At different life stages, our bodies need different nutrition to meet the metabolic demands. Infants need different nutrition than teens who need different nutrition than pregnant women who need different nutrition than elders. Throughout our lives we need to keep adjusting our diet to meet these changing demands.
When we are preparing to get pregnant, we can think of it as switching our diet from an adult appropriate diet to one that will properly nourish a developing egg or sperm.
As a community, our ancestors fed the men and women who were of childbearing age the most nutrient dense foods, “fertility food” to help them prepare for conception. These would have been the precious organ meats from the animals they hunted, the harvest from the sea that they gathered or traded for and the eggs from fish or fowl that they foraged.
In modern times, we can adopt a similar strategy as we prepare for conception. Eating nutrient dense foods both improve our fertility and help to grow healthy, well-formed children.
Our eggs and sperm go through a 3 month development cycle from the time they start growing to when they are mature and ready to be used. In this time, our eggs and sperm are awash in the nutrients from the food we eat. As they develop, they are gathering information about the environment they will need to adapt to.
A good example of this is the father’s sperm. The father makes a one time donation of genetic material that makes up half of the baby’s genetics. But the sperm didn’t just grow that day, they have been developing inside the man for the last 3 months. Everything he ate, smoked, drank, thought and experienced provided a chemical soup from which the sperm gathered information about the environment. This led to the sperm turning some genes on and others off.
Epidemiological studies suggest that a father’s diet can influence the offspring health. This study (http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2013/131210/ncomms3889/full/ncomms3889.html) with mice shows a possible route that information gets transmitted via the father’s sperm.
The father and mother’s preconception nutrition is an important way to help ensure a baby has a healthy start in life. Eating nutrient dense foods along with plenty of root and leafy vegetables for at least 3 months prior to conception will help send a message to the egg and sperm to turn on their healthiest genes and pass them on when they join to form a baby.