Trying to conceive over 40: how diet can help

Once upon a time I felt like Peter Pan! I never wanted to grow up! But, working as a fertility dietitian and being reminded again and again how much of an impact age has on the health of our eggs has been a huge slap in the face. We can’t change our choices of years gone by, but we can change what we eat now to help improve the health of our old eggs. And, as a 40+ women, I’m allowed to say that (although I still hate it!)  So, in today’s blog, I share my dietary tips on getting pregnant after 40.

I spent my 40th birthday in Spain, specifically the beautiful San Sebastian, and I have to admit, I went there for the food! I’d heard that it was amazing, and now, after my first-hand experience, I can report that it was the best food that I, personally, have ever eaten, anywhere in the world! San Sebastian is known for its gastronomy…. From home-grown, seasonal vegetables, to delectable pinchos (which is the local name for tapas), to ‘caught-that-day’ seafood…..ohhhh, my mouth is salivating just thinking about it

Now, the reason that I’m reminiscing about my trip to San Sebastian, other than the fact that it was one of the best trips of my life, is that the local diet there is the ideal diet for optimising conception for us gal’s who are in our naughty forties.  Let’s discuss the key ingredients…

1. Fresh, organic vegetables

I remember having lunch in this particular café overlooking the water…every mouthful was sumptuous, and no wonder! The waiter explained that he had hand-picked the tomatoes from his uncle’s garden that morning! You can’t get any fresher than that! I can’t find the words to tell you how good they were! Even a simple salad of lettuce, tomatoes and beans tastes amazing when they’ve been homegrown and freshly picked. Now, I know that it’s tricky to grow all your own vegies when you’re running a busy life, but try to do what you can…. Maybe for you the goal is just to eat more vegies full stop? Or, if you are already a good vegie eater, could you consider buying your veg from a local farmers market instead of from the supermarket? Or, maybe you could just grow a few items. I’m the worst gardener ever, but I’ve still been able to grow lettuce, tomatoes and some herbs!

The reason that freshly picked vegies are a better choice is that they contain higher levels of anti-oxidants. And, antioxidants are one of the best tips for protecting our eggs from damage. You see, one of the main reasons that it’s so difficult for us more mature ladies to conceive is that so many of our eggs are nonviable due to chromosomal damage. Now, I admit, just because you start eating more veg doesn’t mean that you’re going to miraculously have heaps of healthy eggs, but it does make some difference, and when we’re over 40, and have less than a 5% chance of conceiving, every little bit counts, right?

2. Seafood

San Sebastian is also well-known for it’s seafood….anchovies, cod, oysters, freshly-caught tuna…. all delicious, and all a good source of omega 3. Omega 3 helps to reduce inflammation and is one of the best dietary strategies for boosting the heath of our eggs.

The other key benefit of all of this seafood is that it’s one of the richest dietary sources of iodine. A lack of iodine can impact our thyroid hormone which is a common cause of miscarriage. The words taste like vinegar coming out of my mouth, but the statistics show that the chances of having a miscarriage are greater than the chance of having a baby for us women over the age of 40. The main reason for this is chromosomal abnormalities, but uncontrolled diabetes and thyroid problems are other common causes….. which is why we need to do everything that we can to reduce the risks. So, let me ask you…. how often are you eating seafood? If it’s less than twice a week, I challenge you to change that.

3. Foods rich in polypheonols

Preliminary studies suggest that a decline in a class of proteins, called sirtuins, may be one of the major causes of infertility in older women. But, there’s good news…. foods rich in polyphenols are believed to activate our sirtuin genes. So, which foods are rich in polypheonols? Well, extra virgin olive oil, walnuts, dates and spinach are some great polyphenol-rich choices that we often find both in San Sebastian, and at home. But, there are other foods, which are rich in polyphenols, but have found to be NOT beneficial…. wine, for one….and coffee, for two… Research suggests that the rates of miscarriage significantly increase for women who drink more than three alcoholic drinks per week or more than two cups of coffee per day, so I’d highly recommend that you do minimise your intake of these until after your baby is born.

4. The lifestyle

In addition to amazing, fresh food, the lifestyle is fantastic in San Sebastian. It’s all about sun, sand, surf and siestas! Unless you’re heading out of town, there’s little incentive to drive, or even take a cab, when you can walk or cycle…..which obviously helps to increase incidental exercise… And nightclubs aren’t just for young ones, but for the young at heart….which is my favourite form of aerobic exercise. All this exercise is great for maintaining a healthy weight, as well as for preventing or treating insulin resistance which can often be a problem over 40. Insulin resistance is where the body’s cells don’t respond normally to the hormone insulin, which then has a domino effect on our fertility hormones. So, regular physical activity is a great benefit.

Furthermore, the fresh sea air, and afternoon siestas are great for reducing stress, which has also been found to be beneficial for fertility. The exact mechanism behind stress reduction and an increase in fertility remains unproven, but studies suggest that there is certainly a link.

So, now you have one of two choices….either pack your bags and head to the Mediterranean, or, start living a Mediterranean lifestyle at home. Either are good choices!  If you’ve been to Spain, I can’t wait to hear your foodie stories in the chat box below…and if you haven’t, I assure you, it’s a must to put on your bucket list!

To help you get your fertility diet started, I’ve got a little gift for you! I’ve created a nutritious and delicious fertility meal plan. All you have to do is go to to download it.



Melanie McGrice in the kitchen

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