Speak to any fertility expert or nutritionist about the best foods to eat for your preconception plan and one phrase will come up time and time again – the Meditteranean Diet.
But does this mean sipping wine in St Tropez or eating pizza in Naples? Not exactly – but it’s still pretty tasty! Here we break down exactly what the Mediterranean diet is and how it could help your sperm health.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
So when we say a ‘Mediterranean diet’ what are we actually talking about? Well, really we’re looking at the foods that are native to the regions surrounding the Mediterranean sea – such as Greece, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Egypt and Lebanon. Whilst cuisine can vary dramatically between these different countries – a Moroccan tagine is obviously very different to a Spanish paella! – there are some similarities that bond them.
There is often a focus on fresh and whole foods and these regions also tend to eat every seasonally. There is an abundance of fruit and vegetables as well as whole grains, legumes and nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, and olives and olive oil.
The Mediterranean diet also tends to include a lot of fresh fish and seafood, whereas dairy-based products and red meat are slightly more limited.
Aside from the food, the ethos behind a Mediterranean style of eating is family and focus. Fast food and TV dinners are not the done thing and instead, meal times are an opportunity to gather around the table, share food and swap stories and most importantly take your time.
Why is the Mediterranean Diet a good diet for fertility?
Whilst there is no perfect specific diet for supporting fertility – a Mediterranean diet – which is full of sperm superfoods – comes pretty close – and there’s research to prove it.
Études have found that following a Mediterranean diet can help to improve sperm health in men as well as supporting female fertility .
One of the main reasons that the Mediterranean Diet is so good for fertility is that it is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s support ovulation and egg quality and also help to protect sperm from damage as well as encourage healthy sperm production. This way of eating also includes a lot less saturated fats (which aren’t great for fertility) than the dietary habits from other countries.
The high level of fruits and vegetables consumed in a traditional Mediterranean diet is also great news for our fertility. They are not only full of vitamins and minerals needed for effective reproduction but they are also high in antioxidants. Foods rich in antioxidants help to slow down stress oxydatif and cell damage caused by pollutants and toxins.
Plant-based proteins – like legumes – are another staple of the Mediterranean diet and these are more nutritious than animal meat. Whilst there is still some debate around whether a vegetarian or vegan diet is a good approach for those working on their fertility, consuming more plant-based proteins alongside smaller portions of fresh meat and fish does seem to have a positive effect.
Lastly, the slower pace of eating that is common for those adopting a Mediterranean style of dining is great for gut health. Mindful eating supports active digestion which has a positive impact on our gut health. Good gut health is the baseline for many of our bodily functions, including fertility.
Aside from fertility, there are a bunch of other benefits of a Mediterranean diet. Research has found that adopting this diet can help to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke and could also help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer.
How to adopt this diet
The good news is you don’t have to book a flight to the Amalfi coast to experience a Mediterranean diet – there are ways you can adopt some of the learnings when eating at home by following these simple steps.
- Include a wide variety of fruit and vegetables in your cooking. Try to mix it up and have a bunch of different colours and textures and where you can try to eat organic fruit and vegetables that are in season and sourced locally.
- Cook with plenty of whole grains like oats, rice, quinoa and buckwheat. If you’re eating bread and pasta, try to go for wholegrain rather than processed white alternatives.
Go all in on plant-based protein – and we don’t mean processed meat alternatives. Try to include beans and legumes like butter beans, chickpeas and kidney beans on your plate at least twice a week.
- Aim to include around 25g-30g of nuts and seeds in your meals per day. Almonds and walnuts make great healthy snacks and you can sprinkle sunflower seeds and flaxseed on top of soups and salads for an extra fertility boost.
- Give your food plenty of natural flavour with Herbs and spices like garlic, oregano, basil, turmeric, pepper, paprika, cumin and ginger. Many of these spices have fertility-friendly properties as well as make your tastebuds happy.
- Moderate your consumption of dairy products and when you do eat dairy try to go for unprocessed, natural forms that are gentle on your gut – like full-fat natural yoghurt.
- Aim for two portions of fish a week – and make sure at least one of them is an oily fish rich in omega-3s like salmon, mackerel or sardines.
- Try to keep your meat consumption to around 2-3 times a week – and make sure it’s a lean protein like chicken or turkey breast.
- Use olive oil instead of butter as it has much less saturated fats
- Avoid processed meats and foods that contain lots of sugar or trans fats – like pastries and cakes.
So will you be adopting a more Mediterranean way of eating to help improve your fertility? Let us know in the comments!