Dr Kali MacIsaac
The Elusive Fertility Diet
If you have questions about what you should be eating for your fertility.. I'm not surprised. There's a lot of noise in this space, a lot of opinions, and there are actually a few dietary patterns that have been shown to benefit fertility - and sometimes they contradict one another. So how do you know if you're eating to support your fertility? Let me help distill it down.
It's hard for research to be done well on nutrition, in any aspect. Partly it's because it is very expensive to run clinical trials at the scale needed to really see significant results (and there's no big pharma behind food choices), partly it's because it is hard to get people to change their diets in a meaningful way for a consistent period of time, and partly it's because people have terrible recall when you ask then about what they eat (think about it - what did you eat last Wednesday? I have no idea).
So whenever we look at data in the field of nutrition, we have to take everything with a healthy dose of data skepticism. The highest quality information is always going to come from meta-analyses, or review papers, that attempt to combine outcomes from many smaller-scale studies to make the results mean something actionable.
That all said - we do have some meaningful data in the realm of fertility nutrition. No, none of the research can tell you an exact meal plan to follow that will get you pregnant. But if we carefully review the body of literature, we can pull out some themes.
At Acubalance (where I work), we keep our eyes on the fertility nutrition research so you don't have to. And it's true - Mediterranean, Paleo, and other dietary patterns have been associated with an increased fertility rate. But there are pretty significant differences between these patterns - so how can they all work?
To understand that, we have to take a step back.
If you look at the body of research as a whole, a general pattern begins to emerge. There are four main principles that each of the dietary patterns that support fertility follow at their foundation - and it's likely the reason they all seem to be beneficial. There is no 'one right' fertility diet for everyone. But if the way that you consume food, generally speaking (like at least 80% of the time) follows these guiding principles? You're eating to support your fertility.
Fertility Diet principles - does your diet aim to:
reduce oxidative and carbonyl stress
balance your blood sugar/insulin
provide nourishment to your cells?
If your answer is yes, congrats! You're eating the fertility diet.
Here's a little more information on each of these principles.
mitigate inflammation: dietary patterns that aim to mitigate inflammation are generally low in inflammatory foods, and robust in immune-supportive and anti-inflammatory nutrients. Examples of foods to be avoided to mitigate inflammation include: processed foods, refined flours, added sugar, and trans fats. Foods that support healthy immune function and are anti-inflammatory include: brightly coloured veggies and fruits, mushrooms, fermented foods, high quality animal protein and/or vegetarian protein (lentils, beans, nuts/seeds, tempeh), herbs and spices like rosemary, turmeric and ginger.
reduce oxidative and carbonyl stress: the biggest culprit for oxidative stress is sugar, of any kind. When blood sugar levels are elevated, oxidative stress results throughout the system - and sperm cells and egg cells are especially sensitive to this type of cellular stress. Carbonyl stress is produced when we consume charred proteins and sugars (think about the grill lines on a steak covered in BBQ sauce, that's what I'm referring to). These types of cellular stress damage DNA and cellular membranes, increase apoptosis (cellular death) and raise inflammatory responses and are best avoided in pursuit of peak fertility.
balance your blood sugar/insulin: ah... the blood sugar roller coaster. I know it well. When you consume sugar of any type, artificial sweeteners, or 'naked' carbohydrates (a carb, like toast/pasta/potato without any fat or protein), you sign up for the blood sugar roller coaster. In response to the glucose spikes, insulin is released from the pancreas. Over time on the coaster, our cells become less and less responsive to insulin - leading to excessive glucose in the bloodstream that must be stored as adipose tissue (fat). Fat is hormonally active tissue - it produces hormones and influences things like testosterone production and aromatization in our systems, leading to sex hormone imbalances that do not favour fertility. More about the hacks to keep your glucose stable in my next blog post.
nourish your cells: diets rich in brightly coloured fruits and veggies, quality protein sources (grass fed/pasture raised animal protein, organic legumes and high-protein grains, raw nuts/seeds, pastured/free range eggs), whole/unprocessed starches (whole grains cooked from scratch, squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes), and high quality fats (avocados, nuts/seeds, olive oil, avocado oil, butter/ghee, coconut oil) provide the nutrients that nourish high quality gametes and a receptive uterine environment. Don't focus too much on the details - but aim to consume 5-7 cups of veggies, 1-2 servings of brightly coloured fruits (like berries), adequate protein at every meal (based on body weight, but typically 30-40g/meal), unprocessed starches (no more than 25% of the meal) and healthy fats at every opportunity (meals and snacks). Hydrate with pure, filtered water and herbal tea. Drink caffeine in moderation. Drink alcohol in moderation (max 2 drinks/week) or not at all. Don't use recreational drugs. Nourish your gametes with each of these lifestyle choices that you can make, for free, every day.
I am so excited to be back and active again on my blog. It's been a long 2 (3?) years of pandemic life. I had a baby/became a mother, which shifted my perspective significantly and fired me up even more about helping you create the family you desire. I have returned to work at Acubalance, and can't wait to work with you if you feel like that's right.