Q & A with Katie Harris – Fertility Dietitian

Fertility Dietitian

We know you have a lot of questions around fertility and pregnancy.

Considering the overwhelming amount of conflicting information floating around the internet, it’s no surprise! Trying to conceive can be an exciting yet overwhelming time, and we would like to help ease some of your worries with help from our Dietitian Katie Harris who has recently completed her training in fertility nutrition.

Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your career?
I have been working as an Accredited practising Dietitian for 13 years helping patients with a range of different medical and nutritional concerns. I have always had a passion for learning more about the amazing ways that nutrition can impact on various areas of our health.
I am a lover of the outdoors, travel and the ocean and love staying active.  I am lucky to have two incredible children who I love dearly and who possibly wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t focused on my nutrition whilst trying to conceive as I have PCOS myself and this is one of the most common reasons women have trouble conceiving.  We know diet can have such an enormous impact on successful pregnancy rates in women with PCOS.

As a certified fertility Dietitian, I am so passionate about helping others achieve their dreams of starting a family and ensuring that the future health of their children is the best that it possibly can be. Did you know that what you and your partner eat for the 3 months before conception can impact not only your fertility but also the future health of your child long into their adult life?  Amazing!

What should I be eating when I’m trying to get pregnant?
Gosh where do I start. This can be something that does need to be personalised depending on the individual, however my top three biggest tips would be:
• Foods rich in folate such as asparagus, spinach, brussels sprouts, and fruits such as orange and paw paw.
• Foods rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as extra virgin olive oil, oily fish, nuts, nut pastes and seeds.
• Swapping animal proteins for plant proteins like legumes such as chickpeas, beans, lentils, or tofu at least 2-3 times a week.

Can I eat sushi?
Of course you can however I would recommend choosing fillings like salmon and avocado for the fertility benefits of the healthy fats they contain.  Also consume it in smaller doses occasionally as the white rice can be quite high GI and we know that lower GI diets can improve fertility.  Once pregnant this is a food you will need to be careful with as pre-prepared sushi could pose a food safety risk and potentially be harmful for your baby.  If you have the time to make it fresh yourself then go for it once pregnant, just avoid any raw seafood as fillers!
Is it safe to drink coffee?
I drink 2-3 cups of coffee a day.  Is this harming my chances of getting pregnant?
It is definitely something to limit as recent studies have found that intakes of caffeine above 200mg/day are associated with an increased risk of miscarriage.  This might be the equivalent of 1-2 small barista coffees or 2-3 instant coffees.  The only thing is we never really know how much caffeine is in that one espresso shot so better to choose the lowest amount possible as hard as it can be.

What should I be eating when trying to conceive if I have PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome)?
As insulin resistance is common in women with PCOS a carefully balanced low GI diet is key to regulating hormone levels and achieving menstrual cycle regularity which is important for conception.  For example, choosing wholegrains such as rolled oats, barely and quinoa and fruit such as blueberries and kiwifruit.  Foods rich in vitamin D are also important as 85% of women with PCOS have a vitamin D deficiency and we know that it is essential for fertility.  Foods such as eggs, oily fish, fortified dairy products and mushrooms exposed to the sun.

A diet focused on increasing the biodiversity of the gut microbiome is so important as recent research has shown a reduced gut biodiversity in women with PCOS.  This reduced diversity may hinder a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant, so it is recommended you work closely with your fertility Dietitian to improve your gut health and biodiversity.

Should my husband change his diet?
Definitely! It takes healthy sperm to make a baby and when we look at the impact that nutrition can have on sperm health there is so much we can do to improve it. Sperm counts in males have declined in many regions around the world over the past 40 years by 50-60% which is huge!
There are many nutritional factors that could affect a male’s fertility and the health of your future children; a few to mention include his weight, alcohol intake, intake of omega 3 fatty acids, processed meat consumption, zinc and vitamin C amongst many others.   It is important you both consult with a fertility Dietitian at least 3 months before conceiving as this is when both the egg and sperm are starting to develop.

Once a woman is pregnant, how much weight should she gain?
This really depends on your weight before you fell pregnant.  We use your pre-pregnancy BMI to determine your estimated weight gain.  Let’s say you were in a healthy BMI range it would be expected that you would gain anywhere from 11.5kg – 16kg.  This would differ if you were underweight you may gain up to 18kg or if you were in an overweight or obese BMI category it may be as little as 5-7kg gain.

Can you tell us a little bit about the effect of low-carb diets on fertility hormones and outcomes in overweight and obese women?
Firstly we know that for both males and females that being overweight, obese or having excess body fat can impair fertility in both sexes.  The use of low carbohydrate diets can be an effective diet to promote weight loss and improve insulin sensitivity.  Improvements in fertility hormones and increased regularity of menstrual cycles can also be seen when the diet was used by those who were overweight or obese.  This diet should be carefully used under the guidance of a Fertility Dietitian, this is to ensure nutritional adequacy.  Improper use can lead to worsening fertility and it usually needs to be ceased within a certain timeframe of trying to conceive or before beginning any assisted reproductive technology such as IVF.

You can make an appointment with Katie via our website here or call 55 765832