Did you know that a vegetarian diet can mean that you miss out on key nutrients that can boost fertility? These same nutrients can also support a healthy pregnancy and nourish you and your baby before and after birth.
These nutrients aren’t always included in prenatal supplements so it’s not necessarily a case of filling the gaps through supplementation.
Here’s why a vegetarian diet and fertility may not go hand in hand.
The Nutrients You May Be Missing Out On
What’s the connection between a vegetarian diet and fertility? The main concern is that you can miss out on these nutrients:
You need more vitamin B12 during pregnancy and a deficiency can be dangerous, not least because it’s a crucial nutrient for avoiding neural tube defects. If you’re B12 deficient during pregnancy, it often means that your baby will be deficient too.
It’s easy to become deficient in vitamin B12 if you aren’t getting enough of it through diets or supplements – even more so if you’re vegetarian. Plant foods don’t contain vitamin B12, which is one reason why an average of 62% of vegetarian mothers-to-be are deficient. It’s much rarer for pregnant women who eat meat to have a B12 deficiency.
Research indicates that choline is absolutely vital for fertility, especially egg health and supporting fertilisation and implantation. If you have PCOS, choline can help to balance blood sugar levels and boost your fertility.
During pregnancy, it’s essential for brain development and protecting against the risk of neural tube defects. Choline stores can be heavily depleted during pregnancy (and if you breastfeed) as baby needs a lot of it for their development.
Keeping your choline levels at a healthy level while you’re trying to conceive is vital for ensuring that both you and your baby have enough choline if you become pregnant.
Because it’s a nutrient that’s largely found in animal products, it can be very lacking in a vegetarian diet. Liver and eggs are great sources, for example.
Vitamin is available in two forms: retinol and carotenoids. Retinol is the active form that is ready for the body to use and it’s only found in animal foods. Plant foods can be good sources of carotenoids but they need to be converted into retinol before the body can use them.
Vitamin A is essential for fertility. It can encourage cervical mucus to provide a receptive environment for fertilisation and helps the follicles to mature and function in the right way. Low vitamin A levels can therefore affect how easy it is for an egg to become fertilised.
It’s important for male fertility too. As a powerful antioxidant, it helps to protect sperm from the damaging effects of free radicals and it can improve the quality and motility of sperm.
During pregnancy, vitamin A is crucial for foetal growth and development.
If you have low iron levels, you’re more likely to experience ovulation issues. It also affects the production of red blood cells and decreases oxygen flow to the body’s tissues – including the ovaries and uterus. This can impact egg quality too.
During pregnancy, the amount of blood in the body increases and you need more iron. If your iron intake isn’t high enough, the effect on oxygen flow can impact the baby’s development and increase the risk of miscarriage and early labour.
Zinc is linked to cell growth and supports follicles to mature. During pregnancy, the body needs a lot of zinc due to the significant amount of cell growth that’s taking place. A zinc deficiency can be a factor in low birth weight.
When it comes to fertility, DHA is a nutrient you can’t ignore. Studies have shown that women who consume plenty of DHA are more likely to conceive, especially as they get older. For women undergoing IVF treatment, higher levels of DHA resulted in higher rates of conception.
DHA has been linked to improved sperm quality and motility.
DHA is involved in every cell in the body and during pregnancy, it supports healthy brain, heart and eye development. Research has also suggested that a healthy intake of DHA can reduce the risk of early labour.
It’s not just helpful for baby – 2020 research has shown that DHA can be important for reducing the risk of depression in late pregnancy and the early postpartum period.
If you’re a vegetarian and planning on taking a prenatal supplement, you may want to check if it contains DHA!
During pregnancy, glycine helps to build skin, nails, teeth, hair, skeleton and internal organs. While you’re busy growing a new person from scratch, glycine is an essential nutrient because of its role in building connective tissue.
Glycine is found in abundance in poultry (especially with the skin on) and bone broth but it’s much harder to come by if you’re vegetarian. Studies have indicated that vegetarians who are not pregnant often have a glycine deficiency and this is important given that you need much more glycine during pregnancy.
Worried that a vegetarian diet isn’t supporting fertility and increasing your chance of success?
If you would like to make sure that your nutrition is giving you the best chance of conception and can support a healthy pregnancy, you can book a discovery call with me.