Clients often ask me if there are any particular foods that they should eat if they want to conceive soon. My answer is generally that it’s not so much about concentrating on a few specific superfoods, but that it is about eating a varied wholefoods diet. I probably sound like a broken record, because isn’t this exactly what I said when I talked about micronutrients? Yes, it is and for good reason. To function optimally, the body needs a wide range of nutrients. Unlike a car, we don’t just need one thing – petrol (or electricity) – to keep us going. Sure, sometimes we need/want a quick energy boost (hello, 3pm muffin!) but if we only live off those foods, we won’t function all that well after a while, and our bodies are certainly not in the best state to procreate! In addition, if you haven’t focused much on a wholefoods diet in the years, months prior to conceiving, it’s highly likely that your nutrient levels – those micronutrients that I talked about the other day – are borderline or below when you are trying to fall pregnant. If you do fall pregnant in this situation, it’s pretty much guaranteed that those levels will fall even further in the first trimester and this can potentially harm the foetus. And let’s not forget, you are likely to feel pretty tired and exhausted. So what should you do?

There is not one approach that will absolutely suit everybody. However, there are some basic principles that everyone should follow:

  • Eat more vegetables

Yes, of course I would say that, I’m a nutritionist after all! However, I don’t just say it because I want to be a pain, but I say this because they are little powerhouses of nutrients. In the preconception phase we want to focus on green leafy vegetables as they contain folate, magnesium, vitamins B, C and K and beta-carotene (to name a few). Do eat other veggies too, just make sure you include plenty of spinach, kale, silverbeet, rocket, lettuce, parsley, watercress etc. Smoothies can be a great way to include some greens or add some to an omelette. In total, aim for at least 3 cups of veggies a day. There are a lots of ways to get more veggies in and my upcoming program will have lots of suggestions and recipes!

  • Eat some fruit every day

Fruit is another great source of micronutrients and antioxidants, so try and have about 2 pieces every day. Whilst berries, especially blueberries, are amazing, because of their nutrient content, other fruit is very beneficial too. Go for variety and eat seasonally, which will also help to keep the price down. If you do eat a lot of berries, try to either buy fresh organic ones or frozen organic ones, as non-organic berries are heavily sprayed.

  • Drink water (and avoid alcohol)

We have all heard this before but water really is essential for the body, yet so many people are constantly dehydrated. People often mistake the feeling of thirst for hunger, so if you find yourself frequently reaching for food during the day, try and have a glass of water first (or a cup of herbal tea), and you might see that you are actually ok and don’t need a snack. Do stay away from bottled water, especially if it comes in a plastic bottle. Harmful chemicals can leach from these bottles and contaminate your water. Instead, buy a stainless steel or glass water bottle, and fill it up at home with ideally filtered water (even a Britta filter can be a good start).

How much? About 30ml per kg of body weight, so if you weigh 70kg you would need about 2l a day, and a little mor if you have done some rigorous exercise or it’s been very warm.

And yes, if you are planning on conceiving in the next 3-6 months, you (and that includes the male) should try to avoid all alcohol….I know that for many this is not what they want to hear, but it really is very important. Alcohol consumption does reduce your chances of getting and staying[1] pregnant because it can impair ovulation, fertilisation and implantation, and in males it reduces both testosterone and sperm production[2]. It can also impact your child’s brain development[3]. So avoid it for at least 3 months prior to conception and then of course throughout pregnancy as well.

  • Eat plenty of good fats

I think there are still plenty of people who are afraid of fat. I certainly avoided fat for a long time (which didn’t help my fertility journey!) and stuck to a mainly low-fat diet. Low-fat products don’t serve your body at all – just have a look at the ingredients and you will notice that they often contain high amounts of sugar (to make them tasty), not to mention lots of chemicals that you have probably never heard of.  Sugar doesn’t serve our fertility and our overall health eithers, so please try to avoid them!

Healthy fats are incredibly important though for reproductive health. They are needed for hormonal balance, regular ovulation, they can help the reduce the risk o pre-eclampsia, low birth weight and post-natal depression. Men need them just as much as they improve sperm health and function. What fats to include? Cold pressed extra virgin olive oil or macadamia oil, avocado oil, oily fish like sardines and mackerel, seeds like pumpkin, sunflower, chia, flaxseeds, nuts (almonds, walnuts, brazil), butter and ghee. Coconut and olive oil, butter and ghee are best for cooking, and if you can, try to buy all your fats organic.

There are many more tips that I could share, but I’ll leave those for another day. This is a topic that I will heavily focus on in my upcoming programme, so look out for it in the coming weeks.

For now, just try to incorporate plenty of vegetables, fruit, healthy fats and good quality proteins and carbohydrates (have a look at my blogs on those for more information), and of course drink plenty of water!

[1] Pehlke-Milde, J., Radu, I., Gouilhers, S., Hammer, R., & Meyer, Y. (2022). Women’s views on moderate and low alcohol consumption: stages of the subjective transition from pregnancy to postpartum. BMC pregnancy and childbirth, 22(1), 902.

Lo, J. O., Schabel, M. C., Roberts, V. H. J., Morgan, T. K., Fei, S. S., Gao, L., Ray, K. G., Lewandowski, K. S., Newman, N. P., Bohn, J. A., Grant, K. A., Frias, A. E., & Kroenke, C. D. (2022). Effects of early daily alcohol exposure on placental function and fetal growth in a rhesus macaque model. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 226(1), 130.e1–130.e11.

[2] Finelli, R., Mottola, F., & Agarwal, A. (2021). Impact of Alcohol Consumption on Male Fertility Potential: A Narrative Review. International journal of environmental research and public health19(1), 328.

[3] Pop-Jordanova, N., & Demerdzieva, A. (2022). How Alcohol Damages Brain Development in Children. Prilozi (Makedonska akademija na naukite i umetnostite. Oddelenie za medicinski nauki), 43(3), 29–42.