Fresh Seasonal Foods
“Fresh, seasonal, food in its natural state” by definition eliminates processed foods, trans fats, and refined sugar, and right away, you’re complying with three of the most important recommendations for a fertility-friendly diet.
In the traditional Chinese medical view, foods, and people, contain qi (energy). This qi is depleted as food is refined and processed. As I explain to my patients, an ear of corn absorbs nutrients from the soil and energy from the sun as it grows. Cooked in its natural state, it passes on those nutrients and that energy to you.
Once it has been processed into breakfast cereal, it has lost some of its nutrients and most of the energy it absorbed when it was a living thing. Breakfast cereal companies and other food manufacturers make up for this by adding nutrients back in. Still, just as that can’t recreate the complex interplay of nutrients and micronutrients in fresh foods, it can’t replace the energetic value either. Choosing whole, unprocessed foods ensures that you will get all the foods’ life force and the benefits of the full range of nutrients.
Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables, including beans, are the other major sources of healthy, slow-digesting carbohydrates. Beyond that, they are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.
We all know that getting our fruits and veggies is good for our health. But I’m here to tell you that they’re also crucial for fertility. I recommend eating a broad range of colorful fruits and vegetables every day. What does color have to do with it? A plant’s color signals its phytonutrient content, and the more intense the color, the more phytonutrients.
The antioxidant beta-carotene is probably the most famous phytonutrient and also the most important for fertility. It works to maintain hormone balance and prevent early miscarriage. The corpus luteum, which helps produce the progesterone necessary to sustain a pregnancy, has very high levels of beta-carotene. Research shows that cows deprived of beta-carotene develop ovarian cysts and are slow to ovulate, and their fellow mammals—humans—work much the same way.
You get beta-carotene in your diet from yellow and orange foods (including carrots, cantaloupe, and sweet potatoes) and broccoli and leafy greens such as spinach.
Green is good, too, especially cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens, including kale, chard, collard greens, dandelion leaves, cabbage, broccoli, arugula, spinach, bok choy, and seaweed. Not only are these foods rich in folic acid, but they also contain beta-carotene, B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc, magnesium, and selenium. In addition, they are full of fiber and important phytonutrients.
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, turnips, mustard greens, kale, and the like contain a phytonutrient called diindolylmethane (DIM), which helps both men and women metabolize estrogen better. That means cruciferous veggies help combat estrogen dominance, which can cause PMS, fibroids, and endometriosis for women. In men, they improve testosterone balance with estrogen and allow more testosterone to circulate freely in the body.
Round out your food color spectrum with blues and purples, including blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, plums, red cabbage, grapes, and red onions. They are rich in phytonutrients, anti-inflammatory anthocyanins, and powerful antioxidants, which benefit fertility.
Vegetables with more neutral tones bring a lot to the table as well. For example, the allium family, including garlic, onions, shallots, and chives, have antibacterial and antifungal properties and boost your immune system. Undetected infections are a major cause of unexplained infertility, and eating your alliums can help protect against the kinds of infections that impede embryo implantation.
Animal studies link inadequate protein intake with poor-quality eggs, and there’s no reason to assume humans are any different. You need at least two and a half ounces of protein every day. You can get it from meat, poultry, fish, and eggs, of course, but there are plenty of vegan sources of protein, too, including beans, lentils, brown rice, quinoa, and other whole grains, and nuts and seeds.
We’ve excluded two other sources of protein from this fertility diet, however. First, dairy products can increase inflammation, and because inflammation can cause problems with implantation, we’ve used non-dairy alternatives, including coconut yogurt and nut milk, in these meals.
Secondly, the phytoestrogens in soy products have a mild estrogenic effect, creating an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone so that you won’t find any tofu or soy milk in your meal plan.
Sensible portions of healthy fats are good for everyone and include olive oil, nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocados, and coconut oil. You’ll find them in this meal plan because they fight inflammation, facilitate ovulation, and help your body produce reproductive hormones.
On the other hand, eating too much fat or the wrong fats interferes with ovulation, spurs insulin resistance, increases the risk of endometriosis, and disrupts hormone production and balance, not to mention all the other ways it messes with your health.
In this diet, we steer clear of trans fats, which, among other things, can cause or exacerbate insulin resistance and ovulatory dysfunction and interfere with hormone production and balance. In a large, long-term study, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School found a link between increasing amounts of trans fats in women’s diets and increasing instances of infertility.
If you eat only fresh, whole, natural foods, you don’t have to give trans fats a second thought: they exist only in commercial, industrially prepared, and factory-manipulated foods. So watch out for commercial baked goods, crackers, cakes, and so on, as well as frozen meals and, the biggest transgressor of all, stick margarine.
Both sugar and artificial sweeteners are highly acidic and will increase bloating, so try to cut out or at least reduce foods with added sugars, no-calorie sweeteners (the most acidic ingredient on the planet) and high fructose corn syrup.
Sugars contribute to a bacteria imbalance in the gut, while artificial sweeteners are hard or impossible for most of us to digest.
Most of the grains Americans eat have been refined. This is because they cook faster and spoil more slowly that way.
They are also digested faster, much faster, so they bombard the body with simple carbohydrates—the same way sugar does, metabolically speaking—making us feel lousy. As a result, cycle from brief “sugar highs” to long, low “sugar crashes”—the sharp peaks and valleys of energy with which most of us are all too familiar. Blood sugar and insulin levels go through the roof as the body tries to handle the rapidly digested carbs, ultimately creating insulin resistance and increasing our risk of type 2 diabetes and a host of general health issues.
This cycle also increases the risks of hormonal and ovulatory problems that impair fertility.
DR. JILL BLAKEWAY
Dr. Jill Blakeway is a Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, a licensed and board-certified acupuncturist, and clinical herbalist. Jill founded the Yinova Center in 1999 and currently acts as Clinic Director alongside her husband, Noah Rubinstein. As a practitioner, she is known for her intuitive approach to Chinese medicine and particularly for her skills as an acupuncturist and energy healer.
Written with a fertility doctor, Making Babies offers a proven 3-month program designed to help couples get the best of both Eastern and Western medicine to enhance their fertility and increase their chances of conception.