Happy Fertile Friday everyone!! Today I’m going to talk a bit about using nutrition to enhance fertility. As with any health concern, diet choices are so important, and can make such a huge difference – not only for the health of the future mums and dads, but also for the health of the future baby. Starting to eat well once you’re pregnant is better than nothing, but when you consider that what you eat today could affect eggs and sperm that mature (and hopefully meet) three months from now, it becomes clear that healthy nutrition habits should be implemented before even starting to try to conceive.
General Nutrition Guidelines To Promote Fertility
- Eat foods high in antioxidants – since oxidative stress can hinder both eggs and sperm, foods should be chosen that are high in antioxidants; I hate to say it, but this is especially true in older women to counter the effects of aging on the eggs. Fruits and vegetables are probably the best sources of antioxidants – make juices or smoothies to get maximum nutrition and number of daily servings.
- Eat organic – there are so many reasons to eat organic – fewer pesticides and chemicals is one; but equally importantly, if a food is certified organic it cannot contain any GMO’s. I think GMO’s are one of the scariest things facing our nutritional health these days, so you want to do everything in your power to avoid them. Chemicals and toxins can clog our bodies up, put stress on our livers and create inflammation – all of which can hinder hormone balance and fertility.
- Eat grass-fed, free-range, pastured meats and poultry – red meat is not inherently bad, and can actually be an important source of iron and protein, two things that are key for fertility and pregnancy. However, grain-fed beef is lower in nutrition and higher in saturated fat than grass fed, leading to more inflammation in the body and posing a greater health risk. Grass-fed meat is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids along with being a good protein source. It is also important to make sure meats and poultry are not treated with any antibiotics, or any hormones – both of those things can disrupt fertility too.
- Eat cold-water fish – cold water fish such as wild salmon is a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats reduce inflammation and promote fertility. Under no circumstances would I suggest farm-raised fish which are fed grains and other nasty unhealthy things; and be watchful of high-mercury fish such as tuna.
- Eat eggs at least twice, preferably three times, per week – eggs are a great source of protein, vitamins and minerals, but perhaps more importantly for fertility, they are a source of cholesterol. We’re all so conditioned nowadays to think of cholesterol as a bad thing, but all of our steroid hormones are built from cholesterol – including our cortisol, DHEA, testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. It’s important to make sure we have enough of the building blocks to be able to create healthy levels of hormones.
- Minimize sugars and refined carbohydrates – sugars and simple carbs do nothing to promote health or fertility. They cause large fluctuations in blood sugars, which is particularly bad for those suffering from PCOS. They also suppress immune function, leaving us more susceptible to infections, and less able to deal with environmental threats that might come along.
- Avoid gluten – this can be a tough one, but gluten is so hard for many people to digest and process, and can trigger auto-immunity in the body. Auto-immune processes can be a contributing factor in infertility. At the very least, make sure to get a good test done for gluten intolerance (I like Enterolab’s poop test).
- Minimize soy unless it is fermented – soy is a source of phytoestrogens that can bind with estrogen receptors and throw off our own hormone levels. I am not in the “soy is completely evil” camp generally speaking, but I do think that when trying to conceive, it’s safer to avoid it. Tempeh, miso and other fermented forms of soy are not so bad.
- Minimize alcohol and caffeine – boo. I know, right? Again, I’m not totally excluding those things, but limit coffee to one a day and tea to two a day; and save the wine for special dinners and social events. We want to keep adrenals happy, yeast levels down and blood sugar balanced as much as possible.
Here’s a pretty typical example of my daily intake during the week, on weekends we eat out a bit more so it’s less streamlined. I’m not saying my diet is perfect, but I aim to incorporate as much of the above foods as possible:
First thing – 1 espresso (recently been trying Bulletproof coffee which I’ll write about next week)
Breakfast – protein smoothie made with almond milk, whey protein powder, hemp hearts and/ or ground chia and bee pollen granules; or 3 scrambled eggs (probably 3x weekly)
Lunch – some form of protein (organic chicken breast or salmon usually); green smoothie made mostly with veggies and minimal fruit
Dinner – organic chicken breast with some kind of sauce (pesto, home-made tomato sauce, or coconut cream based curry sauce), or salmon, or shrimp sauteed with garlic and veggies. Lots of steamed veggies to go with it. We don’t eat carbs at night in our household so we skip the pasta, rice and potatoes
Snacks – raw nuts and seeds, hard-boiled eggs, protein drinks, hummous, almond butter
I try to focus on proteins, fruits and vegetables, eggs, and raw nuts/ seeds; and I take a ton of healthy fats including avocados, coconut oil and olive oil.
These are the key themes in using nutrition to support fertility. No one expects perfection but every choice counts, so if you’re trying to get pregnant or get your body as healthy as it can be prior to pregnancy, try to opt for these kinds of foods whenever possible.