Planning to start a family? A healthy diet now may help support your fertility and build up your stores of nutrients to support a healthy pregnancy. Eating well is also vital for the development of your child, especially before you know you’ve conceived. Discover the key vitamins and minerals you need now and in the future, where to find them, and simple ways to get them into your diet.
What? Folic acid
Why? Folic acid helps reduce the risk of serious birth defects of the spine and brain called neural tube defects. It also helps bodies make new cells.
Where? Find it in dark green leafy vegetables, dried beans and peas, oranges, cereal fortified with folic acid, and folic acid-fortified grains.
Suggestions for your shopping list: A supplement, providing 400mcg folic acid. Because folic acid is necessary very early in pregnancy, before you might know you’ve conceived, women planning a pregnancy might consider taking a supplement as well as eating foods rich in folic acid.
What? Vitamin B12
Why? It’s needed for the production of red blood cells and helps the nervous system.
Where? Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products such as fish, eggs, milk, and cheese. Vegans can find it in Vitamin B12-fortified foods, such as some breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast.
Suggestions for your shopping list: Salmon, eggs, cheese, and nutritional yeast. A small salmon fillet (or 100g of canned salmon) will provide your recommended daily amount of B12. Eggs and cheese are good for omelettes, frittatas, or quiche perhaps. Nutritional yeast provides B12 and is easy to sprinkle on salads or popcorn.
What? Vitamin B6
Why? It helps your body metabolize protein and fats and is vital for the development of your future child’s brain and nervous system.
Where? Egg yolks, carrots, bananas, peanuts, and whole grains are rich in B6.
Suggestions for your shopping list: Eggs and wholegrain bread (a meal of scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast, for example, combines two sources of B6), carrot sticks, peanuts, and bananas for simple snacks.
What? Vitamin A
Why? Vitamin A is vital for vision, immunity and your future child’s growth.
Where? Find it in broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, butternut squash, full-fat milk, and cheese.
Suggestions for your shopping list: Sweet potatoes (a small baked sweet potato will provide all the vitamin A you need in a day), butternut squash, and kale (you’ll need around 100g of either of these to meet your daily pre-pregnancy target).
Why? Iron helps carry oxygen through the blood, and is necessary for cell division and for the healthy growth of your future child.
Where? The best sources of iron include those from animals such as red meat, fish, and poultry. Dried peas, beans and lentils, spinach, dried fruit, and iron-fortified breakfast cereals are also good providers. Foods rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, tomatoes, and strawberries, will help your body absorb iron from non-animal sources.
Suggestions for your shopping list: Beef, lentils, and kidney beans (for a tasty stew perhaps) and fortified breakfast cereal (which may satisfy all your daily iron needs – check the packet).
Why? This mineral is vital for cell function and division, growth, and immune functions.
Where? Find zinc in eggs, seafood, red meat, dried peas, beans and lentils, nuts, whole grains, and zinc-fortified cereals.
Suggestions for your shopping list: Canned crab meat (a 125g can of crab meat will provide around 40% of your daily requirement of zinc), chickpeas, and sirloin steak. (One 113g steak will provide almost half of your daily zinc needs.)
Why? It’s necessary for the normal function of your thyroid gland, which produces hormones that are needed for many of your body’s functions. Iodine also supports the growth and development of your future child’s brain and central nervous system.
Where? Find it in fish, seaweed, eggs, dairy products, and iodized salt.
Suggestions for your shopping list: White fish, eggs, milk, and plain yogurt, which makes a tasty dessert when combined with fresh fruit.
Chavarro JE, Rich Edwards JW, Rosner BA et al. Diet and lifestyle in the prevention of ovulatory disorder infertility. Obstet Gynecol 2007; 110:1050-8.
Institute of Medicine Food & Nutrition Board 2006. Dietary Reference Intake: The Essential Guide to Nutrient Requirements. In: Otten, J.J., Hellwig, J.P. & Meyers, L.D. (Eds.). Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences.
Sharma R, Biedenharn K, Fedor J et al. Lifestyle factors and reproductive health: taking control of your fertility. Reprod Biol Endocrinol 2013; doi:10.1186/1477-7827-11-66
Temel S, vanVoortst S, Jack B, Denktas S, and Steegers E. Evidence-based preconceptional lifestyle interventions. Epidemiol Rev 2014; 36:19-30.
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