Like many couples, Charlotte Grand and her husband Jeremy struggled to conceive.
After being diagnosed with ‘unexplained infertility’ three years on, they embarked on IVF and eventually had two sons. But before that happened, Grand started learning about how to nourish her body to help bolster her fertility as best she could from the inside-out.
She found what she learned so compelling, she left her job in fashion and trained as a nutritional therapist – going on to write the nutrition and lifestyle cookbook The Fertility Kitchen and creating the Instagram channel @thefertilitykitchen.
“Food is the most powerful ingredient to create optimal fertility,” Grand suggests. “It provides the building blocks for new cells, so a preconception diet quite literally lays the foundations of your future child’s health.
“Your health is made up of many small daily steps, including stress, sleep, movement, environment and mindset, and my approach recognises that the foundation of optimal health is lifestyle. Have you heard of the saying ‘mother yourself before you mother another’? It’s vital to embrace this concept to optimise your fertility.
“How can you expect to grow and nourish a baby if you don’t nourish yourself?”
Of course, fertility can be a very individual thing and sometimes there are complex medical issues involved – so see your GP if you have any questions or concerns about your own health. Generally speaking however, some might find it useful to think about how nutrition and lifestyle might play a part.
Here, Grand shares ways to help support your fertility through diet and lifestyle…
1. Balance blood sugar
“High blood sugar levels and insulin resistance are problematic for both female and male fertility,” says Grand.
“Diets high in carbohydrates and sugar are associated with inflammation and oxidative stress, and an increased risk of ovulatory infertility and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in women, and lower testosterone levels and reduced sperm quality in men.”
Her suggestion? “Aim for three regular nutritionally balanced meals a day containing high-quality protein, healthy fat and complex carbohydrates (vegetables), to help maintain energy levels and keep you feeling full and satisfied.”
2. Eat nutrient-dense foods
“Eat nutrient-dense foods and avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates,” Grand recommends. “Whole, real foods (meat, eggs, fish, legumes, nuts, seeds and vegetables) pack a lot of nutrition in every serving, help stabilise your blood sugar and nourish your body – whereas refined foods (sugar, cereals, crisps, refined flour and grains, fruit juice, soft drinks, sweets and fast foods) offer little nutrition or contain ‘empty calories’, meaning they’re high in calories but low in nutrients.
“These foods are typically addictive, cause blood sugar spikes and energy dips, and won’t serve your fertility.”
3. Eat plenty of antioxidant nutrients
“Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals in your body, and help protect egg and sperm cells from damage. Your body makes its own antioxidants, but they are also found in food, especially fruit and vegetables.
“Make plants the foundation of your plate and eat the rainbow. Vegetables are also an important source of fibre, which helps slow digestion, manage blood sugar levels, and is important for gut health.”
4. Avoid foods that increase free radicals
Grand recommends steering clear of “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from burned and barbecued food, nitrosamines found in processed meats such as bacon, acrylamides, which can form during high temperature cooking such as frying, and oxidised and trans fats found in vegetable oils, margarine, shortening and anything made with these, such as fast foods and ready meals”.
5. Take a good-quality multivitamin
“Taking multivitamins will cover nutrient gaps and imperfections in your diet and provide extra fertility support,” suggests Grand.
“A prenatal multivitamin containing methylated B vitamins, such as folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6, as well as antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and zinc, will help protect egg cells from oxidative stress caused by free radicals.”
6. Include fertility superfoods in your diet
“These are nutrient-dense foods containing an abundance of important fertility nutrients, such as eggs (for complete protein, healthy fat and choline), green leafy vegetables (for calcium, folate, iron, vitamin K1 and beta-carotene), liver (for vitamins A, B6, B12 and K2, choline, copper, folate, iron, selenium and zinc), oily fish (for the essential omega-3 fat DHA, vitamin B12, choline, iodine, iron, selenium and zinc) and bone broth, slow-cooked meat and skin-on, bone-in poultry (for gelatine, collagen, glycine and trace minerals).”
7. Prioritise sleep to support egg and sperm quality
“Adequate, good-quality sleep is also essential for helping you manage stress,” says Grand – but this might be more easily said than done if you’re worried about not getting pregnant, so be kind to yourself.
“Lack of sleep and stress go hand in hand, and sleep deprivation is associated with high cortisol levels. Keep a regular sleep-wake cycle and minimise blue light in the evenings. Exposure to blue light (from devices like phones and tablets) suppresses the release of melatonin, delaying normal sleep onset and disrupting your circadian rhythm.”
8. Manage stress
“Chronic stress directly affects the synchronicity of hormones and can contribute to insulin resistance, low thyroid function, low progesterone, elevated prolactin and increased risk for autoimmunity, all of which can affect fertility,” suggests Grand.
“Build self-care practices into your week: acupuncture, massage, reflexology, meditation and yoga can be great ways to rest and reduce stress. If necessary, schedule non-negotiable self-care time in your diary.”
9. Exercise at least three times a week
“Keeping active can help optimise weight, reduce oxidative stress and boost mood. Moderate exercise at least three times weekly is ideal. Increase your movement throughout the day, especially if you sit for prolonged periods of time.”
10. Reduce plastics
“Plastics contain and leach hazardous chemicals, including endocrine-disruptors that threaten our health. These chemicals imitate our hormones and are found in human tissue in much higher concentrations than the hormones our bodies make,” says Grand.
“They can overstimulate, block or disrupt our hormones’ natural actions. To reduce exposure, don’t heat or store food in plastic containers – use ceramic or glass, use a glass or stainless steel bottle/cup for water and hot drinks on the go, replace plastic wrap (and aluminium foil) with beeswax wrap, and replace baking paper and greaseproof paper with plastic-free parchment.”
The Fertility Kitchen by Charlotte Grand is published by Quercus.