Are Your Foods Supporting Your Fertility?
Updated: Apr 25
This may be hard to hear, but I think it is really important. Because, this isn’t something you’ll hear in your doctor’s office. In fact, you might not hear this anywhere (unless you are nutrition savvy and do a lot of your own research).
Here it is:
You probably aren’t eating enough nutrients to support the optimal functioning of your body or fertility.
Get this, according to the NHANES data (a huge national health survey): (1)
Close to 100% of Americans don’t get sufficient potassium
92% of Americans don’t get sufficient choline
94% of Americans don’t get sufficient vitamin D
86% of Americans don’t get sufficient vitamin E
52% of Americans don’t get sufficient magnesium
44% of Americans don’t get sufficient calcium
43% of Americans don’t get sufficient vitamin A
39% of Americans don’t get sufficient vitamin C
And I know what you are thinking… “I take a multivitamin, so I’m good”.
Let me start by saying, great! Multivitamins are very handy and can definitely fill in nutrient gaps.
But, I’d also encourage you to flip over your multivitamin and see how many of these nutrients are really covered 100% of the DV (daily value). Because, I am willing to bet that at least ½ of these nutrients are not met 100% DV in your multivitamin.
Here’s the thing… we can’t out supplement a diet that is lacking nutrients. We can’t get everything we need crammed into a one-a-day.
In fact, my favorite prenatal vitamin is FullWell. It is an 8 capsule per day formulation and it STILL doesn’t have 100% DV of all these nutrients.
Point being, you still need to concentrate on eating a nutrient rich diet if you want to meet your nutrient needs.
(PS: check out my Fertile Pantry Make-Over mini course to get started eating for your fertility!)
Which brings me to the next point.
Why do nutrients matter?
Because, let me guess. You feel “well”, you don’t have any disease states, and overall – you’d consider yourself quite healthy.
You might have even had blood work done and everything checks out. Your doctor told you everything nutrient wise looks great according to your blood.
Unfortunately, routine blood tests aren’t going to tell you everything you need to know about your nutritional status.
Let’s talk about the difference between a nutrient deficiency and a nutrient inadequacy.
A deficiency is usually what conventional medicine screens for and a deficiency means that the level of the nutrient is low enough to result in a deficiency disease – something like scurvy (argh matey), beriberi, or pellagra. These are DISEASE states caused by micronutrient deficiency. They are serious and bad news bears.
An inadequacy is MUCH harder to pick up during conventional testing and less serious in the short term (meaning, you don’t need an inpatient hospitalization to replete nutrients in order to recover).
Inadequacies are sneaky because our body is amazing at compensating – which, is both a good and bad thing. Our body shunts resources to keep key processes running and keeps blood levels stable. Hence, blood levels remain stable on routine blood work and we don't develop obvious signs of nutrient deficiency we see in micronutrient deficiency diseases.
We develop nutritional inadequacies by consuming inadequate amounts of certain nutrients over time – but not so low that we end up with a micronutrient disease deficiency that can be detected by routine blood work.
Does that make sense?
Ok, but there’s more. Even if nutritional inadequacies aren’t DISEASE, we know that nutritional inadequacies are linked to poor health outcomes. Symptoms of nutritional inadequacies are generally vague and may include: fatigue, weak immune function (ie: always getting sick), poor concentration, poor memory and mood swings. Any of those sound familiar?
And over time, nutritional inadequacies are connected with increased risk of osteoporosis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes. (2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
And yes – also a connection with infertility (7).
One study in particular – The Nurses Health Study found that the participant’s dietary pattern was significantly correlated with risk of ovulatory infertility. Specifically, those that ate a whole food, Mediterranean style diet with low-glycemic carbohydrates, monounsaturated fats, iron, folate, and antioxidants had the lowest risk of ovulatory infertility (8).
So, let’s summarize the main points so far.
Nutritional inadequacies are SUPER common, even in western countries (like the US) where food is plentiful.
Nutritional inadequacies play a role in long term health AND fertility.
How can we get your nutritional status optimized? (hint – it isn’t by taking a supplement)
(PS: check out my Fertile Pantry Make-Over mini course to get your pantry stocked with nutrient rich, fertility boosting foods)
So, first things first… we need to get clear on what eating for fertility looks like and what it does NOT look like.
Eating for fertility is NOT:
Cutting calories to lose weight
Restricting whole food groups (except for in very specific situations)
A “diet” in the sense that food is restricted
Eating for fertility IS:
Flexible to your preferences
Balanced with ALL the macronutrients
Filling and satisfying
As an aside, I struggle sometimes with what to call eating for fertility. It is WAY simpler to call it a “fertility diet”. But, man. Diet has some negative connotations associated; and for good reason. So, while I may sometimes refer to eating for fertility as a “fertility diet”. Please, do not think it is a diet in the sense that you are being restricted. Cause, it’s not that even a little bit.
Let’s start with some basics. These are THREE things that will get you started eating for your fertility.
1: Eat enough calories.
We live in a diet culture. The next “diet” is always around the corner. The idea of “I’ll be good tomorrow”. Listen – if diets worked, we wouldn’t have a $76 billion diet industry (9).
The fact is that diets don’t work. Cutting calories, restricting food groups, eating “clean” doesn’t work. Weight loss is not a simple calories in, calories out equation (10).
And in fact, undereating is very detrimental to reproductive health. Undereating signals to your body that there are inadequate resources available. And hence… that now isn’t a great time to enter into a pregnancy, which is a very nutrient heavy time for the body (11). Our body shuts down reproduction because there aren't enough resources.
Bottom line, you need to be eating enough calories in order to sustain a pregnancy.
This is precisely why I think it is HORRIBLE advice to ask women who are TTC to lose weight on a crash diet.
2. Eat balanced meals.
I love pasta just as much as the next person. And really, there is nothing wrong with enjoying pasta as part of a balanced meal. But, the key word is balanced.
A plate of spaghetti with a side of garlic bread is a HUGE carb load. Ok, you toss in a couple of meatballs for protein. But, the proportions of the meal aren’t quite in check.
Balanced meals means that your carb and protein intake is similar. If you’re eating about 45 grams of carb, aim for about 30 grams of protein. Unlike the spaghetti example above where carbs can easily be 75 g or more with a side of 15-20 grams of protein. See my point. Balance.
This helps with blood sugar control. Kinda like nutritional inadequacies, your blood sugar can also be out of balance. But, not SO out of balance that you end up with a diagnosis of diabetes.
Slight blood sugar imbalances (without a clinical diagnosis of DISEASE) can still wreak havoc on your hormone health, especially if you are a lady with PCOS (12).
3. Focus on nutrient density.
This one is a biggie. And honestly, the first time I heard this I kind of got my defenses up. Until I took a minute to think about it. So, if that's you just stick with me.
Most of the food we eat today isn’t actually food. It is highly processed “food like” products.
The one that got me the most was a Nutrigrain Bar. And the question “what is this actually”.
We think things like Nutrigrain Bars are “healthy”. I mean, they are fruit and oat and… ? That’s when the lightbulb hit me. What are Nutrigrain Bars made of?
Well, if you flip over the package, you’ll see a mile long list of ingredients with a handful of things you recognize (one of which is sugar!)
Ouch, I know – right?
According to one study, the typical American diet consists of about 60% ultra processed foods (13). Ultra processed foods are a combination of ingredients that have been extracted from foods... but aren't a whole food items. On an ingredient list, you will probably see things like artificial colors, stabilizers, and added sugars (and a laundry list of other things you can't pronounce).
Here’s the thing. Eating a Nutrigrain Bar won’t kill your fertility. But eating this type of ultra processed food as the backbone of your diet will have serious implications on the nutrient load you are able to get from your diet.
And if you don’t remember why the nutrient load (or nutrient density) from your diet is important, scroll back up to the top of this post and re-read the info about how nutritional insufficiencies are hurting our health and fertility.
So, that brings us full circle.
We started talking about how common nutritional inadequacies are and we finished by talking about WHY nutritional inadequacies are so common.
(PS: I can help! Check out the Fertile Pantry Make-Over mini course to get your pantry stocked with nutrient rich, fertility boosting foods)
I’m going to leave you with one more thing to consider.
And that’s what to do about your food choices to optimize your fertility.
Hey – I’m Kaylee and I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and I specialize in fertility nutrition. No matter what part of your fertility journey you are in, I am here to help you get your food choices optimized to support your fertility.
Let’s get started with the Fertile Pantry Make-Over mini course! This is a 5-day mini-course that will help you get your pantry stocked with all the key essentials to begin eating in a way that will support your fertility.
And listen, jumping into something like this can be super scary (especially when it is from some random person on the internet). That’s why I priced this mini-course at only $8. I want to get you this information and get you started!
We start on May 1! Are you in?
Click HERE to join!