Today, fad diets and diet trends make it confusing to understand exactly what we should be nourishing our bodies with. What's even worse is that in many cases popular diets directly conflict with what is fundamentally needed for a woman to conceive and maintain a healthy pregnancy. This can make the process of trying to conceive all the more overwhelming, but it truly does not have to be this way.
While it may not be easy, letting go of the many food "rules" we have heard from our friends, family, and the media, is the first place to start in creating a wonderfully balanced diet, capable of supporting a healthy pregnancy.
Due to the most popular diet trends of today, this means starting with changing our mindset around fat, one of the most critical macronutrients responsible for balanced hormones. Rather than fearing fat, we need to learn to love it, and start adding high quality sources back into our diet. While this may be scary for some women at first, the positive health outcomes and impact on a women's fertility quickly make it all worth it.
Fat and Hormones
While many women may be aware that having too much or too little body fat can disrupt a woman's ability to conceive, what many women do not realize is just how important the fat we consume from our food plays in the fertility process.
Fats are the building blocks of each and every cell membrane in the body, and are essential for balancing hormones. This is because the fatty cell membrane act somewhat like "border police" in the body, allowing hormones and other necessary molecules to enter and leave the cells. But in order for this "border police" to do its job the best it can, the body needs healthy fats to build the fatty cell membranes in the first place, and support healthy hormonal balance.
Specifically when looking at fertility, fats play an an essential role in balancing female sex hormones (progesterone and estrogen), both of which are responsible for controlling the ovulation and menstruation cycle, and maintaining a healthy female reproductive system.
Sources of High Quality Fat
But not all fat sources are created equal and in fact some sources of fat, such as trans fats, can make conceiving more difficult. What is important when choosing a fat source is to focus on the quality of the fat source you are consuming, and avoid any fats that have been overly processed or refined.
In fact, a large Nurses Health Study out of Harvard School of Public Health showed that women who were consuming low-fat dairy products had an increased risk of not ovulating, where in contrast women who consumed greater than 2 servings of full-fat dairy products weekly had an increase in fertility outcomes.
Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids are considered to be essential fatty acids, and are required to be consumed through out diet. They are responsible for healthy neurological development, and decrease inflammation in the body, thereby making them an essential part of the conception process.
Sources of Fat to Consume
When choosing a healthy fat source there are two types of fat to consider: Saturated and Unsaturated Fats. When choosing a saturated fat source it is important to look for full-fat, grass fed, and organic options. These sources are going to be free from any unwanted antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides, and are full of those healthy omega-three fatty acids we talked about earlier. Additionally, it is important to include high quality unsaturated fat sources that come from plants, and support balanced hormones, and a reduction in inflammation in the body.
Some excellent options include:
- Full-Fat Organic and Grass Fed Dairy Products
- Grass Fed Butter
- Organic Grass Fed Whole Milk
- Grass Fed and Organic Meat
- Cold Water Wild Caught Fish (such as wild caught Alaskan salmon)
- Olive Oil
- Nuts and Seeds
Sources of Fat to Avoid
The most common types of fats which should be avoided are highly refined vegetable oils, and trans fats. This is because these fats typically are consumed in excess through packaged and fried foods, and are considered to be inflammatory in the body, and can disrupt hormonal balance.
Some examples of refined fats to avoid:
- Trans Fats (can be found in fried foods, shortening, and pastries)
- Refined Vegetable Oils
- Canola Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Soybean Oil
- Corn Oil
There are many other considerations when it comes to a persons diet and fertility, but adding more high-quality healthy fat sources is a wonderful way to get your body, and hormones balanced and ready to support a healthy pregnancy.
Written by Integrative Dietitian Megan Faletra, MS, MPH, RDN