You and your partner have talked about having a baby, but it’s not happening just yet. If you plan to get pregnant within the next few months—or even year—it’s important to get your diet on the healthy track now to prepare your body for pregnancy later. To learn more about the easy tweaks you can make to your diet today to increase your fertility and prepare your body for a baby, we talked to Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, author of The Belly Fat Diet for Dummies.
Here are the five food categories you should make an effort to consume more of so you’ll do your body good in the months to come.
1. Folic Acid
”If you plan on getting pregnant any time in the next year you want to make sure your diet is rich in folic acid and that you’re proactive about that now,” says Palinski-Wade. You can take a supplement, prenatal vitamin, and increase your intake of folic acid-rich foods like fortified whole grains, fortified cereals, vegetables, and citrus fruits. You should be taking in 400-600 mg of folic acid daily before pregnancy and about 800 mg during pregnancy to ensure a healthier pregnancy and minimize risk of birth defects.
2. High-Quality Proteins
One study conducted on couples who were having trouble with fertility found that a higher-protein, lower carb diet helped increase pregnant rates. Eating a diet of 25% or more protein and 40% or less carbs improved egg quality and doubled pregnancy rate in IVF patients as opposed to those following a higher carb, lower protein diet.
“High quality proteins in your diet are important for fertility. Make sure you’re getting a complete protein that has all the essential amino acids,” says Palinski-Wade. “Whole eggs and egg whites are excellent sources, as are white meat poultry, and fish, especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon.
If you’re a vegetarian, beans and legumes are healthy protein sources which are also rich in iron, another essential nutrient.”
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
“When you get pregnant, omega-3s are great for the baby’s brain development,” says Palinski-Wade. But they’re excellent to have in your diet now because your body needs the healthy fats to keep hormones functioning properly—so you can get pregnant in the coming months. Work more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet each day by consuming chia seeds, flax seeds or trying to get in fish servings each week.
Aim for 1,000 – 2,000 mg a day of omega-3 fatty acids, which is about 2 to 3 ounces of fish, 2 tablespoons of walnuts, or 2 tablespoons flaxseeds or chia seeds. Flax seeds and chia seeds are great in smoothies, yogurt, on salads, or make a trail mix with whole grain cereal, dried fruit and flax seeds. You can also cook with flaxseed oil or chia seed oil or drizzle some on your salad.
4. Low-Fat or Full-Fat Dairy
Dairy products are essentials for preparing your body for pregnancy because you’re getting calcium and protein. To increase your chances of getting pregnant, you might want to swap one skim milk serving for a full-fat one, as one study found that women consuming a serving of full-fat milk each day decreased their chances of a certain kind of infertility, according to a New York Times article.
Palinski-Wade says you shouldn’t make all of your dairy sources full-fat, but it’s a good idea to swap a few fat-free servings for low-fat or full-fat dairy once in a while. “Try to get a little fat from dairy to get more of those essential nutrients that will help prepare your body for a baby,” she said.
5. Fruits and Veggies
If you’re already slacking on getting enough fruits and veggies in your diet now, adding them to as many meals and snacks as you can is a good practice to help prepare your body for a baby. It’s a good habit to get into because once you become pregnant you’re going to want to be eating more of those every day, says Palinski-Wade. Fruits and veggies provide a host of essential nutrients and antioxidants and help decrease inflammation in the body.
Overall, now is a great time to look at your diet as a whole, says Palinski-Wade. If you’re eating a lot of junk food, refined grains, and sweets, know that those foods have no nutritional benefit and might be hurting your body as they can lead to spikes in blood sugar and trans fats (found in many junk foods) increase inflammation in the body.
If you’re overweight, losing weight can increase your fertility, but don’t try to lose more than one pound a week. But drastically cutting calories or exercising too much will interfere with your ability to get pregnant and won’t help your body support another life.
“You want to make sure your body is as healthy as possible going into pregnancy to ensure you and your baby are healthy throughout,” says Palinski-Wade.