in the area of integrative medicine. Now a mother of two, pre- and postnatal, infant and child health have evolved as subjects particularly close to her heart.