If you're older than age 35 and hoping to become pregnant, you probably worry about the odds. You may be concerned about plummeting fertility or increased health risks — valid concerns for women like you who want to start a family later in life. According to the March of Dimes, older women are at increased risk of experiencing pregnancy complications such as miscarriage, placenta previa and gestational diabetes. You may be able to significantly reduce these risks, however, by eating a balanced diet and getting adequate amounts of nutrients.
If you've avoided fats in the past, it's time to reconsider. Fats rich in omega fatty acids or monounsaturated fats can increase your odds of conceiving. They also contribute to healthy brain development for babies.
Aimee Raupp, Manhattan-based licensed acupuncturist and author of "Yes, You Can Get Pregnant: The Diet That Will Improve Your Fertility Now & Into Your 40s," says, "Healthy fats from oils, nuts and seeds are rich in anti-aging, fertility boosting anti-oxidants and omega fatty acids. Fat is fertility friendly."
Raupp's favorites: organic oils, such as olive oil, coconut oil and raw sesame butter; organic nuts and seeds, including almonds, cashews, flax seeds and walnuts; and butter from grass-fed cows.
For years, you've been told to eat less red meat and eggs because of their high levels of saturated fat. Recently, though, researchers have found that saturated fats aren't always the villains. In reasonable amounts, they're actually good for you and can boost fertility.
"These foods, preferably organic and from grass-fed or pastured animals, are rich in hormone-balancing essential nutrients like iron, B-vitamins and fertility promoting saturated fats," explains Raupp. "The saturated fats in animal protein should not be avoided -- rather they should be embraced, especially when one is trying to improve their fertility as these fats are are full of fat soluble vitamins -- A, D, E and K -- which will help improve egg quality and reproductive health."
Aviva Romm, author of "The Natural Pregnancy Book," recommends 75 grams of protein daily. Eat at least four servings of protein-rich foods at meals. Incorporate protein into two snacks, as well. Hummus, cheese or low-sugar yogurt are ideal snack foods.
Fruits and Vegetables
Mom was right -- eat your fruits and veggies. Aim for at least six to 10 servings per day to boost fertility and ensure a healthier pregnancy.
"Vegetables and fruits are loaded with anitoxidants and phytonutrients that not only improve fertility but overall health," says Raupp. "Green vegetables are particularly good at regulating hormone levels and therefore putting your body in the best shape to conceive."
Leafy vegetables and fruits are also a good source of folic acid. The Yale Medical Group suggests women boost their intake of folic acid prior to conception to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in a developing fetus, such as spina bifida. These defects can cause mental retardation, paralysis or even death. Begin taking a vitamin supplement with folic acid prior to pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 400 micrograms of folic acid daily for pregnant women and those hoping to become pregnant.
Raupp's favorite veggies include spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, sweet potatoes, beets and mushrooms. In terms of fruit, go for the low-sugared ones, such as berries, melons, grapefruit and avocado.
Older women, especially those who are overweight, are at increased risk of developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Reduce or eliminate soda, energy drinks and fruit punches from your diet. Watch out for sugar lurking in processed foods, canned soups and sauces in the form of cane syrup, high fructose corn syrup or maltose.
By eliminating sugar now, you'll lower blood sugar levels, which reduces inflammation and can boost fertility. You're also setting the stage for healthy weight gain during pregnancy, which can reduce your risk of gestational diabetes.
Things to Avoid
In addition to adding more vegetables, protein and nutrients to your diet, there are some substances you should avoid while pregnant or trying to get pregnant, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
Raw milk, meat, shellfish, eggs and unpasteurized cheeses are no-nos. These products may contain bacteria, such as salmonella or listeria, which have been known to cause miscarriages or other health problems.
Caffeine consumption may increase your risk of miscarriage, though it is likely safe in moderate amounts. Limit or eliminate caffeine from your diet before you become pregnant. After you become pregnant, refrain from using caffeine for at least the first trimester. Consume no more than 200 milligrams of caffeine later in pregnancy, which is equal to about two cups of coffee. The American Pregnancy Association says caffeine may increase the risk of not only miscarriage, but low birth weight and premature birth.
Alcohol consumption can cause significant impairment for a growing fetus. It's best to eliminate it from your diet completely when you're trying to become pregnant and throughout your pregnancy. You should also avoid eating fish known to be high in mercury or environmental contaminants. This list includes swordfish, shark, mackerel and tile fish. Also avoid fish caught in local lakes and streams, which may be exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls. These contaminants have been linked to brain damage and developmental delays in babies.