The third post in a five-part series about fertility and the endocrine system.
By Andrea Fay, Nutritionist
We’ve talked in our last posts about how hormone imbalance can affect fertility, that our endocrine system is in charge of all our hormones and they communicate within every area of our bodies. We learned that moving and getting our heart rates up in intervals, increases oxygen to our organs. It also increases insulin sensitivity, reduces cortisol levels and makes for an overall healthy environment for fertility.
Now, we’ll get into the nitty gritty of what foods are best to eat within different food groups to better balance your body and best supports your efforts to conceive.
Whole foods are the best source of nutrition. Organic, grass-fed, free-range and minimally processed foods sound like a lot of hippy words put together. But these types of foods have the least amount of toxins, which produce free radicals that wreak havoc on your body. According to an NIH study, pesticides affect hormonal function and the female reproductive system and increases the chances of infertility. Eating organic foods whenever possible, can help limit the amount of pesticides and herbicides introduced to your body.
We know! Organic can get expensive and might seem infeasible for your family’s budget. But there are ways to be selective on where to shop, or what foods are most important.
→ Soft peel fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat can be a good place to start.
→ The dirty dozen and the clean 15 is a guide to help determine which fruits and vegetables show the most and least amount of pesticides, respectively.
→ Finding a certified organic farm or a practicing organic farm to purchase produce, eggs, dairy or meats from is a way to help limit costs and it also brings money straight to the source (quite the win/win).
→ Farmers markets in the summer months (some places are lucky enough to have winter farmers markets) are also a great option (practicing organic lettuce for $2.00 at my local one).
→ Growing your own foods is also an option. Raised gardens are also a solution to limited space and they work wonderfully for those that don’t have a yard to grow items. Do whatever works best for your family in this area.
What organic foods are best?
We all know protein is important; it’s the building block of many things in the body. A 2007 Harvard study showed that eating less animal-based proteins and eating more plant-based proteins increases fertility.
You should be getting about 46 to 50 grams of protein for preconception.
These are used in the body every day for a quick energy source. Complex carbohydrates slowly release glucose into the body allowing for a steady, sustained source of energy.
Simple carbohydrates (white bread, baked goods, candy, etc.) and sugars release glucose quickly into the body increasing insulin surges. Over time, insulin surges can cause insulin resistance, raising overall blood sugar levels, which has shown to decrease fertility in women.
Eating a diet with complex carbohydrates and those with a lower glycemic index are best. (Foods such as kale, artichoke, cauliflower, eggplant, broccoli, radishes, veggies, stone fruits and citrus fruits (best in their whole form) offer a lower glycemic load).
Carbs should be approximately 45-60% of your total calorie intake.
Yep, you read correctly. The very thing that’s been villainized, is actually incredibly good for you. Not in the version of a fried donut or a bacon-wrapped cheeseburger, but in the form of foods like walnuts, egg yolks, salmon, avocado, and olive oil.
Having a healthy endocrine system means you’re eating good fats. Hormones are made up of fats and cholesterol and if you don’t have them in your diet, the means to produce them is limited. The low-fat mantra isn’t correct. Omega-3 fats are especially important and aid in lowering inflammation; it’s also an important nutrient for a developing baby’s brain and eyes.
Fats should make up about 1/3 of your calories in a day. Trans-fats have been associated with decreased fertility and should be eliminated or greatly limited from your diet.
Antioxidants help to lower the damage done to your body by free radicals, including damage to your reproductive organs. They also help to lower inflammation levels. A decrease in inflammation helps to increase fertility.
Eat vegetables, vegetables, and more vegetables + fruits and nuts.
An important vitamin to get plenty of while trying to conceive, since it’s vital to the development of a baby’s neural tube– the basis of the brain and spinal cord. Getting plenty of folate pre-conception helps to limit birth defects. Food is a great source, but both parents trying to conceive should also take a prenatal or multivitamin.
You should be getting 400-800mcg of folate a day.
Plant-based or non-heme Iron has shown to impact fertility in women (meat sources of iron haven’t shown to help).
Iron levels should be 18mg a day for preconception.
Getting Goodness in Your Diet
There are more foods that are full of amazing nutrients to help aid in fertility, these lists aren’t exhaustive, but they do hit on the top foods available. Some simple things to try are making a
→ Baked sweet potato and drizzling it with olive oil, sesame seeds and flax meal.
→ Cook up a delicious lentil soup with spinach and kale.
→ Make edamame your appetizer on your next meal out.
→ Choose a salmon salad with hemp seeds and roasted Brussels sprouts.
→ Get a warm beet salad with greens.
→ Eat walnuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables as snacks; they’re incredibly convenient and having them on hand will help curb eating less helpful foods.
Foods to Avoid
Sugar, caffeine, alcohol and soy isolates are foods to limit. Who doesn’t like chocolate cake or apple crisp–honestly, sometimes sugar is just– good. And coffee, don’t get me started, just the smell makes me happy. I’m saying limit these things, and instead of a daily occurrence, they become an occasional treat.
Soy isolates are found in soy cheese, soy milk and other products that contain soy fillers. They’re a known endocrine disruptor and aren’t great for your overall health. There are many products to choose from if you exclude or limit dairy in your diet. Instead of soy milk, try oat, almond or hemp milk. Fermented soy, like tofu or miso and the whole soybean, are excellent for your body.
Top Ten Foods are Next
We’ve covered a lot of information in the past three posts about movement, foods and endocrine disruptors. Our next discussion focuses on the top ten most amazing foods to eat for fertility and why those foods, in particular, are such powerhouses. Your fridge’s veggie drawer will never have been so full.