11 food tips for fertility

In the natural world, animals won’t carry young unless conditions support their survival. So, if there have been poor rains and food is scarce, there's a dip in the number of births. As time passes, and the female ages, her fertility declines because natural law dictates she may be less equipped to carry her young to term, or feed them, or protect them. If the panda is unhappy in the zoo, she won't mate.

The same goes for humans. And many of us are malnourished, too. Many working women – and men – live on a diet of cappuccino-at-the-desk for breakfast, a toasted sandwich at 3pm and a chocolate bar in the late afternoon, followed by after-work drinks. Supper is a late and hasty affair by the fridge.

In addition, many of us leave it until we're 30 or even approaching 40 before we're ready to have children.

And if the panda is too stressed in the zoo to breed, you can bet most of us are too stressed by traffic and work, money and other things to be ready for pregnancy

A few tips
Here’s what to do to ensure you’re not malnourished, and that you're in good shape to fall pregnant:

- Follow a balanced diet, low in sugar, saturated fats (found in animal products) and trans fatty acids (found in some commercial cookies, crackers, popcorn and crisps), and rich in fruit, vegetables, pulses, healthy fats (e.g. olive oil, avocado, olives), low-fat or fat-free dairy and lean protein (e.g. fish, chicken without the skin, venison).
- Eat greens and yellows. Stock up on dark green and yellow fruit and vegetables, which will boost your vitamin A, beta-carotene and vitamin C intake. Go for cabbage, green peppers, broccoli, pumpkin, carrots, paw-paw, melon and oranges.
- Something fishy. Your body needs omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish. The fact is that most of us simply don’t consume enough of these essential fatty acids. If you don’t eat fish, consider salmon-oil supplements.
- ‘Pump’ iron. Fill your body’s iron reserves. When you’re expecting, your body has difficulty maintaining its iron stores as your baby taps into your mineral resources. Iron deficiency also causes 27% of mothers-to-be to suffer from postpartum anaemia. This causes your red blood cells to fall below normal levels and drains your energy.
- Exercise. Working out most days of the week won’t just keep you fit for regular sex, but will strengthen your cardiovascular system, as pregnancy puts a huge strain on the heart. Moderate, regular exercise will also make it easier for you to get through labour, and will prepare you for the strains of pregnancy. Plus, it will help keep your weight in check if your overweight or obese – an increasingly common cause of infertility.
- Fill the nutritional gaps with vitamins. Getting all the nutrients you need to boost your fertility from food alone is difficult, so increase your chances by taking a prenatal vitamin or regular multivitamin. It’s also key to ensure an adequate intake of folic acid (folate) before conception (400 micrograms/day). During pregnancy, this nutrient will protect your baby’s brain and spinal cord. Ask your pharmacist for the best option available.

If you’re set on falling pregnant, it’s important to avoid the following:

- Smoking. A study found that women who smoke take longer to conceive, and that their chances to conceive are reduced by up to 40%.
- Drinking alcohol. Danish researchers looked at 430 couples trying to have their first child and found that a woman’s ability to fall pregnant decreased as more alcohol was consumed.
- Drinking coffee. Caffeine (found in coffee, Ceylon tea and cola drinks) constricts blood vessels, slowing blood flow to the uterus and potentially making it harder for an egg to grab hold, fertility experts say.
- Refined carbohydrates. These include sweets, cookies, cakes, rusks, white bread, pasta and white rice. The refining process strips key nutrients from grains. If you’re trying to conceive, you should pack your diet with as many nutrient-rich foods as possible.
- Fad diets. Avoid any diet that excludes an entire food group, puts too much emphasis on one type of food, or promises dramatic results. Such diets put you at risk for nutrient deficiency. 

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