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Q&A with Dr. Nicole Avena
Is it true that losing 10% of body fat can significantly increase chances of pregnancy?
Yes, even just a 5% weight loss can increase fertility. Excess body fat has been shown to send signals that cause metabolic changes that tell your body that it is not time to get pregnant. However, if you are underweight or struggle with an eating disorder, you may also have decreased fertility and irregular menstruation.
Are there any foods that are completely off limits and should be avoided while TTC (trying to conceive)?
It is always important to minimize sugary and processed foods which can lead to weight gain, an imbalanced diet, and decreased fertility. Foods like processed white rice, fast food burgers and fries, bacon, and some types of fish like swordfish and yellowtail, which contain high amounts of mercury, are all foods that you should avoid or at least seldom eat when trying to conceive.
I had a recent ectopic pregnancy. How can I nourish for fertility and recovery?
It is important that you wait a sufficient period of time before you try to conceive again (around 12 weeks or even longer). After that time has passed, you can start to take a folic acid supplement and try to conceive again.
What is the number one thing to avoid and the best thing to eat?
Fast food and red meat are both foods that you should cut down on when you are trying to get pregnant. There is not one magic food that will triple your fertility, but eating lots of legumes like chickpeas, fruits, vegetables, and low-mercury fish like salmon are all great places to start.
Is dark chocolate okay while TTC? Even though there is some caffeine?
Dark chocolate is okay to eat while TTC as it is packed with antioxidants and lower in fat than milk chocolate. There is not strong evidence that caffeine reduces chances of conceiving, but it can increase chances of having a miscarriage.
What is the amount of protein to eat while trying to get pregnant?
You should aim to get about 10-35 percent of your daily calories from protein sources. For most women aged 19-70, this is about 46 grams.
What can you eat to increase progesterone?
Foods rich in zinc which comes from canned baked beans, crab, tofu, and pumpkin seeds can improve the way your body uses hormones like progesterone. Flax oil, on the other hand, can actually worsen the way your body uses progesterone, which can decrease fertility.
How many carbs do I need to eat while TTC?
About 45-65 percent of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates.
Is any alcohol okay when trying to conceive with diagnosed unexplained infertility?
Studies are still inconclusive when it comes to whether or not alcohol consumption impacts fertility, but alcohol is still calorie-dense and overall considered unhealthy. It can disrupt hormone levels as well, which can decrease chances of a fertilized egg actually being implanted. Play it safe and limit or cut out alcohol completely.
Can diet help regulate periods?
Nutrient deficiencies can cause irregular periods because they can disrupt production of sex hormones. For example, iodine deficiency can cause hypothyroidism which and make periods more irregular. Eating a nutritious diet will keep your body’s hormones functioning properly which can help to regulate your period.
Dr. Nicole Avena is a research neuroscientist and an expert in diet during pregnancy and baby, toddler and childhood nutrition. Dr. Avena received a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and Psychology from Princeton University, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship in molecular biology at The Rockefeller University in New York City. Check out her book, What to Eat When You Want To Get Pregnant.