So I polled the peeps on my mailing list what they would like to know about food and fertility.
Because, dang if there isn’t a crap ton of information out there. I remember eating crazy amounts of pineapple, avoiding coffee like the plague (while secretly longing for it), and being confused by dairy. Should I eat that full-fat ice cream or shouldn’t I?
Well, I am so happy to tell you that I finally got a chance to chat with Alison Boden over at Nourishing Radiance, and she answered a few of the questions that were sent my way. Here’s what she had to say.
What is the deal with soy???? Is it good or bad, or does it depend upon the person?
So controversial, right? It’s hard to get an unbiased opinion on soy. The fertility deal is that soy is a phytoestrogen, meaning it can act like estrogen in your body. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for everyone, but one of the most common hormone issues I see are related to actually having TOO MUCH estrogen (or “estrogen dominance”) – so in those cases, the conservative approach would be to avoid soy. Signs this might be you – bad PMS or heavy painful periods, easy weight gain and difficult weight loss, a diagnosis like PCOS, fibroids or endometriosis. Soy is also one of the top 8 food allergens, and undiagnosed food reactions is a cause of a lot of “unexplained infertility” that I see in my practice.
Is full fat dairy good? Or is all dairy bad?
This is another case of “it depends.” If you’re going to do dairy, definitely opt for full fat, organic and grass fed. The fat is great for hormone balancing, and it’s an easy source of protein. Fermented or aged is better than a glass of milk – so think yogurt, aged cheese, butter etc. But, there are quite a few fertility related reasons why someone may want to opt out of dairy-
- PCOS or another hormone related issue or symptom (like acne, PMS, endometriosis… ). Dairy has a lot of nutrients, but it also has natural hormones from the cow transfer over in the milk. This can trigger or exacerbate any underlying hormone issues.
- Glucose issues. If you’re diabetic, pre-diabetic or have high insulin or blood sugar, dairy can make this worse. We hyper respond with too much insulin when we eat or drink dairy.
- Any kind of suspicion of food intolerances. Skin issues (rosacea, eczema, acne), digestive trouble, any kind of inflammation condition like joint pain. All these signs point to a need to look at potential food reactions and dairy is high on that list.
- A diagnosis of “unexplained infertility.” Often when we’ve explored all of the potential causes of these mysterious reasons for fertility issues, trying an anti-inflammatory low allergen diet (which would throw out dairy) can be the missing piece that restores fertility in some women.
If you’re going to do some dairy free experimenting, I recommend going full elimination for at least a month with no dairy, and then add some of the aged or fermented dairy back in first, seeing how you feel.
What should my husband be eating? I am assuming he should be eating less fat than I do.
Healthy fats are great for both of you! They support hormone balance (he needs this too!), are anti-inflammatory and can protect our cells against DNA damage, and a diet pattern lower in sugar and higher in good fats can help blood sugar – great for both sides here. Things to include particularly for men are loads of antioxidants – sperm are really sensitive to DNA damage because they are made quickly and in high quantities, so free radicals can more easily get to them versus other types of cells.
So what does that mean – lots and lots of vegetables, the brighter the color the better! Lycopene is particularly helpful for sperm health, and cooked tomatoes are very high in this antioxidant. B vitamins are also necessary for proper DNA formation – so leafy greens, beans, nuts and seeds are great here as well.
I was told to avoid potatoes and peas, why?
I don’t know your particular case and who suggested this, but my best guess is someone was referring to the starch content. Potatoes and peas (as well as corn) are known as our “starchy vegetables.” Whereas almost every other vegetable is referred to as non-starchy. Veggies like carrots and beets are somewhere in the middle.
Most often this recommendation comes from trying to encourage reducing blood sugar – typically with PCOS as reducing carbohydrate intake can help control insulin and improve ovarian function.
It’s my clinical opinion that women TTC, even with PCOS, do not need to be on a low or no carb diet. Potatoes and peas have healthy amounts of starch and can be enjoyed along with a balanced meal. But we want to think of these as starch, and not a vegetable. So having peas/ potatoes OR grains, not in addition. And then also include a protein and non-starchy vegetable.
I have more on a blog post here about grains and starches and a little more on my opinion there. https://www.
As a 40+ woman, should I focus on anything different than a younger woman TTC?
Yes! After 40 we definitely want to focus on things that can improve the quality of our eggs. Reducing sugar, increasing good healthy fats (think egg yolk, avocado, coconut) and reducing our exposure to chemicals like BPA and BPS (the lesser known replacement in “BPA Free” plastics). Including a CoQ10 supplement is wise for anyone over 35 TTC as well. And we also want to think about uterine tone! Exercising and eating clean, good quality protein like grass fed meat and low mercury fish will go a long way here.
More on egg health on my blog post – https://www.
About Alison Boden:
Alison Boden is a registered dietitian and functional nutritionist specializing in women’s reproductive health from fertility through postpartum. She has a “food first” nourishing approach to wellness and healing and loves working with women and couples to find the root causes and personal barriers to conception. Alison has a 6 week online class all about improving fertility with food and diet, Fueling Fertility. www.nourishingradiance.com/