This guest blog post was written by Women's Health and Fertility Coach, Jolinda Johnson (CHHC, M.S.Ed.).
Disclaimer: the information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not designed to replace individualized recommendations from a practitioner. Always check with your doctor before adding supplements or making changes to your treatment plan.
No sugar, no coffee, no alcohol, no gluten, no dairy, no red meat . . . Woah! Are we trying to have a baby or torturing ourselves with Beyoncé’s Coachella diet?
All jokes aside, once you start reading about what you can and can’t have in the interest of trying to conceive, it can feel like a bit much.
To make matters worse, as is par for the course in the world of nutrition, not everyone agrees on what’s best, which leaves you swimming through a sea of contradictory advice. Years ago, when I was thinking of having a second child, I told my mom that if she ever wanted to go insane, she only needed to read several books about fertility diets at the same time.
"A genuine fertility diet will make you feel joyful, vibrant, and alive; not miserable and deprived."
Foods To Include
While it can feel overwhelming at times, the best thing you can do is keep it simple and that means focusing on lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, high quality proteins, and healthy fats.
1. Fruits & Vegetables
This is one thing everyone can agree on: when it comes to vegetables, you can never have too many.
Your should fill your plate to the brim with brightly-colored vegetables at least twice a day, especially the dark green ones.
Eating cruciferous vegetables most days of the week (think broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage) is also great for supporting the liver, regulating estrogen in the body, and keeping it in a healthy balance with progesterone.
In terms of fruits, you can never go wrong with berries. Not only are they low on the glycemic index, helping you to keep your blood sugar in check, but they are also rich in antioxidants that are helpful in countering the harmful effects of free radicals in the body. (The same free radicals that are known for attacking our egg cells as we age).
We know that keeping our blood sugar stable is one of the keys to supporting our hormonal balance, as well as our fertility.
Including protein in every meal is a great way to do just that. Switch it up throughout the week and include both plant and animal sources including:
- Organic Grass-Fed Beef
- Organic Free-Range Chicken and Turkey
- Organic Free-Range Eggs
- Wild-Caught Fish
As you can see from this list, quality is important, because what our meat eats, we eat too.
If you struggle to include fish in your diet, give sardines a try. They are readily available, inexpensive, and chock-full of Omega-3 fats that quell inflammation and increase circulation to the uterus.
Plant protein, such as that found in beans and whole grains, is also beneficial and can help to increase fertility among those who tolerate them well.
3. Healthy Fats
Include unsaturated sources, as well as saturated fat sources.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Nuts & Seeds (hello, seed syncing!)
- Grass-Fed Butter
- Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
One of the mistakes most women make is shying away from saturated fat (and fat in general), but the cholesterol from these foods is essential for hormone production.
Fat is also important if you choose to include dairy in your diet. That’s because women who eat non-fat dairy are more likely to suffer from anovulatory infertility, due to the higher concentration of male hormones in skim milk. You can avoid this by reaching for the full-fat version instead.
Foods To Avoid
Most of my clients have no problem adding in the foods I just mentioned (ok, sardines can sometimes be a struggle), but what about the foods that we should avoid: namely trans fats, processed foods, coffee, alcohol, and refined sugar.
In an ideal world, you would cut these out entirely, but the reality is you may be trying for years, not just months, and that can be a long time to do anything 100% of the time. Let go of absolutes, because in the world of nutrition, there are very few things that we know without a doubt.
That being said, there are some solid reasons to reevaluate your relationship with certain foods as you journey towards motherhood.
Let’s take a closer look at three food types that might be causing problems for you.
From blood sugar balance to chronic inflammation to gut dysbiosis, sugar can wreak havoc on our entire body, including your reproductive system.
Overdoing it when it comes to the sweet stuff can also lead to insulin resistance, which is known to disrupt ovulation and is tied to other conditions that impair fertility, such as PCOS.
There’s also new research that suggests eating sugar changes the way the cells of the uterine lining function, making it even more difficult for the embryo to successfully implant. When the sugar in your bloodstream attaches to proteins, it produces free radicals called AGEs (Advanced Glycation End Products). The more sugar you eat, the more AGEs you’ll have.
When attempting to change your relationship with sugar, it’s always worth taking a good look at how sweet foods are fulfilling your emotional needs as well.
If you find yourself reaching for that pint of ice cream or box of cookies despite everything you know about what sugar does to your body, check-in with how you’re feeling (stressed out, anxious, sad, tired?) and ask what else would give you relief from these negative emotions. Your answers could include: journaling, meditating, talking to a trusted friend, going for a walk, or getting extra sleep.
If you do happen to have sugar, be kind to yourself afterwards. Having a piece of cake at your best friend’s wedding is unlikely to make a difference in the long run, but shaming yourself and falling into a cycle of bingeing and deprivation definitely will.
You may have heard that coffee is associated with greater risk of miscarriage if you drink more than two cups a day, but that’s not the only reason to rethink your relationship with caffeine.
Drinking coffee affects our hormones by putting stress on the liver, impacting its ability to metabolize estrogen, as well as raising cortisol levels.
If you’re running high on cortisol (which most 21st century women are), you’re more likely to run low on progesterone, which is less than a stellar combination since we need progesterone to support a healthy pregnancy.
According to the research, there’s nothing wrong with a cup of joe to start your day, but it shouldn’t be your go-to every time you need an energy boost.
If that’s the case, try weaning yourself off with green tea or yerba mate. Spirulina is another good alternative, especially if you find yourself dragging in the afternoon. Plus it can benefit your fertility and your pregnancy like a latte never could.
No amount of alcohol is considered safe during pregnancy, so if you’re actively trying to conceive it only makes sense to eliminate (or at least greatly limit) alcohol intake.
Drinking too much:
- Puts a strain on your liver (just like sugar and caffeine)
- Increases levels of circulating estrogen
- Kills off good gut bacteria
- Interferes with your sleep
All of these can contribute to hormonal imbalances and impair your chances of getting pregnant over time.
Many of my clients struggle with alcohol because they say it helps them unwind after a long day. If this sounds like you, try other ways of relieving stress such as meditation, deep breathing, or spending time in nature.
As a highly motivated woman who wants to do everything possible to ensure a speedy conception and healthy pregnancy, it’s only natural to try and follow every piece of advice you can get your hands on.
If this approach leaves you feeling even more confused and overwhelmed, however, remember that your body is also incredibly wise. If you find yourself craving whole, nourishing foods, your body is most likely trying to tell you something, regardless of what you think you “should” be eating that day. Likewise, if you have a negative reaction to a food that has been deemed healthy according to a book's recommendation, chances are that it's not the best choice for you.
A genuine fertility diet will make you feel joyful, vibrant, and alive; not miserable and deprived.
Rather than thinking of adopting a fertility diet is another way to accomplish your goal, think of it as an opportunity to nurture and become a mother to yourself first. Of all the advice I could give you, this will serve you best.
Berg JM, Tymoczko JL, Stryer L. Biochemistry. 5th edition. New York: W H Freeman; 2002. Section 26.4, Important Derivatives of Cholesterol Include Bile Salts and Steroid Hormones. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22339/
Briden, Lara. Period Repair Manual: Every Woman's Guide to Better Periods. Macmillan, 2018.
Gottfried, Sara. The Hormone Cure: Reclaim Balance, Sleep, and Sex Drive ; Lose Weight, Feel Focused, Vital, and Energized Naturally with the Gottfried Protocol. Scribner, 2014.
J.E. Chavarro, J.W. Rich-Edwards, B. Rosner, W.C. Willett; A prospective study of dairy foods intake and anovulatory infertility, Human Reproduction, Volume 22, Issue 5, 1 May 2007, Pages 1340–1347, https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dem019
Keene, I. (2018). Estrogen Dominance Diet - Lower Estrogen Naturally with Foods. [online] Natural Fertility Prescription. Available from: https://natural-fertility-prescription.com/estrogen-dominance/
Lewis, Randine A. The Infertility Cure: the Ancient Chinese Wellness Program for Getting Pregnant and Having Healthy Babies. Little, Brown and Co., 2005.
Orecchio, Christa, and Willow Buckley. How to Conceive Naturally: and Have a Healthy Pregnancy after 30. Grand Central Life & Style/Hachette Book Group, 2015.
Raupp, Aimee E. Yes, You Can Get Pregnant: Natural Ways to Improve Your Fertility Now and into Your 40s. Demos Health, 2014.
Reza Safarinejad, M., & Safarinejad, S. (2012). The roles of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in idiopathic male infertility. Asian Journal of Andrology, 14(4), 514–515. http://doi.org/10.1038/aja.2012.46
Rostami K, Steegers EA, Wong WY, Braat DD, Steegers-Theunissen RP. Coeliac disease and reproductive disorders: a neglected association. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2001;96:146–49.[PubMed]
Tarkin, L. (2019). The Link Between Infertility and Insulin Resistance. [online] EndocrineWeb. Available from: https://www.endocrineweb.com/infertility-insulin-resistance-5-tips-your-odds-getting-pregnant
Victoria Maizes, MD (COR)/ Andrew Weil, MD (COR). Be Fruitful: the Essential Guide to Maximizing Fertility and Giving Birth to a Healthy Child. Simon & Schuster, 2013.
Jolinda Johnson (CHHC, M.S.Ed) is a Women's Health and Fertility Coach who takes the struggle out of trying to conceive. She helps women who want to become mothers turn their longing into positive action so they have the best chance at getting pregnant and creating the family of their dreams. She is a Certified Holistic Health Coach (Institute of Integrative Nutrition) with a specialization in hormone health, as well as a Certified Life Coach (Beautiful You Life Coaching Academy). She has been featured on the cover of Inspired Coach magazine and was nominated for the Beautiful You Life Coaching Academy CEO Shine Award in 2017. While born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, she has called Barcelona, Spain her home for the last decade. In addition to coaching, she is a single mom to a four-year-old son and is grateful every day that she finally figured out what it means to be happy and live life on her own terms.
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