Lizzy Swick, MS, RDN
Consultant, Lizzy Swick Nutrition
Have you been told that your genes may lower your chances of conception? I heard that myself – and now I have two beautiful daughters. Current research says that while your genes “load the gun,” it’s your lifestyle that pulls the trigger.
Diet and lifestyle changes can normalize hormones and optimize fertility, helping you strike the Goldilocks hormonal balance – not too much, not too little, just right.
While this balancing act seems simple, a lot can go awry with our hormones considering the toxins we are constantly exposed to and the fast-paced lifestyle many of us live that leaves us vulnerable to high stress, sleep deprivation, and nutrient deficiencies.
The right nutrition
You may feel like you don’t have control of your hormones – but you do. Using food as medicine can put your fertility into your own hands.
If you are a woman trying to conceive, your top priority is ensuring you are ovulating every month to create progesterone, a hormone critical for conception. Think of your cycle as a monthly report card. If the report is good, your body’s hormones are likely in harmony.
Here are five steps to harmonize hormones and improve fertility.
1. Eat to ovulate
To make progesterone, you must ovulate. Enough calories from real foods will let your body know it’s safe to conceive: high quality protein, good fats, and yes, carbohydrates in their real, whole form: beans, rice, oats, squash, etc. Eat important micronutrients for ovulation including iodine (seafood) and zinc (meat or pumpkin seeds).
2. Have a carb strategy
Carbs have a bad rap these days. However, they are important macronutrients for fertility. Instead of talking about if carbs are good or bad, let’s discuss quality of carbs. Make half your plate non-starchy carbs (lettuce, radish, broccoli, bell peppers, etc.) and a quarter of your plate starchy carbs (winter squashes, whole grains such as oats, or legumes such as black beans).
3. Supplement to procreate
All prenatal vitamins contain folate. But not all folates are created equally. Look for the methylated form of folate (methylfolate). Folate means “foliage,” so eat leafy greens such as kale, bok choy, Swiss chard, spinach, and dandelion or beet greens.
4. Reduce stress
Worrying about the perfect diet for fertility ironically raises stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which disrupt the hormonal balance you need for optimal fertility. Instead of stressing over diet or infertility, try a gentle yin class (not power yoga) or a slow walk in nature to calm cortisol.
5. Detox your kitchen
Toxins associated with infertility and birth defects are everywhere (clothing, furniture, nonstick cookware, etc.). Use cast iron or stainless steel and munch on broccoli or preferably broccoli sprouts to increase the level of a specific enzyme known to help your body detox from toxins.
When you think about it, it’s actually quite simple to eat your way to fertility, one bite at a time. When we do the things we can control and let go of the ones we can’t, the body responds beautifully.