When I Interviewed...a Fertility Nutritionist
Nutrition and Fertility.
It seems to me you’re either at One End of the spectrum or The Other.
One End Peeps: eat and drink as normal, blissfully unaware of whether or not they are helping or hindering their fertility.
Other End Peeps: read every bit of research they can get their hands on and create a total diet overhaul.
Me? I was at One End. But overnight was begrudgingly (indignantly) shoved, arriving blinking and bewildered in the bright lights of Whole Foods, at The Other.
When a doc told me I needed IVF, I got a second opinion. Second doc said I might have a chance of conceiving if I cut out sugar, white carbs and upped my protein (along with Metformin and a higher dose of Clomid). I spent 2 weeks feeling hungry and sorry for myself (and gutted – now I couldn’t even have a piece of cake! Are you frickin’ kidding me?!).
I just didn’t have a clue what to eat. So, I booked an appointment with a nutritionist.
Game changer. Does what you eat even make a difference to fertility?
From the research I’ve done, yeah I think it can. But if you’ve had 5 failed rounds of IVF and you’re thinking, bugger off, I’m eating what I want and drinking what I want because it obviously doesn’t make any difference… its actually eating well to nourish your body and SOUL, that I really believe is the key.
You’ve got to look after yourself team. This trying to conceive business is no easy feat. But what the hell ARE we supposed to eat?!
For 10 years Melanie Brown was Senior Nutritional Therapist at the Zita West Clinic, designing the nutrition programme for thousands of clients there. She now works independently. I met her on a blimmin’ freezing, wintry morning in central London to have a great chat and about food and fertility. It was a long old natter, so it’s all in bullet points for easy skimming. See if there’s something helpful for you in here.
If you can and you’re interested in nutrition, go and see Mel. She’s totally awesome and probably the most highly qualified fertility nutritionist in the UK!
Over to Mel, hold on tight, there’s a TON of amazing info in here and we dive straight in:
For most there is an element of ‘bespokeness
You’ve got underweight, overweight for example. Underweight is as much of a problem in fertility as overweight, so you have to be very careful.
There is some very wonderful research from a woman called Professor Rose Fish on this. She found that women who were underweight would still be menstruating, but their hormones were not potent.
I try to liken the hormones to milk. In an underweight woman, what you’ve got is skimmed oestrogen. What you want is Jersey, full fat, Channel Islands full cream oestrogen! And that’s that teeny bit of padding overall. It’s not about stuffing your face with doughnuts, of course you wouldn’t – that’s absurd. You have to very technically go through foods and what you have for your meals, its more difficult that losing weight.
For people with inflammation issues, it’s getting people to just eat 3 meals a day and leave it at that. It doesn’t matter when they eat. They’re not out in the farm loading hay bales, most people are just sitting in front of their computers. They simply don’t need more. I work quite hard on that aspect – a little less, is more. As well as the content of the meals.
Have some protein. Have some veg. Eat your greens, have some colours and have some dressing, don’t restrict dressing. Throw in kidney beans, not too much lettuce and cucumber because not too much goes on in lettuce and cucumber. You want the spinach, the rocket, fats are good, oil. But don’t have the fizzy drink, the Nakd bar, sweetened yoghurt. Don’t have the fruit juice, don’t even have the smoothie. You don’t need it! If you want fruit, eat the solid fruit! Chew it with your teeth!
If I want a treat I go for my favourite chocolate once a week. Or I would have a pudding at my favourite restaurant or roast potatoes on a Sunday. I love my treats, but they’re proper treats which give me good endorphins. Not fake treats that are meant to replace other things, because you need to have your endorphins and to let yourself off the leash.
80/20 is what I advise – and that’s quite strict. So, people have to do a meal plan, or they won’t be able to do it. The way I work is that the client gets a list of foods to eat every day. Might be a tablespoon of olive oil, or I’m quite keen on blueberry powder, which they throw in their breakfast. I have a special salad called Egg and Sperm salad. Well known amongst my clients!
It has lots of things in which is good for sperm and eggs. Very high in anti-oxidants: watercress (mad about that) baby spinach which is high in carotenes (these are for ovarian function). Tomatoes with lycopene (which is really good for prostate).
The ovaries are full of carotenes; bursting with them. If you look at a cross section of a corpus luteum it is bright orange! So, you gotta eat ‘em.
Lycopene is for the prostate – such an important male accessory gland, it’s where semen comes from. If the semen isn’t the right PH or it’s got dead cells in it or anything like that, it will play havoc with the sperm. So, you think: healthy prostate.
Watercress has very good DNA repairing properties. Often the men will come with a high DNA fragmentation of their sperm, which causes big issues.
I explain why someone should eat these things. If it’s just random “eat wholemeal, eat 2 portions of fish a week, 5 fruit and veg” it doesn’t mean anything.
I say for example: for dinner, have one portion of cruciferous veg (like broccoli and Brussel sprouts) which contain sulphur compounds that metabolise oestrogens. So very important around IVF; you want your liver to be on top form to metabolise oestrogen as well as containing lots of nutrients. They should be steamed for around 3 minutes, don’t overcook them…its quite boring actually!
Eggs are great for female fertility. They contain lutein, a good old karyotin which is where the lutenising hormone comes from. They contain choline which is part of a cell membrane.
I’ve got this thing: ‘Project Plumptious Peachy Eggs’. Your eggs have got to be squishy! So, choline is fantastic. It makes that membrane and invites the sperm to go diving into it. I’m quite a visual person, that’s how I work in my consultations. Probably not everyone’s cup of tea but if you can imagine why you’re doing something it’s easier to do it.
Fish – fantastic, fish eating populations are healthier. But there are certain ones that you can’t eat so people get really confused. Tuna, swordfish, marlin and shark are mercury containing.
Tuna is quite a big thing, especially with tuna sashimi…I’m not a big fan of sushi actually. Its normally skanky old fish! It’s another thing that people think is healthier – it isn’t. It’s full of salt and white rice. In Japan you have a tiny bit of steamed rice, little bits of raw fish, pickled veg and its balanced. Seaweed, tofu. You have it here, and it’s white rice, salt and some skanky fish!
I always say to people, if you’ve forgotten to buy your bloody broccoli and you’re going out for dinner and you want to eat lasagne – have it! Just enjoy. Go out for dinner once a week with your partner. Eat chips if you want to, pudding if you want to and have a glass of wine if you want to. There’s no evidence that having a couple of glasses of wine at the weekend is going to suddenly stop you from ovulating. I think the population would have died out a very long time ago if that was the case!
Choose your treats. Don’t waste your treats on crap sugar. Don’t waste them on biscuits in the office, just think, no I’m not going to have those biscuits because we’re going out for dinner at the weekend and I love the puddings at that restaurant so I’m going to have a really nice pudding.
I have a bar of chocolate every Sunday. If I decided I was going to have a bar of chocolate on Monday as well, then by Tuesday I’d want a bar of chocolate. It’s that easy to slip over it. But I know that I can manage that quite easily and I savour with enjoyment every mouthful.
But what I don’t want is people to feel guilty. If you do eat a hobnob or the Birthday cake that’s come in, and you’re thinking ‘I shouldn’t be eating this, this is sugar, I shouldn’t be eating it’: that’s so negative! If you’re going to eat it, enjoy it. And just think: I’m going to be careful (not good! Good and bad is not the right language) I’ll be more mindful, more careful, until the weekend. And that’s fine. A slice of cake during the week is not a killer. Cake is not a killer, cake is lovely.
I do focus on the things to avoid- loads of processed food etc. but I prefer to focus on the positive foods and the reasons why they’re so positive. Its important people leave feeling excited; not ‘this is going to be a long hard 3 months and I thought the last one was hard enough’.
Vegans should always have a consultation because they need to know what to do to replace all the things which are really beneficial from animal products.
With dairy, I would recommend that people come off it so it’s very minimal (a bit in tea, the odd yoghurt or some parmesan on a salad or something) but no more than that if they had endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids, acne or breast lumps.
Milk is to grow baby animals, so it contains its own growth factors one of which is Insulin Factor 1. So that’s why it’s not good in large amounts for PCOS and Endo, because it is a growing product…so it has its own natural growth hormones in it.
Then when you’re going through IVF there’s evidence that dairy is helpful. I think that’s for that reason. They are growing the follicles and eggs. During the stimulation phase when you want those eggs to mature properly, you have your 500ml of full fat milk (evidence shows its full fat only that helps this) for 2 weeks and then we’d reduce it down for the 2 week wait; but you’d still be on it for the growth factors and their effect on embryonic growth.
Nutritionists should probably be specialists; you can’t know everything and be a jack of all trades. You need to do your research.
Do not believe a nutritionist who says they have an ‘80% success rate’. You cannot do that as a complementary therapist! You help people you hope- but stay well away from anyone who says this kind of thing.
PHEW! Told you there was a lot of info didn’t I?! This is the sort of in-depth knowledge a nutritionist can give you (and it also means you get bespoke advice). Click here to go to Melanie's website.
I felt so invigorated and excited when I started learning about food. I went from crying while out for dinner (a week after being told to change my diet), to seeing it as a new thing to discover. And discover, and discover. Food is AMAZING and I can eat for England. Seriously. My fertility diet never felt like a restriction.
Embrace the fertility fight you total warriors. Give it a warm welcome. Don’t fight the fight...it’s enough of a struggle as it is. Less fighting more loooooove.
The more you get stuck in and accept it, the easier it is. The longer it goes on, the harder it might be. But keep going.
Just. Keep. Going.
(And have a piece of cake and a glass of wine if you need it.)
With loads of love xxx