Everyone knows that good nutrition is important during pregnancy. What you may not realize is that eating a nutrient dense diet before you conceive can boost your fertility and build the nutrient reserves to prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy, post-partum recovery and breastfeeding. A woman thinking of conceiving will benefit greatly from honing in her diet several months in advance.
Eating a nutrient dense diet for fertility applies to both women and men. The millions of sperm produced by a man today won’t be mature for 74 days! What a man eats in those 3 months before conception can benefit the quality of his sperm and his contribution to a healthy baby.
Another key concept in eating for fertility is keeping your blood sugar level balanced. Blood sugar swings are stressful on your body, and stress negatively affects hormone levels. Also, foods that cause blood sugar swings are typically not very nutritious. Learn more about the art of balancing blood sugar here.
The Top Foods for Fertility
Choline is a key nutrient for fertility and pregnancy, and is as important as adequate folate. Eggs are a rich source of choline. They are also a good source of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid linked to brain development. Choline and DHA work synergistically. Eggs are also good sources of folate, other B-vitamins and antioxidants crucial for eye and vision development. Pastured eggs are best because they are significantly higher in several nutrients. If you can’t find pastured eggs, look for organic eggs.
Fatty fish such as salmon and sardines, and other seafood such as shellfish, are full of nutrients needed for a healthy pregnancy. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid found in cold-water, fatty fish, such as salmon. DHA is a key nutrient for brain development, and omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory. Fish is also one of the few foods that contain Vitamin D. It is a good source of iodine, zinc and selenium. Avoid high mercury fish such as swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish and shark. Limit tuna to less than 6 ounces per week.
Liver and other organ meats are some of the most nutritious foods on the planet. The liver stores nutrients, so much so that it’s said that eating a few ounces of liver once or twice a week is like taking a multivitamin. Liver is especially rich in heme iron, folate, Vitamin B-12, and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Buy liver from pastured or grass-fed animals for the best quality. If you turn your nose up at the thought of liver, you can buy desiccated liver from pastured animals in supplement form.
Bone Broth and Slow-Cooked Meat on the Bone
Our food culture focuses on skeletal meats, which are heavy in the amino acid methionine. Glycine is found in bones, collagen, skin and tough cuts of meat. Glycine is needed to manufacture DNA, bones, connective tissue, organs and skin. Too much methionine depletes glycine stores, so it’s important to balance the skeletal muscle meat with other parts of the animal. Making your own bone broth and slow-cooking meats is easy and draws out glycine-containing collagen and minerals.
Vegetables (especially leafy greens)
Vegetables are some of the most nutritious foods you can eaet. They contain antioxidants, phytonutrients, flavonoids, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Particularly beneficial are leafy greens, which contain Vitamin C, Vitamin K1, magnesium and Vitamin B6. Because some of these beneficial nutrients are fat-soluble, eat them with fats such as olive oil or grass-fed butter. Also mix up the way you eat them, as some nutrients are higher in raw vegetables and some are higher in cooked vegetables. Choose organic when possible and thoroughly wash non-organic vegetables.
Full Fat and Fermented Dairy Products
If you tolerate dairy, full-fat dairy contains some key nutrients for fertility. It is a good source of protein, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K2, certain B-vitamins and iodine. Quality matters with dairy. Choose pastured (grass-fed) dairy or organic when possible. Fermented dairy is a great choice. Butter, cream, full-fat Greek yogurt and aged cheeses are often better tolerated than milk and soft cheeses.
Fermented Vegetables and Other Probiotic Foods
Beneficial probiotics found in fermented vegetables, kombucha, plain full-fat dairy and other probiotic foods go a long way toward improving gut health. A healthy microbiome is linked to improved immunity, moods, digestion and hormone regulation. Choose non-sweetened options.
Foods to Limit or Avoid
Not surprisingly, there are also foods to limit or avoid for fertility and pregnancy. These are foods that negatively affect blood sugar levels or are low in nutrients.
As much as we love it, sugar is a bad actor for anyone’s health. For anyone preparing to conceive a child, it’s even more important to minimize sugar. It leads to blood sugar swings, weight gain and inflammation. Sugary foods also displace nutrient-dense foods. Even naturally sweet foods like honey, maple syrup and dates affect blood sugar and should be limited.
These include foods that contain white grain flour and white rice. Breads, pizza, pasta, crackers, cereal, bagels, pretzels, popcorn, rice cakes, and “instant” foods fall into this category. These are low in nutrient density and create swings in blood sugar levels.
Be aware that a food may be labeled as “whole grain” with only 51% whole grains in it. Look for products that are labeled as 100% whole grain and watch your portion sizes. Any grain that has been ground into a flour is still partially refined and will raise your blood sugar faster than a whole grain that is still intact like quinoa, wild rice and steel cut oats. Also be aware that grains are not a necessary part of one’s diet and are not a nutritional powerhouse. In fact, colorful vegetables often have a higher nutritional value.
Alcohol acts as a toxin in the body. When a person drinks alcohol, the body makes it a priority to metabolize it. Metabolizing it requires use of several vitamins, especially B-vitamins. Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol probably won’t cause nutrient deficiencies that affect fertility, but heavy drinking could, in both women and men.
Caffeine and Coffee
The recommended amount of caffeine during pregnancy is less than 200 mg per day. There is no recommendation regarding caffeine as it relates to conceiving. However, be aware of pesticides in coffee and buy organic or Rainforest Alliance approved coffees to minimize pesticide exposure.
Vegetable Oils and Trans Fats
Vegetable and seed oils are highly processed polyunsaturated oils that are fragile and often contain free radicals from the processing procedure. They are often used in fast food preparation. They are also Omega-6 fatty acids, which are inflammatory. Choose lightly processed oils such as extra-virgin olive, avocado, coconut, and grass-fed butter.
Once thought to be a healthy substitute for sugar, we now know that artificial sweeteners aren’t good for us, and some are neurotoxic. They also interact with microbes in the gut and kill beneficial bacteria. This altering of the microbiome can lead to elevations in blood sugar, even though the sweetener itself is low-glycemic.
Soy has become prevalent in our food supply, most of it in a form that isn’t healthy. Soy contains “anti-nutrients” that interfere with the action of digestive enzymes. This inhibits mineral absorption, including iodine, which supports the thyroid. Much of the soy in our food supply is GMO soy, which has been genetically altered to withstand applications of pesticides. If you eat soy, include only organic fermented soy products such as miso, tempeh, natto and tamari sauce (gluten-free soy sauce), and only in moderation.
At Radiance Functional Medicine, we believe that food is medicine. We hope that you will allow us to help you heal your gut, balance your hormones, or find a way of eating that helps you thrive! Schedule an appointment to get started. Whether you are looking for a Nutritionist or Functional Medicine Doctor in Denver or your local area, we see patients in person and virtually. Call our office at 303.333.1668 to schedule your Initial Nutrition Consultation.
Reference: Real Food for Pregnancy: The science and wisdom of optimal prenatal nutrition