Q&A with Emily Innes – Registered Dietitian

Emily Innes is a leading Dietitian focused on Fertility-Related Nutrition who works closely with HART and our patients to find a balanced diet that will promote ovulation and fertility.

We sat down with Emily to find out exactly what steps are necessary in order to boost fertility through diet.

As a dietician, especially working in the field of fertility-related nutrition, what is the most common issues you face with clients struggling to fall pregnant?

A very common issue that I see very often is people not eating enough nutritious food, regularly throughout the day.   

Sometimes people are busy in their work days and they haven’t planned their food intake for the day, so they grab a quick food option that isn’t a healthy and nutritious option. Or they skip meals and snacks and end up overeating in the evenings.

Or, people trying to lose weight/ ‘get healthy’ to assist with fertility, can end up being too restrictive with their eating which isn’t sustainable in the long-term. People then become despondent and end up overeating. This restricting and then overeating cycle that people get stuck in is not a healthy one.

Rather than trying to be restrictive and having a mentality that focuses on what you can’t eat, I encourage my clients to focus on eating plenty of healthy nutritious food, regularly throughout the day.

I see ladies trying to cut carbs out of their diet, but then their bodies crave carbs and they end of over-eating on sugary carbs, which is the most unhealthy kind of carb to be eating in relation to fertility!

I encourage my clients to eat enough healthy, unprocessed carbs. This, along with eating enough protein and healthy fat, helps to keep sugar cravings away, and helps to keep your body well nourished.

What is your approach to nutrition overall, and how did you become so passionately involved in fertility-related nutrition?

My approach to nutrition is to help my clients to make changes to their diet that are going to be sustainable to follow through with in the long-term. I don’t believe in strict diets. I believe in creating lifestyle habits that become a part of who you are. Fantastic health and a great sense of all-round well-being can be achieved if you consistently follow your healthy lifestyle habits. The answer does not lie in the next ‘quick fix diet.’

I believe in treating my patients holistically..

When I work with my clients we look at the inter-relationship between what I call ‘Emily’s 3 M’s’, which are Mind (your psychological well-being, your relationship with food and your body, mindful eating, management of emotional eating, sleep, stress management’), Movement (exercise habits and movement in your daily life), and Mouth (the types of food you put in your mouth, and when you eat).

I find that working within this framework really helps clients to make lifestyle changes. It’s so much more than just ‘changing your diet’. It is about creating a healthy lifestyle for yourself.

I believe in focusing on a whole-food diet as far as possible. I encourage my clients to eat plenty of nutrient-rich, un-processed foods, with the occasional treat.

Have you always had an interest in women’s health?

Yes! A few years ago my sister (who has PCOS) was trying to fall pregnant. I gave her some nutrition advice, which she implemented like a star. Within 2 months she was pregnant, with twins, naturally.

It was amazing to see how the desire to fall pregnant was so strong that she had this single-minded focus when it came to implementing the dietary changes. And it was so awesome to see how well it worked out for her.

From there I became even more interested in fertility-related nutrition and started to work with women to help them change their diets to optimise fertility. I find it incredibly rewarding to be able to play a role in helping women achieve their dream of becoming a mom. It really is the best.

Since having my son and becoming a mom myself in 2016, my passion for the field of women’s health and fertility-related nutrition has become even greater.

What foods would you recommend people include in their diets to boost fertility?

Protein-rich foods: Make sure that you eat some lean protein at each meal. (e.g. fish, chicken, lean meat, legumes, dairy products). Eating enough protein helps to promote good egg quality. Include plant-based protein (e.g. legumes) into your diet in place of animal protein for a few meals per week.

Plenty of fruit and vegetables: Eat a minimum of 5 portions of fruit and veg per day, but limit fruit intake to 2-3 fruit portions per day. Include PLENTY of fresh veg/ salad with lunch and supper daily.
Fruit and veg will supply you with plenty of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fibre. They will also help to keep you full so that you are less likely to snack on unhealthy food options.

Whole-food, unprocessed carbs: Unprocessed, high fibre carbs (such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, sweet potato, starchy vegetables and fruit) provide you with a slow release of energy, which prevents spikes in blood sugar levels. Managing your blood sugar levels well is an essential part of optimising fertility. Eat some of these foods at each meal to give you energy and help prevent cravings for unhealthy sugary and processed carbs.

Healthy plant fats and omega 3 fats: Try to include some plant fats (e.g. olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado) at each meal. Eating some fat with your meal will help you to stay fuller for longer. Eat fatty fish 3 times per week, or take an omega 3 supplement daily, in order to get in enough of the healthy omega 3 fats.

Why is good nutrition so important when trying to fall pregnant?

It helps you to maintain a healthy body weight:

  • Being underweight or overweight can interfere with fertility.
  • Having a BMI (Body Mass Index – a measure of your weight for your height) between 20 – 24 is optimal for fertility.
  • Eating a balanced healthy diet can help you to gain weight if you are underweight, or lose weight if you are overweight.
  • If you are very overweight, losing just 5-10% of your currently body weight can drastically improve your fertility.

Managing your blood sugar levels is an essential component of ensuring regular ovulation:

  • This is important for everyone trying to conceive, but it is especially important if you have PCOS, insulin resistance, or are overweight.
  • Eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates (sugar, sugary foods, processed foods, white bread, white rice etc) will mean that your blood sugar levels are high, which can result in high circulating insulin levels.
  • Insulin is a hormone, and this can interfere with your other hormones, which can hamper ovulation.
  • Avoiding refined carbohydrates and eating a balanced diet, will help you manage your blood sugar levels, reduce insulin resistance, and promote ovulation and fertility.
  • Good nutrition can improve your energy levels, help you feel more positive, and help you manage your stress better.

These are all important factors when trying to conceive.

We all have busy lives and often don’t have time to prep lavish meals – do you have any quick tips for packing lunches on the go?

  • Make a big batch of something to use as your ‘base’ that can be kept in the fridge and used for a few days. For example, quinoa with lentils in it, or brown rice with chickpeas. Then, each day you just need to chop up some fresh salad ingredients to add to it, and some dressing/avo/ seeds, and there you have it, a perfectly balanced lunch meal that is fertility diet approved.
  • Make extra at supper time and take leftovers for lunch.
  • Keep some ‘dry stocks’ at work, and then bring fresh salad with you / leftover veg from supper, to add to your work ‘dry stocks’. For example, you could keep some tinned tuna and brown rice cakes at work. Then you just need to bring some mayo and fresh salad/ leftover veg from supper, and voila, a balanced meal can be whipped-up in no time at all!

Changing diets and or lifestyle can be very scary for most people, what words of advice do you have for our patients regarding this?

  • Try not to fall into ‘all or nothing’ mentality. It does not have to all be ‘perfect’ right away. Just start somewhere. If you feel that the change will be too drastic, then you will be more resistant to start making the changes. So, start with small changes.
  • You should not be hungry all the time. if you are, seek professional advice to help to ensure that you are getting in the right nutrients. Healthy eating done right will leave you feeling full, satisfied and full of energy. If you are feeling tired all the time, and hungry, then you’re probably not eating enough or not eating the right kinds of foods.
  • Take small steps in the right direction, and aim for long-term change and not quick fixes. Your health is so worth investing in. Don’t wait until tomorrow – start making some small changes today, right now, at your very next meal!