When we’re trying to conceive, we all know it is important to eat well. We at Yinova recommend certain foods for different fertility types, you an find out your type here, but in general, it is best to eat a broad range of whole, organic foods: lots of vegetables and fruit (in all colors!), healthy carbs (in the form of legumes, root vegetables and whole grains), and protein (including organic grass-fed animal protein, fish, and vegetable proteins like soy & legumes). But there’s another group of foods essential to our health and fertility, that often gets overlooked – or worse, vilified. FATS.
Did you know that some studies recommend that our diet consist of over 50% fat? But yet the marketplace is inundated with “low fat” food products that are promoted as “healthier” due to our (misguided) attempts to combat obesity. (Update!: consumption of dietary fat does not directly cause body fat: sugar and refined carbs are the biggest culprits there; stay tuned for a future blog about that.) The consequence of this marketing has been to shame full-fat foods as unhealthy. This is incorrect. Fat is ESSENTIAL in maintaining the proper hormonal balance crucial for fertility. In fact, fats are the building blocks for estrogen, progesterone and the other reproductive hormones necessary to conceive and maintain a health pregnancy. In the absence of fat (dietary or body fat), androgen (male reproductive) hormones dominate, and our fertility is compromised.
A well-known study spearheaded by the Nurses’ Health Study at the Harvard School of Public Health found that women who ate two or more low-fat dairy products a day experienced difficulty conceiving at a rate double that of those women who ate one or fewer servings of low-fat dairy foods. While no definitive cause was found, one possible explanation is that the low fat dairy products are missing the fat necessary for the production of the female reproductive hormones: estrogen and progesterone decline, the androgen hormones rise, and ovulation is impacted. Therefore, if you are eating dairy products while trying to conceive, one suggestion is to consume whole fat dairy, such as whole fat organic yogurt.
Fat comes in different varieties: unsaturated fat (including mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats, both categories of which are liquid at room temperature and from vegetable sources), and saturated fats (which are solid at room temperature and generally from animal origin). While for many years the prevailing wisdom has linked consumption of saturated fats to heart disease, newer and more carefully presented research suggests otherwise. (Did you know that human breast milk contains 54% saturated fat? If breast milk is nature’s perfect food, then certainly saturated fat cannot be bad for us in and of itself!) One of the problems with some of the earlier research is that it did not control for the consumption of trans-fats, meaning that participants who consumed a lot of saturated fat and developed heart-disease were ALSO consuming a lot of trans-fats. Trans-fats are produced by a chemical process called hydrogenation, which turns a veggie-based unsaturated fat into a solid at room temperature. It is not natural, wreaks havoc in our bodies, and should be avoided at all costs. In addition to leading to heart disease, the greater the amount of trans fat in the diet, the greater the chance of developing fertility problems. The same Nurses’ Health Study at the Harvard School of Public Health found that women who ate even just 4 grams of trans-fats per day displayed negative effects on their fertility (in particular, ovulation). Trans-fats increase insulin resistance, which can eventually lead to diabetes. Insulin resistance makes your pancreas work harder because it will keep on producing insulin when you cannot move glucose into your cells. The result is metabolic chaos that can contribute to ovulatory infertility. Transfats are found in Crisco, margarine, in many pre-packaged and processed foods. Look at the labels; avoid anything with transfats listed in the nutritional contents, or “hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “vegetable shortening” in the ingredients lists!
Increasing our healthy fat intake is one of the most delicious ways to improve our fertility. Feel free to indulge in fattier cuts of animal meat, preferably grass-fed or pastured. Ditch the skinless chicken breasts and lean steaks in favor of roasted chicken with the skin on, or the occasional nicely marbled rib-eye. Fatty fish sources, such as salmon, trout, and sardines, are also a healthy way to fill your body with omega-3 fatty acids, contributing to heart health as well.
A simple switch to add healthier fats into your life is to trade in your canola and vegetable oils (high in omega 6 fatty acids, which when consumed in high quantities are unhealthy) for higher quality fats, such as butter, ghee, olive oil, and coconut oil. Make sure if you are cooking with high-heat, to choose a corresponding oil with a high smoke point such as avocado oil or ghee.
Eggs. I can’t say enough about eggs. They are some of the cheapest and healthiest sources of protein and healthy saturated fats on the planet. A lot of people avoid eggs, or egg yolks, because of cholesterol. New research indicates that in most people, the cholesterol in eggs does NOT affect the cholesterol in the blood. Additionally, eggs are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants: they are incredibly nutrient dense! When possible, go with pastured eggs or ones enriched with omega-3 fatty acids; and skip the egg-white omelet. All the good fats, vitamins, and minerals are in the yolk.
Nuts are another delicious food loaded with healthy fat. They are satisfying and filling and make a perfect on-the-go snack.
Avocados are an incredible source of high quality fat. Unlike most fruits, which have a high carbohydrate and low fat content, avocados are 77% fat! They come packed with 21 grams of healthy fats per cup, and are a great complement to any salad or burger. You can even cut it in half and eat it with a sprinkle of salt and a spoon. (A great breakfast option is to cut an avocado in half, scoop a little bit out, crack an egg into the hole, and broil it up!)
Finally, adding a dash of full-fat cream to your coffee (or tea, since we’re all limiting our coffee intake) instead of skim milk is a delicious switch that helps you incorporate this new addition into your lifestyle. Full-fat yogurt, and cheese in moderate amounts, are another way to get the fat that you need.
There, I’ve said it. You have permission to eat FAT. Now go enjoy your food as you haven’t in years!