With endless numbers of fad or fertility diets out there, it’s hard to really know what we “should” be eating these days. This can be especially true for women who are trying to get pregnant and simply want to know how to best support their bodies in conceiving and carrying a healthy baby to term.
Wherever you are in your fertility journey, committing to a nourishing, whole foods diet can be an empowering way to take charge of your health during what can often become a stressful time filled with uncertainties. Here are a few simple ways to begin shifting your diet towards one that will support optimal egg quality and help balance your hormone levels.
First, the elephant in the room, or in the pantry: SUGAR.
When ingested, sugar creates free radicals, causing inflammation and contributing to the hardening of the cells in your body, including your follicles (immature eggs).
Start to cut down on sugar by limiting your intake of processed sugars- high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, and other “white” foods- white bread, white rice, and pasta.
Just the simple act of reading labels at the grocery store can help you avoid hidden sources of sugar; common foods that you may not think contain sugar are prepared pasta sauces, crackers, flavored yogurts, nut butters, and salad dressings.
And don’t forget, there is a lot of sugar in alcohol drinks!
As you become more aware of your sugar intake, you can begin to think about how your overall blood sugar levels are being affected by what you eat.
Blood sugar levels rise when we consume any type of carbohydrates because they break down into glucose when they are digested. Glucose provides needed energy to our cells, but it’s very important to avoid drastic spikes in our blood sugar levels throughout the day.
The presence of glucose in the blood stimulates the release of insulin, a hormone that triggers the cells to absorb glucose. When insulin is spiking and crashing constantly throughout the day, cortisol, a stress hormone released by your adrenal glands, gets involved to help your body regulate your blood sugar levels.
The negative effects of adrenal over stimulation are many: brain fog, fatigue, sleep issues, inability to lose weight. Because our adrenals glands also release sex hormones, our fertility can be negatively impacted by blood sugar levels that roller coaster up and down.
Keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day:
- Eat breakfast every morning, preferably one heavy on healthy fats and protein, and light on carbs.
- Try to limit carbohydrate servings to one per meal. Let vegetables be a vehicle for tasty sauces or spreads instead of processed grains. Try zucchini noodles with sauce instead of pasta, carrots or bell pepper with hummus instead of crackers, or try your hand at a cauliflower rice pilaf instead of a side of rice or potatoes.
- Make sure snacks and desserts have a good source of protein or fat. For example, pair apple slices with some nut butter for a snack, or blend up coconut milk, chia seeds, and berries for a sweet treat.
If you’re limiting sugar and processed grains and integrating more nutrient dense proteins and plenty of vegetables into your diet, you’re off to a great start!
3 tips to keep in mind when shopping for food:
Clean it up: Pesticides and herbicides used on conventionally grown produce contain chemicals that interfere with our hormonal processes, including the development of eggs and ovulation.
If you’re eating meat, eggs and dairy, try to get grass fed/pastured sources where available, certified organic where they’re not. If money is a concern with purchasing organic produce, you can prioritize by getting familiar with the dirty dozen, a list put together by the environmental working group of the 12 most pesticide laden fruits and vegetables
Things to avoid: Stay away from polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as canola, corn, cottonseed, and grapeseed oil as well as chemical preservatives, food additives, artificial sweeteners and artificial colorings. These oils and chemicals cause inflammation in the body and put extra burden on the liver’s detoxification systems.
Make it fatty: Increase your intake of healthy fats! These include avocado, coconut oil, nuts and seeds, grass fed butter, eggs from pastured chickens, and fish high in Omega 3 fatty acids such as salmon. These types of fats strengthen cell membranes and enhance nervous system function.
Personally, I’ve found the hardest part of eating a whole foods diet is having the wherewithal to plan ahead, meal prep, and have healthy snacks on hand throughout the day. I highly recommend planning out your meals for the week and doing as much prep as you can on the weekends.
I also suggest having a constant supply of healthy, protein and fat containing snacks that you can have with you throughout the day. Here is a recipe for a delicious energy bar loaded with fertility-friendly nutrients: Aunt Flo's Energy Bars.
One last note
Make sure your fertility food path is focused on nourishing and loving your body. If your diet becomes too rigid or you’re often having feelings of guilt or shame around eating, then that becomes unhealthy in its own way. The guidelines listed above should still allow for delicious and satiating meals, but please make sure to eat in a way that feeds your heart and happiness as well.
The guidelines listed above are a great place for anyone to start. If you have specific health concerns, or have struggled to get pregnant or maintain a pregnancy in the past, seek out a fertility acupuncturist specialist who can make specific food and herb recommendations based on your Chinese Medicine pattern, and enhance your fertility with acupuncture as well! We offer Free Consults over the phone or in-office to answer any questions about how we may be able to help. Learn more about Fertility Acupuncture by checking out our page dedicated to our specialty in Reproductive Medicine acupuncture and herbs.
"Feed Your Fertility: Your Guide to Cultivating a Healthy Pregnancy with Chinese Medicine, Real Food, and Holistic Living" Emily Bartlett, Lac. and Laura Erlich, LAc. 2015 Fair Winds Press.
"Becoming Mama" Online Program, Katie Altneu, LAc.