There is a ton of controversy surrounding what foods to eat and what to avoid when you’re trying to conceive. It seems like the studies (and the fertility doctors) constantly change their minds on what’s important and what’s not. But there are some key things you’ll find on every fertility health providers list: Processed foods, junk food, fast food, fried food, foods high in sugar, salt, and certain fats- especially overly processed fats. You probably already know that these are things you should try to stay away from, whether you are trying to conceive or not. So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
First, let’s talk about water. Drinking plenty of water from a clean source is very important. Avoid drinking lots of bottled water, if possible. The bisphenol-A (BPA) from the plastic containers (both in many plastic bottles and in the linings of some cans) may act like a xenoestrogen, binding to estrogen receptors, and is considered a dangerous hormone disruptor. This may interfere with normal hormonal messaging, which is necessary when trying to ovulate regularly, or when a patient is doing IVF and balancing a fine ration of hormonal medications in preparation for an IVF or natural cycle. Moreover, it has been linked to increasing negative epigenetic mechanisms, such as turning on the diabetes gene, and the obesity gene, which can be passed on to one’s children (and onto ones children’s children). And most recently it has been linked to neurological disorders – something that should be avoided whether you and your partner are trying to conceive or not. Also, BPA bio-accumulates in pregnancy, and has been found in large amounts in the placenta – best to avoid exposure to these plastics throughout the entire pregnancy.
Another thing to consider cutting out is artificial sweeteners. Chemicals such as aspartame can be great for reducing caloric intake and sugars, which is a great idea overall, but it can also act as hormone disruptor in certain individuals. Even stevia should be used with caution, as there are some animal studies showing it may interfere with spermatogenesis, and possibly egg quality in women. One way to treat your sweet tooth is to make sure you are getting enough natural sugars into your diet, such as fruit. Drinking plenty of water will help you keep full and get cravings down for the unhealthy and potentially toxic stuff.
Other things to avoid are smoking, for both men and women. Smoking (tobacco or marijuana) and drinking alcohol (a neuro-toxin) are things that should be completely cut out when trying to conceive, during preconception care, and in an effort to get as healthy and fertile as possible with the highest quality eggs and sperm.
Try not to eat foods from polluted areas, and animal protein that is not organic. Animals that have been injected with large amounts of antibiotics and fed large amounts of hormones may interfere with fertility. When you are trying to conceive, you should consider decreasing your intake of that kind of meat.
Okay, coffee. Lots of fertility healthcare providers are fine with their fertility patients drinking coffee. But studies show decreasing caffeine and coffee can be beneficial when trying to conceive. Caffeine may decrease motility and health of sperm. In some women caffeine may encourage miscarriage, especially within the first 8-14 weeks, and is thought to negatively impact fertility. It is recommended to limit caffeine to 1 cup per day, and if it can be managed, cut out completely. Many women switch to decaf. Although the US used to use many cancer-causing solvents in the direct and indirect decaffeination process in the 1970’s, today most companies no longer use these chemicals. Carbon dioxide is still used in the direct version, but evaporates by the end of the process, so is considered safe. Sticking to naturally decaffeinated coffee, or even better, coffees that have been processed through the Swiss water process are less problematic, if it is absolutely necessary. For some people, if their body is particularly sensitive to the coffee bean itself, which has stagnating properties according to traditional theory, it would be best to cut it out completely. You might also consider switching to green or white tea – all of which are the same plant as black tea, Camellia sinensis, but with much less caffeine. There are some awesome alternatives out there that are just as yummy, and if you are supporting your system in other ways, the caffeine aspect is rarely missed if managed well – worth a shot if you are trying to optimize your fertility.
Soy, dairy and wheat are also controversial when it comes to fertility and being in the best health for conceiving. The easiest way to navigate these three food products is to avoid large amounts of highly processed versions of them. Your constitution and medical history will help your fertility health care provider come up with a customized dietary plan for you, but overall these three food groups are ones to be mindful of and greatly decrease, depending on your personal health and fertility history.
When in doubt just remember: moderation! Having a glass of wine at an important party or a special dessert on a special occasion will not throw off all the hard work that you’ve put into your pre-conception care. And in fact, the stress that some people experience and create over constantly denying themselves of a treat now and then may in fact be even more unhealthy. Stress is just as bad, if not worse, than certain foods! They key is to strive for an overall healthy lifestyle.