There is now better awareness of the importance of nutrition on preconception health. What you eat can affect your chances of getting pregnant, but the full picture is not totally clear-cut because it is hard to separate diet from other factors.
With that said, when trying to conceive, a great place to start is to consider dietary improvements. And consuming foods that help fight inflammation may help.
Here we share the benefits of anti-inflammatory foods whilst trying to conceive and how to get more into your diet.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a natural response which the body uses to protect itself against infection. However, it can also be caused by other factors such as stress or obesity.
Prolonged or chronic inflammation can lead to insulin resistance and studies suggest it is linked to many conditions that may affect fertility, such as preterm birth, preeclampsia, implantation failure and miscarriage.
What is an anti-inflammatory diet?
An anti-inflammatory diet consists of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, herbs and spices, and fish. It can also help to fight off many diseases and may help to improve the chances of conceiving.
One of the best known and easiest to follow anti-inflammatory diets around is the Mediterranean diet. To adopt this way of eating, aim for four or more portions of vegetables and two or more portions of fruit daily. You should also use more oils and products rich in monounsaturated fats such as olive and rapeseed oil.
Eating an assortment of colourful fruits and vegetables (5-a-day) will increase your intake of compounds called ‘antioxidants’ which may help to reduce inflammation.
And remember, eating a varied, balanced diet and following a healthy lifestyle is important for both partners trying to conceive, not just for the person who will carry the child.
Top anti-inflammatory foods for pregnancy
Let’s start with the good stuff. The following foods are widely recognised to be anti-inflammatory so should be incorporated into your diet:
In its raw state, olive oil contains omega-9 fats and a chemical called oleocanthal, both of which have anti-inflammatory actions on the body. There is evidence to suggest that women who consume diets higher in monounsaturated fat have higher fertility rates. For men, diets rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve sperm health, quality and motility.
Top recipe tip: Dress salads, drizzle over toast with fresh tomatoes or swirl on-top of soups to add flavour and load up on the benefits. Beware, once you heat olive oil it becomes pro-inflammatory, so opt for seed oils for cooking at higher temperatures.
Oily fish and shellfish
Fish such as salmon, sardines and mussels – contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids which boost anti-inflammatory actions on the body.
Aim for no more than two portions of oily fish per week. This is because pollutants found in oily fish may build up in the body and affect the future development of a baby in the womb. For more info on fish and shellfish check out our blog on what you can and can’t eat during pregnancy.
Top recipe tip: Mackerel or sardines on toast. This can be a delicious lunch time meal that's quick and easy to prepare.
Nuts and seeds
Some nuts and seeds are high in alpha linoleic acid (ALA), a type of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid, also rich in magnesium, l-arginine and vitamin E, which plays a role in keeping inflammation under control. So reach for peanuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, flaxseed and chia.
With nuts and seeds they are high in calories and can be very salty, so remember to eat them mindfully once a day.
Fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables are high in natural antioxidants and polyphenols. Load up on fruits such as strawberries, blueberries and oranges or green leafy vegetables to reduce inflammation.
Top recipe tip: When cooking vegetables you could also add in some spices such as turmeric, garlic and ginger to give yourself an added anti-inflammatory boost. Or try our top fertility boosting smoothie recipes to get your daily fruit intake.
If you are planning pregnancy, including iodine rich foods such as seaweed is a good idea. Women should be encouraged to build up their iodine stores several months prior to conception. There are currently no specific recommendations for the preconception period.
Top recipe tip: Make your own miso soup with soft cubes of tofu, crunchy curls of seaweed and aromatic spring onions. Enjoy it as a starter or as a snack.
In addition, try to eat more plant-based proteins like tofu, tempeh, lentils, pulses and beans, over animal proteins. Evidence suggests this may help improve ovulatory infertility.
Is coffee anti inflammatory?
Coffee is a hot topic when it comes to fertility - many people don’t want to miss out on their morning cup and research shows coffee can have both pro - or anti-inflammatory effects, depending on the person drinking it. Make sure to have no more than 1 or 2 cups per day.
Other supplements to consider
It’s also advised to take a 10 micrograms (mcg) supplement of Vitamin D every day as this has a favourable effect on fertility and current NHS advice recommends that as soon as you start trying for a baby, to take a 400 micrograms (mcg) supplement of folic acid.
Foods to avoid in an anti inflammatory diet:
- Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white pasta, pastries
- Foods and drinks with extra sugar; like fizzy drinks
- Processed meats (hot dogs, sausages, burgers)
- Margarine, shortening, & lard
- Ready made desserts, such as cookies & sweets
- Excess alcohol
Be especially conscientious about cutting out pre-packaged convenience foods. They may seem easy to grab when fixing a quick meal, but they can be loaded with salt, saturated/ trans fats, and sugar which we know can make inflammation worse.
Eating a balanced diet with plenty of water plays a central role to reduce inflammation. Support all the good work that you’re doing with your diet by adapting your lifestyle to reduce stress. Stress can impact the immune system and inflammation, so both partners are encouraged to take time for self care and eat well.
Find out more about nutrition and fertility by speaking to one of our specialist fertility nutritionists. They can answer any questions you might have as well as providing a personalised nutritional assessment for you and your partner.
Rachael, Naytal Nutritionist
Rachael has been a fully qualified nutritionist for over ten years. She's a specialist in helping advise women on how to eat well in pregnancy and preconception.