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Nutrition plays a significant role in reproduction and during the pregnancy. It is important to keep a well-balanced diet with sufficient amounts of carbohydrates, protein and fat along with vitamins and minerals. It is true that “you are what you eat” and this is certainly the case when you are preparing to have a baby and during the pregnancy.

Although there is no standard fertility or pregnancy diet that can be recommended to women in their reproductive years, certain measures have been shown to improve outcomes and increase the chances of having a healthy baby. An interesting study suggested that the Mediterranean type diet improved pregnancy rates and can possibly result in healthier mothers and newborns. In such a diet, large amounts of vegetables, fish and non-saturated fats (vegetable, olive oil, etc.) are consumed along with foods rich in vitamins and minerals.

When it comes to protein, it is important to consume adequate amounts of red meat, chicken and fish. These foods provide sufficient amounts of protein-derived amino acids. For vegetarians, it is important to combine different types of vegetable proteins to maintain adequate protein intake. Types of foods that are considered a good source of protein include lentils, all types of beans, seeds, peas, soybeans and grains.

Whereas some have suggested completely eliminating dairy products prior to conception, this is not a good approach. This is because milk, cheese and yogurt provide important nutrients and especially calcium essential for the body and the pregnancy. It is important to avoid unpasteurized dairy products because of possible listeria infection, but this is nearly eliminated in pasteurized products.

Whole grains are preferred in the form of whole wheat bread, cereals and pastas. Whole wheat foods are excellent sources of fiber; they improve digestion and lower cholesterol at the same time. They also play a significant role in glucose and insulin metabolism, which is especially important in women with ovulation problems. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common hormonal disorder in reproductive years. PCOS can result in insulin resistance and eventually diabetes. The risk of diabetes can be significantly reduced in PCOS patients by modifying diet and weight loss.

People often ask about the amount of fish that can be consumed prior to or during pregnancy. The concern with fish consumption is degree of mercury exposure from fish and associated risks to the fetus. The chances of exposure to high levels of mercury from eating fish are low and it is safe to have 12 ounces of fish per week which equals to two regular servings based on FDA recommendations. Some fish contain higher levels of mercury such as the white tuna, shark, swordfish, marlin, tilefish, king mackerel, orange roughy and the grouper. It is acceptable to have these types of fish, but the servings should be limited to two average meals per week. Fish containing lower levels of mercury include salmon, flounder, trout, haddock, tilapia, shrimp, pollock and catfish.

It’s recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) that women planning on pregnancy take folic acid and prenatal vitamins daily. At least 0.4 mg (400 micrograms) of folic acid intake is recommended through vitamins or dietary intake. The most benefit of folic acid is seen if it’s started 3 months prior to attempting pregnancy and all prenatal vitamins have the minimum recommended amount. Iron supplementation is also recommended during pregnancy, but this is typically not necessary until the second trimester. As a final point, a well-balanced diet is recommended to all women considering pregnancy as it provides nutrients to support a healthy reproductive system.

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