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Written by: Dr. Amy Beckley, PhD, Founder and Inventor of the Proov test – the first and only FDA-cleared test to confirm successful ovulation at home.
Written on 8/23/20
Food is medicine. You are what you eat. You may have heard some of these phrases before, and the same thinking applies when it comes to trying to conceive. Diet impacts so much of our overall health and fertility is no exception. But why are certain foods flagged as “fertility friendly”? It often has to do with the nutrients contained within, each of which has a role in supporting hormone levels and processes in the body.
Below we dive into five critical nutrients that support fertility and why!
Iron is an especially important nutrient for women. Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in your blood from your lungs to the rest of your body.
In terms of fertility, iron is a key player in egg and ovulation health. Studies have shown that iron and iron receptor concentration increases as follicles mature because growing cells, such as eggs, require iron to develop properly. Additionally, in a study of premenopausal women with a history of infertility, the women who regularly consumed iron supplements had a significantly lower risk of ovulatory disorders. While researchers don’t know exactly what role iron has in ovulation, upping your iron intake before TTC is still a good idea.
Some great sources of iron include lean beef, chicken, and turkey. Not a fan of meat? No problem! You can also get iron from plant-based foods such as beans, lentils, tofu, and spinach. Iron supplements or multivitamins are another option if you don’t get enough from your diet and your doctor gives you the go ahead.
Folate is a B vitamin that helps the body make DNA and divide cells. You may have also heard it called folic acid, which is the human-made form of folate found in processed foods and supplements. This confused us too but rest assured they have the same positive effects on fertility!
According to the CDC, folate can prevent neural tube defects. These are major defects in a baby’s brain or spine and “happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy; often before a woman finds out she’s pregnant,” says the CDC. Eating enough folate before you even start trying to conceive can help mitigate the risk of these defects as early as possible.
Folate is found naturally in beef liver, beans, peas, oranges, asparagus, broccoli, and spinach. Folic acid can be found in enriched breads, pasta, and rice, fortified breakfast cereals, or many prenatal supplements (remember to always consult your doctor before supplementing!).
Healthy fats such as omega 3 fatty acids are an important component of any fertility diet. Omega 3s help form the membranes that surround each and every cell in your body. They’re also important for protecting against heart disease.
Some recent research has shown that increased omega 3 consumption is associated with increased ovarian reserve and egg quality in mice. While further research needs to be done in human trials, researchers at the University of Colorado are optimistic that omega 3s could have the same effect.
Aside from ovarian reserve and egg quality, omega 3s also serve as the building blocks of hormones. Eating enough omega 3s ensures your body can produce adequate amounts of reproductive hormones. Sources of omega 3 fatty acids include fish, seafood, nuts, seeds, plant oils, and avocados.
Fiber isn’t everyone’s favorite nutrient to talk about but it actually has many health benefits that don’t have to do with digestion, including maintaining a healthy body weight and decreasing risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer.
As you probably know, fiber is most commonly known for helping keep the digestive tract clean and regular. Unlike other nutrients we get from food, our bodies can’t digest dietary fiber so it passes directly through our digestive systems taking waste with it. Your body also gets rid of excess estrogen through bowel movements. Eating enough fiber keeps you regular and prevents the buildup of extra estrogen, which could potentially lead to estrogen dominance.
Fiber is also digested slowly, preventing a post-meal blood sugar spike and keeping insulin levels in check. After eating foods with a low fiber and high sugar content (think simple carbohydrates, like candy or white bread) your blood sugar rises and drops dramatically, throwing your insulin levels out of whack. Blood sugar and insulin levels that are constantly changing can lead to insulin resistance or even diabetes, both of which can have impacts on reproductive hormone levels and fertility.
Fiber can be found in whole grains (like quinoa or brown rice), beans, lentils, berries, potatoes, and popcorn — without movie theater butter, of course!
Last but not least, zinc is a trace mineral found in cells throughout the body and plays a role in helping the immune system fight off bacteria and viruses. The body also uses zinc to make proteins, DNA, and other genetic material.
Some researchers at Pennsylvania State University have found that zinc may play a critical role in egg development. The research showed that increased zinc consumption during the 90 days leading up to ovulation led to healthier follicles and eggs, compared to zinc-deficient eggs. This means zinc consumption now can affect fertility three months into the future, so it’s another mineral to eat enough of before TTC. Other studies have found that zinc is an essential nutrient for male fertility as well, so be sure your significant other is getting enough! Zinc also has an impact on parts of the reproductive system essential for making progesterone, which is our favorite hormone!
Oysters are by far the best source of zinc, although maybe not the most appetizing. You can also try beef, pork, crab, lobster, beans, chickpeas, or fortified breakfast cereals to get some more zinc.
How can you tell if your diet revamp is making an impact? Proov can help you understand if you are successfully ovulating at home. It works by tracking PdG — a progesterone metabolite — 7-10 days after suspected ovulation. Getting 4 positives during this critical window tells you your ovulation was A-OK that cycle. Made diet changes and still aren’t quite there? Not to worry, there are other things you can do at home and it never hurts to talk to your doctor.