Today, in the west, there are a plethora of diets and food fads, many focus on eliminating certain food groups, most focus on weight loss and all promise greater health & vitality. Eliminating food groups whilst you are trying to conceive is not wise, the only ‘food’ to eliminate is junk and processed. A healthy balanced diet to support conception should include carbohydrates, fats and protein. There is a synergy between these three groups that helps balance mood and energy, support healthy metabolism and prevent hormonal imbalance.
Healthy carbohydrates provide important vitamins and minerals and fibre to support beneficial gut bacteria and proper elimination along with glucose which is used by cells throughout the body and the main source of energy for our brain. Processed and refined white foods & grains (sugar, flour, rice) are not good choices and should be avoided. Good choices are whole grains like oats, barley,rye, wheat, quinoa, millet, buckwheat & brown rice. Some people need to avoid grains containing gluten but there are plenty of alternatives. In addition fruits and vegetables – pears,apples,raspberries,sweet potatoes, squash, cauliflower - to name but a few and legumes like chickpeas, white haricot beans and lentils.
Amino acids from proteins are the building blocks for cells in the body. Eat a variety of proteins from different sources as this will ensure a greater variety of other nutrients. In addition to protein, eggs are a good source of vitamin D, walnuts are a good source of omega 3, pumpkin seeds a good source of zinc, sunflower seeds rich in vitamin E, grass fed meats provide iron and lentils folate. Protein should be included in every meal of the day.
Fats are incredibly important for health & fertility. Eliminate all processed fats and include good quality essential fatty acids (omega 3 & 6) and saturated fats in your diet; choose from grass fed meats, eggs, whole milk, butter, fish, nuts and seeds. Good fats in the diet ensures the intake of fat soluble vitamins A, D E & K , and thinking ahead, essential fatty acids protect against stretch marks, (as well as wrinkles, hair loss and cellulite!).
Refined and sugar laden foods are a health hazard as they quickly enter the blood stream and the body has to release high levels of insulin to keep the level of glucose in the bloodstream from spiraling out of control. But in time the muscle cells stop responding to the signal to take up excess sugar. The pancreas senses that glucose levels are still high and releases more insulin. Eventually the muscle cells respond but it takes an excessive amount of hormone to get the job done. As a result you have abnormally high insulin levels and at this point the body is known as 'insulin resistant’.
Insulin resistance is an underlying factor in a range of health problems. The main fertility one being PCOS, and the most obvious one is type 2 diabetes.
Pregnant women who eat too much refined sugar, are insulin resistant or diabetic may run the risk of having a baby that is predisposed to diabetes and obesity. Excess sugar is turned into fat, and large amounts of excess fat can lead to excess oestrogen which upsets the delicate hormonal balance required to conceive and stay pregnant.
Always read the label on food products, sugar isn’t always labelled as such. There are over 50 different names for sugar, some of the common names to look out for are high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, barley malt, dextrose, maltodextrin, galactose, fruit juice concentrate and rice syrup.
Manufacturers are clever often listing all the sugars at the end of the ingredient list (ingredients are always listed in descending quantity) so you are fooled into thinking there is not a lot of sugar, but if you add all the individual sugars together you will often find it is the top ingredient!
It is important to eliminate added sugar in the diet but for some people this is not easy. Common foods that include refined sugar: sweets, cakes, pastries, pizza, cookies, fizzy drinks, chocolate. Table sugar for tea and coffee drinks is also refined.
Whole fruits with skins on such as apples, dates, dried apricots and berries should cure a sweet tooth and also come with the added benefit of vitamins and minerals. More natural sources such as molasses and coconut sugar can be used in baking in the place of refined sugars. Ceylon cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar levels and should be available in most good health food shops or online - sprinkle on your morning porridge or add to smoothies, curries, anything you like!