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The Importance of Preconception Nutrition-feat. Erin Van Genderen, RD of Ginkgo Nutrition

Did you know 1 in 6 couples will be diagnosed with infertility? These rates are on the rise, but there are some simple steps you can take before going the IVF route. (And if IVF is needed, these steps will still help with increasing your chances for a successful implantation!)

One of the most simple ways to boost fertility is to focus on nutrition. Today we are chatting with Erin Van Genderen, RD of Ginkgo Nutrition and she is going to share some easy ways to increase fertility as well as what health markers to aim for when trying to conceive! While Erin is located in South Korea she accepts clients from all over the world. If you are searching for nutrition support be sure to get in touch with her!

What is a common misconception when it comes to preconception nutrition?

That preconception nutrition doesn’t matter! We hear a lot about prenatal vitamins, how to manage morning sickness, and testing for gestational diabetes, but all of this happens during pregnancy (i.e., what’s referred to as the “prenatal” or “before birth” period). 

There’s a fine line between prenatal and preconception nutrition. Although technically preconception nutrition is prenatal nutrition, the preconception period offers a fantastic opportunity to set ourselves up for a healthy pregnancy, correct any issues like blood sugar dysregulation or nutrient deficiencies, and harness the power of epigenetics (how nutrition and lifestyle factors affect gene expression) to improve our baby’s growth and development in utero and across the rest of their life. 

Why would consulting with a registered dietitian be a good first step for preconception planning?

Admittedly, I’m biased – I believe everyone could benefit from a relationship with a RD! But for people preparing to grow their family, I’d highlight the following points:
There are a few factors that need attention before conception, pregnancy, and childbirth. Sorting out blood sugar levels, improving gut health, correcting any nutrient deficiencies and “pre-gaming” with nutrient-dense foods should be the focus of the preconception window. These tactics can help reduce the risk for pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Ensuring we’re absorbing and utilizing the nutrients we’re taking in, and thus the nutrients we’re passing on to our baby. Plus, it gives us a chance to stock our body’s “nutrient warehouse” with all of the most vital and essential building blocks for growing a baby and a placenta, recovering from childbirth, and producing breast milk. 

This also assumes that the mama-to-be doesn’t have any preexisting conditions that would complicate conception or pregnancy. If you have a chronic condition or a complex medical history, definitely consult with your care team early on in your conception journey. This will ensure that you get all of the support you need along the way. 

If you’re lucky enough to be in the preconception period, this is a great time to work with a dietitian. It’s actually my favorite time to work with clients! There’s so much hope and possibility, and so much you can positively impact with your diet and lifestyle changes in the weeks and months before conception. From a food and nutrition standpoint, it’s all about seeking out the most nutrient-dense foods possible to nourish and prepare your body and boost fertility. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to nurture that mindset of abundance. 

 

Is there something that is universally lacking in our standard American diets that can hinder conception?

There are certain nutrients that many people don’t get enough of, and there are certain nutrients that are required in higher amounts for fertilization, implantation, pregnancy, and growing a placenta. Whether these two are connected in an individual’s journey to conception depends a lot on their health history. But, in preparing for conception, it’s good to give extra attention to the following nutrients: iron, choline, folate, zinc, iodine, DHA, and vitamins A, B12, D, and K.

 

How long should a woman focus on preconception planning/nutrition before trying to conceive?

This depends on the individual’s body and medical history. From a nutrition standpoint, I’d start by asking a few key questions about diet history. 

If, for example, a woman has been yo-yo dieting, restricting calorie intake, or is underweight, this can be something to take into account when preparing for pregnancy. The same goes for someone with a history of irregular periods, exercise-induced amenorrhea, or medication use that could deplete vitamin/mineral levels. Give your body time to get back to “normal,” whatever that looks like for you.

In an ideal world, we’d be able to give ourselves plenty of time to de-stress, exercise gently, eat abundantly of nutrient-dense foods, establish healthy blood sugar ranges and optimal digestion, and reduce our exposure to environmental toxins before becoming pregnant. Ideally, it would be fantastic to have 3-6 months of dedicated preconception nutrition and lifestyle interventions. A good 9 months of prep for the 9 months of pregnancy seems like a balanced approach.

But no matter how much or how little time you have to prepare, anything you do now will have a positive impact on your health and the health of your baby. Continuing those good habits during pregnancy is another important part of building a healthy baby, so if you’re already pregnant it’s not too late — it’s never too late! 

 

If a woman knows IVF will be necessary are there any additional nutrients she should add in?

Focusing on the fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, K) and B-vitamins, specifically B-6 (folate) and B-12 are useful for anyone trying to conceive, and that’s no different with IVF. Other nutrients of concern for people hoping to become pregnant include those mentioned above: iron, choline, zinc, iodine, and DHA.

Other nutrients relating to IVF depend on if there are any medications involved, like fertility-enhancement drugs or anything to medically suppress or support the menstruation cycle. Definitely talk to your doctor or pharmacist about any potential drug-nutrient interactions, or any side effects from medications that could affect your body’s ability to absorb nutrients.  

However, I think the most important focus for someone preparing for IVF is stress management. Get plenty of sleep, do activities you enjoy, laugh, lean on your support system, relax, do some gentle exercise, express gratitude, and try to take it one day at a time. 

 

We focus so much on what women need to eat, what about the guys? Is there anything they can do as well?

Everything I recommend for mamas-to-be applies to the daddies, too! 

I’ll refer back to a word I used earlier, “epigenetics.” This refers to how lifestyle and environmental factors impact the expression of our genes. We know that we pass on our genes to our children, so anything we do to positively impact our genetic expression will eventually bear fruit in the family tree. 

Because of this, eating a nutrient-dense diet is just as important for fathers-to-be. Not only are you ensuring that the genetic material you pass on to future kids is healthy, but your wellbeing is directly related to the wellbeing of your sperm. Zinc is one nutrient that gets a lot of attention, and the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) are key to healthy sex hormone production for both men and women. 

 

How can someone work with you for preconception nutrition?

I would love to invite your readers to check out my website, Ginkgo Nutrition. There, you can sign up for a free 15-minute consultation call to discuss your goals and see if my services are right for you.  If you’re ready to jump right in, use the code HEALTHYBABY for 25% off any of my services, through my website. I’ve got a variety of virtual appointments available, including individual telehealth sessions or a monthly subscription for a VIP, all-access coaching experience. 

 

Prenatal vitamins, are they necessary, why or why not?

I’d highly recommend that anyone who has access to a prenatal vitamin take a prenatal vitamin. While not meant to be the ultimate resource for your nutrition, they can be a great way to “cover your bases” if your diet isn’t providing all of your nutrients. 
Prenatal vitamins come in all kinds of forms and formats, so don’t feel like you have to take the one prescribed to you if you aren’t tolerating it well. Make sure your prenatal has all of the nutrients of concern I’ve listed above, and consult with your doctor or dietitian about any extra supplements that you may need (supplemental iron for anemia, for example).

What about MTHFR?

I’d highly recommend that anyone who has the MTHFR enzyme mutation (or who thinks they might) find a prenatal vitamin with methyl-folate, not folic acid. MTHFR prevents the conversion of folic acid (what’s found in most prenatals) to active folate (called methyl-folate). Adequate folate intake is clinically proven to prevent neural tube defects, along with other disorders, so it’s really important to make sure that you’re able to use the folate you’re taking in through food or supplements.

 

One final thing I’d like to add: fertility and conception can be fraught with so much worry. So much concern about doing everything “the right way.” Try not to get too caught up in pursuing perfection with your diet and lifestyle. If you’re thinking about and preparing for the health of your future baby, at any point along the way, you’re already doing things right. Give yourself grace, do the best you can with what you’ve got, and trust that your body is powerful and good! 

 

Additional resources: Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food by Catherine Shanahan, MD; Real Food for Pregnancy: The Science and Wisdom of Optimal Prenatal Nutrition by Lily Nichols, RDN, CDE

 

Erin was kind enough to share a delicious and nutritious recipe that is perfect for mamas or mama’s to be!

Baby Bump Breakfast Bake

In this delicious and versatile recipe, we’re focusing on a suite of fertility-boosting nutrients! This recipe contains choline, fat-soluble vitamins A, Bs, D, K2, iodine, DHA, protein, and folate. 

Salmon – DHA, protein, vitamin D, trace minerals; bonus if it’s wild-caught! 

Eggs – choline, DHA, protein, fat-soluble vitamins; bonus if they’re free-range/cage-free!

Greens – folate, fiber, vitamin K1, magnesium; bonus if they’re organic! 

Butter and cream – fat-soluble vitamins, iodine, vitamin K2; bonus if they’re grass-fed!

Sea salt- trace minerals, iodine; bonus if it’s something local to your area! Otherwise, Himalayan pink salt, Redmond’s Real Salt, or Maldon sea salt are excellent options.


Ingredients:
 

1 dozen eggs

3-4 oz. smoked salmon

½ c. heavy cream

1/16 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. butter

5 oz. baby spinach

½ tsp. Dried dill (or 2 Tbsp fresh, chopped)

2 Tbsp. capers, chopped or whole

 

Instructions: 

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F degrees. 

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat and gently saute all the spinach. Once wilted, dark green and glossy, remove from heat and set aside to cool. 

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream and salt until fully combined. Remove smoked salmon from all packaging and roughly chop into small pieces. Chop fresh dill (if using) and capers. Fold the salmon, dill and capers into the egg mixture. Once spinach is cool enough to handle, fold into egg mixture. Stir to combine, then pour into a 9×9 pan. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown and firm in the center. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes before slicing. Yields 6-8 portions. 

Pro tip: use a silicone pan to ensure your eggs come out easily. You can also use a muffin tin to make miniature versions; make sure to butter the muffin tins well or use reusable silicone muffin liners. This is a great make-ahead recipe and also freezes well. 

 

 

brittany x

April 20, 2021

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