Forming a family: food and fertility. As a newlywed, the number one question I have been getting asked is:
“So, when are you having babies?”
Y’all! Relax! I’ve been married for a total of 12 minutes. I have to figure out how to pay off my student loans before I can figure out how to buy diapers. But, with all the pressure and questions, it has definitely gotten babies on my brain. As a future registered dietitian, I am immediately invested in how my food choices will affect my fertility. It always blows my mind how a woman’s intuition kicks in when she becomes pregnant. Think about the caveman days—they didn’t have conception clinics, OBGYNs, or lactation consultants. Thank God for women naturally understanding the idea of conception, pregnancy, and post-pregnancy. It’s a miracle we’ve made it this far as a species.
As for me right now, I have access to some of the best nutrition databases through my university, a miniature computer in the palm of my hand with any information I could ever desire to Google, and women around me who have experienced pregnancy and made it look so simple.
Unfortunately, misinformation on the internet can be tricky. Which article do I believe? Should I trust the keyboard warriors? Not to mention, the previously-pregnant women in my life are from a different era that had different beliefs about health and pregnancy. That being said, I get some very outdated and even incorrect information about what to do and what not to do before and during pregnancy. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands.
*Puts on glasses that make me look smart and aggressively pulls out laptop*
One common factor among all fertility blogs and education was maintaining healthy body weight. With social media today, it’s easy to fall into the desire to be as thin as possible. On the other hand, with the uprising of the Health and Every Size (HAES) movement and the obesity epidemic happening all across the country, it is easy to fall on either extreme end of the weight-spectrum. According to Caroline Kaufman, MS, RDN in her article Foods That Can Affect Fertility, nearly one-third of infertility cases are due to extremes in weight, whether that be over- or under-weight, (BMI below 18.5 or above 24.9, respectively). Extreme exercise or restriction of nutritional intake can be attributed to the risk of infertility. Additionally, depression, anxiety, and stress can have a negative effect on fertility (Panth, et al, 2018).
So, how do you find your healthy set-point?
Well, you should eat healthy, of course!
What does that even mean?
Eating “healthy” looks different for everyone. Of course, eating fruits and vegetables and drinking your water is a good place to start. But, what vitamins and minerals should you specifically include in your diet if you’re hoping to have a babbling bundle of joy?
According to the same article by R.D. Kaufman, a “Fertility Diet” looks a lot like something we should all be striving for. Less fried foods and animal products, more fiber and healthy fats (like avocado, olive oils, and nuts). Aiming for more plant-based products, especially those rich in iron, taking a daily multi- or prenatal vitamin, and opting for whole-fat dairy products instead of opting for the fat-free stuff are also tips found on her list.
One misconception I found to be debunked is the need to cut out table salt. Nowadays, all the rage is found in those cute little bottles of pink Himalayan sea salt. However, it lacks the iodine found in good ole’ table salt. Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD stresses the importance of iodine in her article Iodine, a Critically Important Nutrient. The thyroid gland uses iodine to make thyroid hormones. These signals are of huge importance in bodily functions like growth and development. Lack of such ingredient has been linked to brain damage in infants and newborns that is totally preventable. Zelman had this to say about the public health concern:
“Iodine deficiency in pregnancy is a worldwide problem and has become a global public health concern since it is identified as the leading cause of preventable brain damage in newborns and infants due to inadequate intake by mothers and infants. Major international efforts are being made to help reduce the problem, mainly through the use of iodized salt and supplements. “ (Zelman, 2019).
“But, Kaleigh…every doctor says to reduce my table salt consumption!”
I hear you. I’m not saying you should start dumping salt on everything. Here is a helpful chart to understand just how much iodine you need in a day, and how much iodine is in ¼ teaspoon of salt.
- Ages 1-8: 90 micrograms
- Ages 9-13: 120 micrograms
- Ages 14+: 150 micrograms
- Women who are pregnant: 220 micrograms
- Women who are lactating: 290 micrograms
1/4 teaspoon salt of iodized salt = 100 micrograms Iodine (Zelman, 2019).
Iodine can easily be obtained by consuming iodized table salt, seafood, saltwater fish, dairy products, and breast milk for breastfed newborns and infants, among other various food items.
So, as you can see–when it comes to forming a family, food and fertility can be simple and doesn’t have to be a laundry list of rules. Eat your fruits and veggies, salt your food, and make an effort to maintain a weight that is within or as close to the “normal” BMI as possible (18.5-24.9 BMI). While babies aren’t in the plans for my immediate future, they are on the horizon and I plan to keep my body optimally fueled for the baby-makin’ that is to come.
Interested in learning exactly how to eat to prepare for pregnancy?
Written by: Kaleigh Eastep, Dietetic Intern
Edited by: Ryann Kipping, RDN, CLEC
Kaufman, C. (2017, January 30). Foods That Can Affect Fertility.
Nutrition Care Manual. Retrieved from https://www.nutritioncaremanual.org/topic.cfm?ncm_category_id=1&lv1=5522&lv2=19589&lv3=268528&ncm_toc_id=268528&ncm_heading=Nutrition Care
Panth, N., Gavarkovs, A., Tamez, M., & Mattei, J. (2018). The Influence of Diet on Fertility and the Implications for Public Health Nutrition in the United States. Frontiers in public health, 6, 211. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2018.00211
Zelman, K. (2019, July 31). Iodine a Critically Important Nutrient.