Most of us know that one of the most powerful health and lifestyle changes you can make is to eat a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet. But did you know that specific changes to the diet can improve fertility and support a healthy pregnancy?Or that the foods you eat today continue to impact the health of your eggs/sperm 90 days from now? A Natural Fertility diet is a way of eating which assists your body in its reproductive efforts. A diet for fertility differs even from that of a natural whole food diet. Eating for fertility includes consuming foods high in specific nutrients which are required for hormonal production, function and balance. It also includes foods to support fetal development, egg and sperm health and blood health. It is designed to help with the need for additional nutrients, without significantly increasing your food intake as the incredible pregnant body becomes much more efficient at absorbing nutrients and building vitamin and mineral stores. The quality of your diet should be the focus, rather than the amount of food being consumed. By incorporating nutritious, wise food choices into your eating plan prior to and during pregnancy, you are choosing to give your baby a strong start in life. The following is a scientifically proven compilation of how to eat (and what to avoid) to support a healthy pregnancy.
- Consume 2 1/2 to 3 cups of vegetables (at least 1 cup of dark leafy greens) and 2 cups of fruit daily; preferably organic as conventional produce contains harmful pesticides
- Eat organic, grass-fed, WHOLE FAT dairy- avoid non-organic dairy as it contains added hormones and antibiotics. Also note how your body responds to dairy as sometimes certain dairy products (milk and cheese) may congest the body. Also consider dairy alternatives: almond, cashew milk
- Try to eat cold water fish 1-2 times a week- fish provides essential fatty acids, is a great source of protein and Vitamin A. Best choices include wild Alaskan salmon or cod and Alaskan halibut or trout (avoid farm raised salmon as it contains antibiotics and toxic food dyes)
- Eat a wide variety of healthy fats- olive, avocado and flaxseed oil, nuts and seeds, grass fed meats
- Eggs- rich in vitamin D, B12 and protein. Excellent for brain development of the fetus. Try to eat eggs regularly and aim for farm fresh high quality eggs
- Eat grass fed organic meat and free range organic chicken- eat red meat sparingly as studies have shown a link between a high consumption of red meat and endometriosis (Kearney, C. 2012).
- Eat whole grains which are high in fiber, help balance blood sugar and contain immune supporting properties- good choices include sprouted grain bread, quinoa, and brown rice. Avoid processed and refined white foods and grains like white bread, rice and pastas
- Drink plenty of water- aim to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of plain(not sweetened) water daily. The plastic of bottled water can mimic estrogen and contribute to hormonal imbalance so it’s best to avoid bottled water. Avoid sugar, soda and juices with concentrated sugars. Also avoid processed, refined and artificial sugars
- Certain foods such as soft cheeses, raw or undercooked eggs, meats, fish and alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy.
Importance of Iron and Vitamin C Interaction
During pregnancy, your reserves for iron will be called upon so make sure to include an ample amount of iron-rich foods like lentils, lean meats: fish, chicken, especially chicken thighs for the darker meat, green leafy vegetables: kale, collards and turnip greens. Iron deficiency anemia can be a concern for pregnancy and for this reason, women should talk to their doctor about taking a prenatal vitamin containing iron. Also, some food components can lower the absorption of iron. These include: tannins and polyphenols found in tea, coffee and cocoa as well as calcium found in dairy products and fortified foods and phytates found in legumes and whole grains. For this reason try to enjoy these foods an hour before or two hours after your main meal.
Vitamin C and other organic acids in fruits and vegetables will boost the absorption rate of (non-heme) iron. According to a recent study, between 10 and 20% of all adults do not get enough vitamin C, and pregnant women should make sure they are getting enough of this vitamin as it supports tissue repair, bone growth and a healthy immune system. Scientist Jens Lykkesfeldt states, “even marginal vitamin C deficiency in the mother stunts the fetal hippocampus, the important memory center, by 10-15 %, preventing the brain from optimal development.” (Kearney, C. 2012).
By including a source of vitamin C with your meal, or by carefully selecting food combos you can optimize iron absorption. Also vitamin C can be lost due to heat from cooking and long storage so you should be aware to primarily choose fresh, raw sources most often. Exposure to light can also reduce vitamin C content as is the case with OJ that is sold in a clear bottle.
A few food combinations to maximize iron absorption by including vitamin C are as follows:
- Eating a grapefruit or orange with cereal or add berries to bowl of cereal
- Choose lentils with parsley and tomatoes as a side dish with salmon or tuna
- Top a spinach salad with sliced bell peppers, red onions, strawberries and a citrus vinaigrette
As always, it is recommended to consult your doctor/professional for specific dietary concerns.
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