Fertility Foods to Rev-up Your Reproductive Power
Thinking of conceiving? You need to get healthy first! With so much information available, where do you start? When in doubt, begin with nutrition. Food is one of the most powerful medicines we have. It is a built-in, daily opportunity to impact our health. This is especially true during the fertility journey. For would-be parents who practice a conscientious diet, research shows improved health prior to and at conception, increased fertility rates, healthier pregnancies, smoother deliveries, and a positive impact on the health of kiddos for years to come. So what are you waiting for? Get into good nutrition with foods that impact your fertility health!
Courting a fertility-friendly diet
A diet of fertility-friendly foods should start with five (or more) cups of vegetables per day. My favourites include leafy greens, cruciferous veggies (like broccoli and cauliflower), and anything brightly-coloured. Eating the rainbow is a thing for good reason! They’re packed with nutrients, antioxidants, and support the liver to detoxify and balance hormones. Familiarize yourself with the “dirty dozen” and choose organic when accessible because pesticides disrupt hormones, increase inflammation, and negatively impact fertility. Focus on this tip especially if concerns of sperm or egg quality or estrogen dominance exist.
Consume three palm-sized portions of protein every day. An emphasis on plant-based proteins is ideal—think beans, legumes, raw nuts, and seeds. If you eat meat, opt for grass-fed, wild-caught, and organic lean animal proteins and eggs. Many fertility advocates recommend avoiding dairy because it can cause inflammation and increase congestion. This, however, is not a universal rule. If you tolerate dairy, occasionally consume small amounts (not daily), and opt for full-fat, organic, and aged or fermented varieties. Proteins are nutrient dense, many are rich in iron and B vitamins, and they help stabilize blood sugar. Adequate protein intake is part of optimizing weight which is vital for fertility. Focus on this tip if you have concerns with PCOS.
Fats with benefits
Healthy fats are a crucial fertility food and should have a place at every meal. These are literally the basic materials used to build all reproductive hormones. Great examples include raw nuts and seeds, deep-sea cold-water fish (making sure to avoid fish with high mercury content, like tuna), and healthy oils like coconut, olive, and avocado. When choosing an oil, go for high quality and look for ones labelled unrefined, extra virgin, and/or cold pressed. Also make sure to include omega-3 fats. They’re considered essential, highly anti-inflammatory, and fertility-friendly, so ensure you’re getting enough, whether through foods like chia, flax, walnut, and wild fatty fish, or through a quality supplement. Fats to be avoided include trans fats, hydrogenated fats, or highly processed vegetable oils found in packaged goods. Keep this in mind especially if you have concerns with egg or sperm quality, hormone imbalances, or have structural concerns from recent infection and inflammation.
Go slow with carbs
Ideally, carbohydrate intake should be consciously limited. Remember carbs aren’t only found in grains, but also in vegetables, fruit, beans, and legumes. Our bodies need carbohydrates, so don’t cut them out altogether, but learning which ones are low-glycemic and high in fibre will help guide your choices. Reducing and/or avoiding sugar and refined grains altogether is a simple way to maintain blood sugar balance and a healthy weight. So instead of grabbing a bagel made with white flour or a chocolate bar, aim for whole grains, starchy vegetables, or whole fruit, which are far better sources of carbohydrates. If you suffer from grain sensitivities that produce symptoms affecting digestion, skin, joints, or mood, you should avoid them when planning to conceive. And as always, if you aren’t sure, speak to your health care professional. While there is no exact formula for carbohydrate quantity, you can be sure that the standard western diet has far too much. Finding a balance is based on your individual health and understanding that less may very well be better for you if carbs have been a big part of your daily diet. Another good tip to focus on if you have PCOS.
Go all the way with water
Water is by far the beverage of choice. To figure out how much you should be consuming, do this quick equation: take your weight in pounds and divide by three. The result is the amount of water, in ounces, you should drink each day for adequate hydration. Add eight ounces of water to that tally for every cup of caffeine you drink and per 30 minutes of exercise. I recommend limiting caffeine to one cup of caffeinated beverage a day, and make it count by choosing green or black tea over coffee. Teas contain strong antioxidants, and theanine found in green tea, specifically, can help to cool anxiety (common during the fertility journey). Note: those experiencing fertility concerns are often advised to eliminate caffeine altogether. Eliminate juice, pop, and alcohol as soon as you start planning to conceive.
Preparing for conception with diet
Making a baby is no small feat! In order to conceive, a viable sperm and egg must meet, a healthy uterus is needed for implantation and growth, and sufficient hormones are necessary to carry a pregnancy to term. Did you know that women have their maximum number of healthy eggs as a fetus before they are born and these steadily diminish as you age? Don’t panic, you’re still good! In the three to four months leading up to its release, an egg is recruited and matures, preparing for the upcoming cycle. The health of the woman at this time will significantly impact her fertility.
No surprise, sperm work differently. They are locked in an endless cycle of being built and destroyed from puberty onward throughout a man’s life. While men are always fertile, it takes about 100 days to build and grow new sperm, making the four month period prior to conception prime time programming for optimizing fertility for men as well.
The fertility struggle is real
Did you know that 15-20% of families in North America struggle to conceive? Concerns with egg or sperm quality and struggles with polycystic ovarian syndrome (or PCOS, whose symptoms include irregular menstrual cycles and ovulation) are quite common. Also complicating matters are environmental toxins, advanced maternal age, structural issues with the testes, uterus, or fallopian tubes, and male and female hormonal imbalances, which include estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone, and even the stress hormone, cortisol. In many cases, a combination of these issues is at play. And while part of your fertility journey will certainly involve a visit with your health care provider to better diagnose the root of the problem, opting for a diet of fertility-friendly foods can also have a significant impact. Whether you are thinking of conceiving in the future, or already trying and struggling, consciously choosing a plant-rich diet filled with plenty of whole, unprocessed foods and ample hydration is a fantastic way to prepare for baby.
A fertility diet has a lot in common with a basic clean whole foods diet. It’s easy to embrace better eating habits and, when it comes to fertility, it’s never too early, or too late to get started!
See Dr. Heidi Lescanec’s recipes for some simple and tasty fertility-friendly options!