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Eating for Fertility: Top 5 Foods

Eating for Fertility: Top 5 Foods
When it comes to eating for fertility, there are certain foods that stick out from the crowd. The benefits of eating these foods before, during and even after pregnancy are not only backed by science, they are also backed by tradition. These foods have been a staple in diets throughout the world, and for good reasons. Despite everything we understand, there are still so many benefits we have yet to uncover. The key benefits we know about support mom, baby and even dad, if eaten regularly in the months leading up to pregnancy and beyond.
  1. 1. Eggs. Whole, beautiful eggs – yolk and all. In fact, the yolk is where you find over a dozen nutrients including the one linked to fetal brain development and prevention of neural tube defects: choline! Many women are lacking in choline and egg yolks are one of the best sources. Only two whole eggs are required to meet a woman’s daily requirements. Eggs are also one of the few non-seafood sources of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, which has been linked to higher IQ. Whole eggs also contain vitamin D, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, vitamins A and E. Not to mention they are a perfect protein source because they provide all of the essential amino acids, meaning you need to get them from the diet. This helps mom build up stores of important nutrients for when she becomes pregnant. It’s also an excellent food to help balance blood sugar, which is key for a healthy pregnancy. 
  • Quality note! Not all eggs are created equal. Eggs from pasture-raised chickens are very different from those conventionally raised. Eggs from pastured chickens are higher in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, D and E because they get nutrients naturally found in grass, from bugs they eat, etc. When a chicken is confined to small spaces, forced to eat a diet that is not natural, and under constant stress, the eggs lack many nutrients, which you can often see reflected in the color of the yolk. Yolks should be a rich orange color, which comes from beta-carotene found in grass. Yet, when you crack open a conventional egg, the color is often pale and a lackluster yellow. Whenever you can, opt for pastured eggs. If possible, get eggs from a local farm where you can see the chickens grazing. This will not only support your local community, but also the environment!
  1. 2. Organ meat. If you are looking for a cheap, incredibly nutrient-dense food that can support mom, dad, and growing baby, don’t shy away from organ meats, especially liver. In fact, there is no richer dietary source of vitamins and minerals than liver. Leading up to pregnancy, some common decificies that can be improved or even reversed with consumption of liver include: 
  • Iron– needed to make red blood cells and carry oxygen to all of mom and baby’s body tissues. Pregnant women need at least double the amount of iron compared to non-pregnant women, and many women of childbearing age are low or deficient in iron. 
  • Fat-soluble vitamins, especially vitamin A. Vitamin A functions as an antioxidant in the body, which is necessary to prevent oxidative stress and tissue damage in both mom and dad. This vitamin plays a role in fetal growth with the development of the heart, the circulatory and central nervous system, while deficiencies can lead to fetal malformation.
  • B vitamins, especially folate and B12. At least 40% of the population have a variation to their methylation genes, which makes it difficult to process synthetic folic acid and can drive infertility. These moms and dads are particularly in need of the active methylated form of folate which liver contains. Folate is needed for proper hormone balance and prevention of neural tube defects as well as spontaneous pregnancy loss. Liver is also a rich source of vitamin B12 which works with folate to support healthy homocysteine levels in mom and dad. B12 has also been shown to increase sperm count, improve sperm motility, and is vital for semen quality.
  • Quality and safety note! There are many conflicting messages about the safety of eating liver due to its high vitamin A content. It is true that too much vitamin A can be harmful, but many women consume inadequate levels of preformed vitamin A (retinol) found in animal sources that cannot be obtained from plants. Eating a few ounces of organ meat 1-2 times a week can help you get the benefits without an excess of vitamin A. And remember that one of the liver’s main functions is detoxification, so it is important to get liver from grass-fed, organically raised animals whenever possible to avoid the excess accumulation and consumption of toxins.

3. Cold-water fish. Wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, herring and mussels are some of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, and lowest in mercury. DHA is an essential fatty acid and is necessary for the development of baby’s brain and protection against tissue inflammation and damage in utero. It also protects against inflammation in mom and dad. Sufficient omega-3 fatty acid levels are also important for brain development after birth until your child is at least two years old. Supplementation may be necessary in some cases, but keep in mind that you can meet your needs through diet alone. In fact, eating seafood will also provide protein and trace minerals such as iodine, zinc and selenium. Eating 2-3 servings of cold-water fish on a weekly basis will allow you to meet DHA needs and help support mineral reserves. 

  • Quality note! Seafood researcher and writer Paul Greenberg has done a good job simplifying his recommendations around getting the best quality seafood that will minimize toxic exposure and optimize nutrient-density. These recommendations include choosing American seafood because we are one of the top countries for science-based fish management practices; diversifying the type of fish we choose to eat; and incorporating more “farmed filter feeders,” such as oysters and mussels, which get their sustenance from water and do not accumulate toxins the way larger seafood does.  
  1. 4. Leafy greens. Spinach, kale, collard greens, arugula, mustard greens, watercress, bok choy, beet greens, romaine lettuce, swiss chard and other leafy greens are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. They are loaded with phytonutrients which are compounds that protect the plant, as well as the person who eats the plant, against cellular and DNA damage. When you hear the word “folate,” you may be reminded of the word “foliage,” and for good reason! Green leafy vegetables are one of the richest sources of folate, which is key for a healthy pregnancy as discussed above. And there are many other nutrients found in leafy greens including, but not limited to:
  • Vitamin K – needed for proper fetal teeth and bone development. Vitamin K plays a crucial role in blood clotting, which is important for baby after birth, as well as mom post-delivery, to prevent hemorrhage and ensure proper healing.
  • Vitamin C – is one of the body’s major antioxidants. Vitamin C also helps maintain proper collagen production, triggers healthy ovulation, supports immune function and is involved in fetal brain development.
  • Magnesium – a cofactor for more than 300 enzymatic processes that regulate protein synthesis, muscle/nerve function, blood sugar control, blood pressure and more. Magnesium deficiency is very common among women of childbearing age and needs to increase during pregnancy. Adequate levels prevent issues such as hypertension, preeclampsia, poor fetal growth, and low birth weight. Magnesium may also help prevent symptoms of morning sickness.
  1. 5. Bone broth. If you want to incorporate a food (technically beverage) that not only provides several fertility-boosting nutrients but also connects you to your ancestors, look no further than bone broth! Traditional cultures have historically used all parts of the animal in cooking. Leftover parts of an animal including the bones, skin, and connective tissue would be used to make broths which were literally used as medicine. The wisdom in this cooking practice is now being understood by modern science. A properly prepared bone broth is rich in collagen, gelatin, and glycine which is an amino acid that becomes “conditionally essential” during pregnancy as maternal needs increase. Glycine has been linked to cranial volume at birth, motor development, and plays a role in the production of bone, skin and connective tissue. Glycine also supports mom as the uterus and breasts grow and the demand for collagen increases. Bone broth is rich in minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and sodium. 
  • Quality and sourcing note! Whenever possible, it is best to source your bone broth from pasture-raised, grass-fed/finished animals. Bone broth can actually be a very cost effective way of getting the benefits of these higher meats because broth uses parts of the animal which are often discarded. You can often get a good price for chicken bones, legs, neck and feet or beef marrow and knuckle bones from a local butcher.

When it comes to using food as medicine, the five foods mentioned above are some of the best examples. It is amazing what high quality whole food can provide, but it can sometimes still be difficult to obtain all of the nutrients you need from food alone. This is especially true if you struggle with food aversions, have specific food preferences or allergies, or have difficulty accessing the best quality options. If, for whatever reason, you cannot source food that meets our quality suggestions, know that you are still getting important nutrients by eating a variety of whole, unprocessed foods, even if they are conventionally raised or grown. And this is part of the reason why we have developed WeNatal, to remove the guesswork as to whether or not you are getting optimal levels of the highest quality nutrients to support every stage of pregnancy. This allows you to worry less and enjoy the journey of pregnancy more! 

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Lisa Dreher

Lisa Dreher

Lisa is a registered dietitian/nutritionist with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Integrative Health. She has been practicing for over a decade and works full time at Dr. Mark Hyman's UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts.

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