I was lucky. I didn’t have a problem getting pregnant. My husband has only had to so much as sneeze at me twice and I’ve gotten pregnant (though unfortunately, my first time resulted in a miscarriage – the DNA just decided to be wonky). But unfortunately, for so many women, trying to conceive is not so easy.
Are you thinking about trying to get pregnant? Actively trying to get pregnant? Already pregnant? Nursing a baby? If so, you are hopefully watching what you eat. Your diet makes a HUGE difference in whether or not you will successfully conceive, as well as a HUGE difference in nourishing a pregnancy and a little one. If you’re dreaming of or looking down the barrel of motherhood (ha! That’s really a great comparison, actually), here is a list of foods that should make up the bulk of your diet – as well as some that you should be avoiding altogether.
Hopefully, by now, you’ve cut out fast food and processed food. If not, GET ON IT. These “foods” have no place in a healthy diet to begin with, much less a diet aiming for fertility and nourishment. In addition to the below list, make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep and cut out the stressors in your life.
Top 10 Fertility Foods
1. Colorful fruits and vegetables: This should be no surprise. You know your fruits and veggies are good for you. By eating a variety of colors, as well as a hefty amount of leafy greens, you’re ensuring that you eat some quantity of very important vitamins and minerals – necessary for correct cell formation and reproductive function. Leafy greens, such as kale and spinach (**NOTE: iceberg lettuce does NOT count!) also contain a great amount of folate, vitamins A, C, and K, calcium, and potassium.
2. FULL FAT dairy: NOT low-fat. NOT fat-free. NOT skim. Full fat – which in the very least means whole milk. Raw milk is absolutely superior to pasteurized whole milk, however, as it still contains the good fatty cream and the nutrients haven’t been zapped by the pasteurization process. If you don’t drink raw milk, at least opt for raw cheeses, and low-temperature pasteurized milk and cream. Your body NEEDS fat – especially when trying to conceive, growing a baby, and nursing a little one – to correctly put together cells and maintain proper hormone balances. Guess what – that little egg doesn’t leave the ovary unless there is sufficient fat content in the diet to maintain the correct balance of female hormones. Always make sure the dairy you’re buying is rBST-free, and try to make a farm visit to the farm where your milk is coming from. In addition to great healthy levels of saturated fat, dairy provides good levels of Vitamin D, enzymes for food absorption, vitamins A, K, and E, CLA (a fatty acid known to be a powerful antioxidant), and calcium. Raw milk provides this vitamin D naturally, in a state that your body can easily absorb, while storebought whole milk has a synthetic form of vitamin D added. Some argue that the synthetic form is virtually useless as our bodies do not recognize it as easily as natural vitamin D.
3. WILD-CAUGHT salmon: Salmon is a fantastic source of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, protein, selenium, DHA, vitamins D and B-12, and calcium. Omega-3 fatty acids and DHA are essential for brain cell formation. Always make sure your salmon is wild-caught – King, Sockeye, Coho, and Chinook salmon are the breeds you should look for. Alaskan is preferrable over Pacific, but both are usually wild-caught. Always avoid Atlantic salmon. Atlantic salmon is almost always farmed, and contains chemical contaminants such as PCBs and dioxins. It also has artificial color added (don’t believe me? Look on the label at the store!) and lower levels of all of the good nutrients listed above. Don’t worry about mercury levels in wild-caught salmon – they are very low. If you are still worried about it, don’t eat the skin and brown/gray meat near the skin.
4. Coconut Oil: I know, I sound like a broken record. Coconut oil just has SO many benefits!
Coconut oil is a very healthy saturated fat, and you can use it to cook virtually anything – from frying, to sauteing, to using it in place of shortening for baking. Coconut strengthens the immune system and balances hormones for regulating blood sugar and the thyroid gland. It helps absorb fat-soluble vitamins in the other foods you eat and increases HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood. Cholesterol is essential for healthy cell formation.
5. Eggs: Eggs are truly a superfood. Eggs have great levels of choline, which is necessary for stem cell proliferation and cell division. It helps in the formation of baby brain cells and even decreases baby’s (and yours!) levels of cortisol (the nasty stress hormone). Eggs also contain amino acids necessary for eye development, protein to build muscle, and are a fantastic source of several vitamins and minerals including A, D, E, B2, B6, B9, iron, calcium, and phosphorus!
6. Grass-fed organ meats: I just heard the collective “yuck” from all of you reading. Hear me out. Organ meats – including liver, kidneys, and others – are very concentrated sources of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, folate, and necessary amino acids. They are a power punch for fetal development. Yes – these organs filter toxins out of the body; but, they do not store them. Toxins are actually stored in the nervous system. Eating organ meat is not only safe, it’s extremely healthy. All of the nutrients found in organ meats are necessary for forming tissues, cell division, and maintaining mama’s reproductive health. If the thought of liver on a plate doesn’t sound appealing to you, try adding it in to dishes like steak and kidney pie, chili, dips, or soups.
7. Pastured Meats: Protein, iron, B12, and healthy saturated fats are only some of the great ingredients in meat. Pastured meats always have higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients than their confinement-raised counterparts. Good protein levels are SO important for blood production, bone and muscle development, and development of maternal cells in the uterus and placenta.
|Confused about the difference between “pastured” and “grass-fed”? Grass-fed meats are just that – animals that eat grass. Pastured meats may or may not be “grass-fed”. For example, pastured cows are certainly eating grass. However, pastured poultry and pigs are not – these animals are not natural vegetarians. They are eating a mix of vegetation, insects, and even small amounts of protein. Pastured simply means these animals were raised in an environment that ensures both humane conditions for the animal, and optimal vitamin and mineral formation in the meat for you!|
8. Shellfish: Shellfish – fully cooked only when you’re pregnant! – are a fabulous source of iron, magnesium, and zinc, among other vitamins and minerals! Did you know that mollusks such as clams, oysters, and mussels contain more iron than red meat? Red blood cells don’t form without iron; adequate iron levels are crucial for a healthy pregnancy. Shellfish are also a great source of protein.
9. Bone Broth: If you’re not yet familiar with this type of broth, now is the time to start looking into it. Bone broth is made by taking scrap bones (beef, chicken, whatever you like), roasting them, and then simmering them in a crock pot (with a Tbsp. or so of apple cider vinegar) for days until they shatter when you touch them. At this point, the majority of the minerals have leached out of the bones and into your broth. You can add bone broth to recipes in place of any broth or stock. You can also have a big hot mugful of broth when you wake up or when you wind down. Bone broth is concentrated with vitamins and minerals such as calcium, silicon, sulfer, magnesium, animo acids, and antioxidants – all necessary for healthy fetal development.
10. Nuts: When you’re pregnant or nursing and you’re CONSTANTLY hungry (mm… a snack sounds pretty good right now), nuts are a fantastic snack. Nuts are power packed with protein, healthy fatty acids, fiber, and vitamin E. The nutrients in nuts help your baby’s blood vessels develop properly, ensure proper heart development, and build the immune system.
So What’s on the DO NOT EAT List?
1. Low-fat or fat-free ANYTHING: Low fat and fat free are simply terms that mean “we have removed all of the healthy fatty acids from these products and instead replaced them with sugar or artificial sweeteners and lots of chemical additives to trick your body into thinking they still taste good. Whether trying to conceive or not, don’t ever put these products in your shopping cart.
2. Refined Flours: There is really no redeeming nutritional value from refined flours, and they result in a big spike to your blood sugar and irritation to the gut lining.
3. Sugar: We have really started to realize how detrimental sugar is to our health in the past few years. Sugar – especially refined sugars like HF corn syrup, white sugar, and brown sugar – puts extra stress on your pancreas, liver and kidneys, causes low-level inflammation of the gut and raises blood pressure. A sweet every now and then won’t kill you (believe me, I have one heck of a sweet tooth that I fight with daily), but especially during the period of time when you’re trying to conceive or nurture a growing baby, it’s best to lay off the sweets.
4. Soy: This “health” food has been touted by the industry for a long time as an alternative to meat protein for one reason and one reason only – it’s cheap to produce and they want to sell you cheap food. The truth about soy is actually very sinister. Soy directly disrupts the female reproductive cycle by interfering with the production of estrogen. This includes soy in all non-fermented forms – edemame, soy extracts in processed products, tofu, lecithin, soybean oil, etc. Soy is also toxic to the placenta and can interfere with nutrient absorption to the fetus and even contribute to birth defects. Your man isn’t immune from soy’s effects either – when men eat soy, estrogen levels increase and may negatively effect sperm production.
5. Vegetable Oils/Shortening: Oils such as canola, soy, corn, safflower, and sunflower are high in Omega-6 fatty acids. These oils are largely responsible for heart disease. In the woman who is trying to conceive or the mama nourishing a baby, these rancid oils can interfere with proper formation of the circulatory system and interfere with cellular processes at the DNA/RNA level.
6. Artificial Colors/Flavors: These chemical concoctions interrupt adrenal function, cause chromosomal changes, and damage DNA. Flat out – they are nasty. Avoid them at all costs. If you’d like to read some in-depth information about artificial colors, this article contains great data: Rainbow of Risks
The fact is that if you’re not at optimum health, your baby won’t be either. We all go through phases, especially when actually pregnant (I, myself, had a very humiliating Taco Bell phase that lasted a couple weeks when I was pregnant with my son). Don’t beat yourself up over those. However, especially if you’re trying to conceive, now is the time to get started on a healthier diet for fertility and healthy baby development.
If you’re interested in learning more about how a traditional diet can help you conceive or nourish a growing baby, I’d strongly recommend picking up a copy of the Nourishing Traditions cookbook. Also, check out these resources from some other bloggers that I love:
Beautiful Babies E-Course by Kristin Michaelis (Food Renegade):