There is something uniquely painful in trying to conceive and seeing the dreaded period come again and again. There is a heart-sinking feeling with each period. It is being resentful and angry at seeing friends or family members all getting pregnant around you, seemingly without any issue. And there is the stress from the waiting, from all the appointments with the GP and fertility specialists, and from the feeling that sex is now only this practical tool for conception rather than a way towards connexion and pleasure.
During that time, women often receive plenty of (well-meaning) advice. They are often advised to stop drinking alcohol and coffee by their consultant. But diet as a whole is often overlooked even though it’s the nutrients from the diet that are at the base of the healthy development of the egg and later on of the embryo.
A follicle takes around 90 days to develop into an egg that will be mature enough to be released. In that time, it will need the right nutrients to develop well. Amino acids and fats, including omega-3s, to develop the cell membrane. Vitamins and minerals to produce energy. The right level of oxygenation. The right hormones levels, which is influenced by our blood sugar balance and insulin levels. All of those are heavily influenced by diet. By looking after your diet, you are preparing the ground for the embryo to develop well just like you would prepare the ground, add fertilizer, compost etc… for flowers to grow well in your garden.
So what can you do to optimize the environment in which the egg and embryo will develop?
1- Eat real food, not processed, with plenty of vegetables
The bottom line from all the research available so far says that the best diet is one made out non-processed foods with plenty of vegetables. Sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it? So, let’s avoid instant noodles, breakfast cereals, and chicken nuggets. Sticking to the type of foods ‘that your grandmother (or great grandmother!) would have found’ will help create the right environment for the eggs to develop and then the embryos to implant.
Vegetables are essential too. Not only are they full of vitamins and minerals but they also have plenty of antioxidants that help the body function well.
All the research available so far says that the best diet is one made out non-processed foods with plenty of vegetables
2- Prefer nutrient dense foods
Some foods are particularly dense in nutrients and will give you the right sort of support.
The top Nutrient-Dense foods I would recommend are:
- Liver and other organ meat
- Fatty fish such as sardines, mackerel or salmon
- Dark leafy vegetables
- Bone Broth
3- Eat some protein at each meal
This includes eating some protein at breakfast too. Eating proteins will help to regulate your blood sugar levels and will ensure you get all the amino acids (that’s the stuff you get from protein) you need.
4- Don’t forget the fats
Fats are essential for cells to grow and divide as they form an integral part of the structure of the cell. We need them for the cell to develop well but also to manufacture all the hormones in the body. Omega-3s, in particular, are important. You can find them in oily fish such as salmon, sardines or mackerel, walnut, chia seeds or flaxseeds.
In general, be aware of all the fat reduced or fat-free products. Apart from the fact that they don’t have enough fats in them, the fat is often replaced by sugar to compensate.
Did you know? A very large study following nurses in the US showed that having full-fat dairy products rather than skimmed or semi-skimmed dairy products is linked to lower ovulation problems
5- Ditch the sugar
This is probably the hardest thing to do but sugar is creating inflammation in the body and playing havoc with hormones.
Avoiding sugar is about avoiding the white stuff (sweets, biscuits, soft drinks or fruit juices) but also refined grains (such as white flour, white rice, white pasta etc….) and choosing the wholegrain versions instead. Be aware that often sugar is hidden. If you read labels more carefully, you will notice a high level of sugar in flavored yogurts, ketchup, some tomato sauce, soups, salad dressing etc etc….