Hormones & Preconception Health
The months before becoming pregnant, the preconception period, are the ideal time to build a strong nutritional foundation for the incredible journey of change you are about to begin. Nutrition plays a key role in preparing your body to grow a strong, healthy baby and providing mom with the energy she needs for the important things in her life. And it plays an important role in fertility as well.
Our fertility is a process guided by hormones – little molecules made in glands and secreted into the bloodstream. The preparation and release of a healthy, fertile egg are dependent upon healthy hormone function, as is the production of sperm. Nutrition has a huge effect on our hormones. The health of our egg and sperm are also dependent on an adequate supply of the full range of important nutrients. Studies have shown that dad’s diet has a great effect on pregnancy health as well as mom’s.
Optimal preconception nutrition also assures that mom does not have nutrient deficiencies as she enters pregnancy, a time when her body goes through complex changes in the way we store and release the energy and vitamins in food. Moms who enter pregnancy in great health experience the rewards of an optimal pregnancy.
General Dietary Guidance for a Fertility Diet
The foods that make a healthy diet before you conceive are the same foods that promote great health in general. Eating natural, fresh foods from all 5 of the major food groups is important. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, cereals, and starches should make up the bulk of your food, followed by vegetables and fruit, and then protein. Protein from plant sources – beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds – provides many healthful benefits in moderate to large quantities, while meats and eggs provide the most benefit in small to moderate quantities. Dairy is typically considered its own food category, but there are reasons to limit dairy before conception. I encourage you to think of calcium as a replacement for this category, recognizing that there are many sources of this important nutrient. Finally, during preconception, sweets should make up the smallest portion of your diet.
A sixth category of food that is traditionally clumped in with sweets is fats. Fats are actually incredibly important to good nutrition in preconception and during pregnancy. Good fats are a backbone for the hormones that we rely on. Excellent sources of fat are fats that are liquid at room temperature and come from plants, such as olive oil and flax seed oil. Saturated fats found in animal products should be used sparingly, and trans fats (hydrogenated oils) should be avoided.
Within a well balanced diet there are several special considerations for planning to conceive:
Limit Artificial Hormonal Influences: Dairy, Meats, Soy, & Pesticides
Hormone balance is very important in preconception for fertility and pregnancy, and therefore it is best to avoid a lot of artificial impact on the hormones in our body. Today’s common agricultural practices incorporate hormone supplements for animals which find their way into our meat and dairy. When we eat these foods, they find their way into us. Another food-based influence on our hormones is the presence of chemicals that disrupt our normal hormone function by either mimicking hormones, blocking hormones, or affecting our production of hormones. These chemicals are present in some common pesticides. In order to decrease these artificial influences, choose organic meat, dairy, and produce, or limit your consumption of dairy and meat. Soy naturally has an effect on the estrogen function in our body. It is best to avoid products made from large amounts of soy, such as soy milk, during the preconception period when planning to conceive.
Boosting Vitamins & Minerals – Especially Folic Acid & Zinc
Without vitamins and minerals our hormones would be basically useless. The primary source of these important nutrients is vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. The amount of nutrients in the soil is directly related to the peak amount of nutrients in food. Once harvested, nutrients can be depleted through shipping, storage, processing, and cooking. Consider eating your food as fresh and natural as possible. Choose whole, unrefined grains. Eat locally grown produce. Organic farming methods preserve more nutrients in the soil than traditional agriculture and this will impact the food produced.
Another dietary tip for increasing minerals during preconception is to choose a high quality sea salt or crystal salt. Cheap table salt has been stripped of many important trace minerals and has gone through a chemical process that may leave detrimental residues on the salt. Sea salt and other crystal salts have these trace minerals intact.
Finally, a high quality supplement is recommended to assure that there are not gaps in the vitamins and minerals important during preconception. Women should be sure to get 400-800 units of folic acid every day. Dark leafy greens are a wonderful source of folic acid, which is also found in whole grains.
Maintain Balanced Blood Sugar
The amount of glucose in our blood stream at any one time in the preconception period has an impact on fertility and on pregnancy health. Our body functions best with a consistent supply of glucose, our key source of energy. When we have big dips and spikes in our blood glucose levels it is hard for the body to regulate other key functions.
There are two tips for maintaining balanced blood sugars through diet. Eat fiber with every meal. Fiber helps regulate blood sugar. It is found in vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Secondly, avoid highly refined white flour and white sugar. These foods have such a simple structure that we turn them into glucose very quickly which causes the levels in our blood to rise rapidly. This spike is usually followed by a dip, and our balance is quickly lost.
Move Towards a Healthy Body Mass Index (BMI)
BMI is an estimate of the percentage of your body mass made up from fat. It can be calculated from your height and weight. If your BMI is above or below the healthy range you may want to have your body fat percentage assessed by a health professional as BMIs provide an estimate based on averages and they may not be accurate for you.
Fat affects our hormones because we need fat to create them and also because we store hormones in fat. Therefore the amount of fat in our bodies can change the amount of hormone that is available to the cells to direct our bodies activities, such as building and releasing the egg and sperm necessary for conception. Both too much or too little fat during preconception can have a big impact on fertility and pregnancy health.
The great news is that studies show that even small changes towards your ideal weight result in significant improvements in fertility and pregnancy health. It seems that change in the right direction triggers beneficial activity in the body. It is equally important to gain weight if you are underweight, and to lose weight if your BMI is above the healthy range. Pregnancy coaching can help you make weight changes that will support a healthy pregnancy.
Drink Adequate Water
There are many rewards from drinking the water your body needs to keep healthy. Current recommendations are to drink 1/2 an ounce for every pound of body weight. In other words, if you are 140 pounds, aim to drink 70 ounces of water per day. This applies to preconception as well.
Avoid Saccharine, Caffeine, & Alcohol
Theses are the three big foods to avoid during preconception. Each are shown to have a negative effect on both fertility and the health of your baby in the early weeks of growth.
Fertility Diet Super Foods?
There is a lot advice available regarding foods to eat to boost your fertility in preconception. Common among all of the advice is to eat fresh, nutrient dense foods as described in this article. Beyond that, the specifics depend entirely on your personal needs: but YES, diet can have a huge influence on your ability to conceive. One Harvard study showed that 80% of couples in their study, whom had not been able to conceive for greater than one year, conceived after dietary changes alone. Was there a magic food? No – the change was a comprehensive approach to excellent nutrition. But if you aren’t quite ready for that you can try eating more peas. Several studies have confirmed that green peas have the ability to boost fertility… Here is to the future pea in your pod! Blessings for a joyful conception!