Eating to Optimize Fertility

By: Cindy Bailey

It’s no secret that what you eat plays a critical role in your health.  Just as a healthy diet can support your heart and fight against cancer, it can also have a huge impact on your reproductive health.

When eating for fertility, the goal is to increase the availability of nutrients that support your reproduction, as well as your overall health. You’ll also want to eat to support your hormonal health – because that finely tuned balance of hormones is critical to fertility and conception.

To do this, you’re going to want to get rid of the “bad” foods, which overly tax or stress your body, and keep or add in the “good” foods, which provide wonderful nutrients and support optimal health.

It’s more critical to get rid of the “bad,” so let’s look at what you should definitely take out of your diet. The main foods (or substances) you’ll want to eliminate include alcohol, caffeine, trans fats, processed sugar, artificial sweeteners and other overly processed foods (including all those bottled sodas and beverages!).

These foods have a negative impact on your fertility. Processed sugar, for example, negatively affects blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to hormonal imbalance. In addition, it causes inflammation in the body and suppresses your immune system—meaning that your body has to work even harder to process the sugar.

Another example:  Alcohol disrupts the absorption of nutrients, weakens our immune system and raises prolactin levels, which in turn inhibits ovulation. Overly processed foods can be full of additives, preservatives, sugar (which goes by many names), trans fat and other substances that can disrupt your hormones and are not good for your health.

You’ll also want to avoid, or eliminate, wheat and dairy, because not only are both of these especially hard for your body to digest, but they are also highly allergenic foods. Many people have sensitivity to wheat, for example, and may not even know it because the symptoms are so mild. If you have sensitivity to foods, it is especially tough on your body to digest them. While trying to conceive, you want to ease the energy used for digestion—the most labor-intensive function in the body—so there is more available to nourish and heal other systems in your body, such as your reproductive system.

As for the “good” foods, you’ll want to eat an all-organic diet that includes plenty of vegetables (at least five servings a day!), lean protein, beans, good carbohydrates, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats. Low-mercury seafood is also a great choice, in moderation (up to two servings a week).  Also select fresh, whole fruits instead of fruit juice, which contains too much concentrated amounts of sugar.  Add natural forms of sugar, such as all-natural honey, maple syrup and brown rice syrup to your diet in moderation. Be sure to check labels to make sure nothing else has been added.

If you eat meat, choose organic and lean forms. By eating meat that’s organic you avoid added growth hormones that affect our own hormones negatively, and you avoid any antibiotics used on the animals. By eating meat lean, you avoid many of the dioxins—which are industrial chemicals ingested by animals regardless of organic farming practices that often settle into the fat of those animals.

The importance of eating healthy fats cannot be overemphasized.  Healthy fats can be found in vegetable oils, such as olive oil; nuts and seeds; and avocados. Since some of your estrogen is made and stored in fat, you definitely need it while trying to conceive, and just want to stick with the healthy kind.  Healthy fats also help stabilize blood sugar levels, ease inflammation and prevent premature births.

People always ask, “What are the top fertility-boosting foods?” While an all-around healthy, balanced, organic diet is the first priority, these are what I consider to be the top three fertility-boosting foods:

•           Beans –  Not only are they packed with protein, fiber and nutrients (such as calcium, iron and potassium) important for fertility and pregnancy, they also contain a high percentage of folate (a B vitamin), which boosts fertility in both men and women and helps prevent neural tube defects at birth.  Beans are also low in fat, good for digestion and a great source of antioxidants.

•           Nuts and Seeds – These are high in protein and all-important healthy fats. They also contain essential minerals and fiber, which is important for the health of the digestive system and lowering cholesterol. Good choices for seeds are pumpkin and sesame, which also contain zinc. As for nuts, try almonds and walnuts.

•           Avocados – This fruit is great for fertility! Not only is it packed with folate, it’s also high in monounsaturated fat. That’s the good, healthy kind, which helps to lower cholesterol and plays such an important role in your endocrine system, which regulates the hormones involved in reproduction. Finally, avocados contain good enzymes which aid digestion. Avocados are also high in fiber, which helps regulate blood sugar levels, and are filled with other great nutrients, such as potassium, vitamin B6 and vitamin C.

Eating this way not only optimizes fertility and chances of conception, but is great for your overall health too. Remember to give yourself time to adjust to the diet, and don’t skip visiting your doctor to assess your particular needs.