It's time to learn all those things they never taught us in health class - periods, pregnancy and pelvic floor!
I'm a women's health educator, a nerd when it comes to learning "all of the things", and my obsession is teaching women how to take control of their health and create a life they love!
Wanna know my all-time top 5 fertility superfoods? In this episode, I’m giving you my favourite foods for boosting your fertility naturally and making sure you’re getting all the essential nutrients when preparing for pregnancy.
Hello, and welcome to episode #4 of The Mana Women’s Wellness Podcast. I’m your host, Rachel and today we are talking fertility superfoods – my all time top 5 favourite foods for boosting your fertility naturally and making sure you’re getting all the essential nutrients when preparing for pregnancy.
Now if you want to know more about boosting your fertility or even just understanding your body’s fertility, I would love for you to go back and listen to episodes 1 and 2 of this podcast. In those episodes I dove really deep into understanding your menstrual cycle and your body’s fertile signs that can help you to achieve pregnancy faster. Because when it comes to your fertility and pregnancy, timing is everything! If you don’t know how to identify your fertile window and have sex at the right time of your menstrual cycle, you are literally just crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. So I really encourage you to go back and have a listen.
Or, if you want the cliffnotes version you can grab your free chapter of The Mana Guide to Understanding (and Loving!) Your Menstrual Cycle which breaks it all down for you. You can grab that freebie and today’s shownotes at manawomenswellness.com/4.
Alright, fertility superfoods. Let’s dive in.
So let’s kick things off with my all time number one superfood? It’s spinach – it provides so many of the essential nutrients that you need during pregnancy. I love it because it’s versatile, you can add it to meals or snacks without too much hassle and it’s tasty too, especially in a green smoothie!
I love spinach. As you may know low iron levels are really common during pregnancy and can leave you feeling more tired and crappy than usual. Whenever I am asked about boosting iron through the diet, especially when it comes to those of you who don’t eat meat…spinach is my answer.
Here’s why…A couple of years ago a friend of mine went to work in the United States for a couple of years. He said the meat there was very different to what he was used to back home in Australia. He said the good stuff was insanely expensive and the affordable stuff, especially the chicken…well, his description was pretty graphic and he basically said that you could definitely tell it had been pumped full of hormones because normal meat does not have that texture. Gross. Anyway, he decided to cut out meat during his stay in the States for a couple of years. He was so paranoid about his iron levels that he ate a lot of spinach. He added it to smoothies, to salads, cooked it with his other vegies for dinner…and clearly Popeye was on to something because when he had a blood test to check his iron, his levels were off the charts high!
So, if you’re pregnant and you want to avoid supplements that cause constipation and are not fun to take…start adding as much spinach to your diet as you can from day one.
As well as iron, spinach is full of folate. Just one serve, about 100g of spinach, gives you 194 micrograms of folate, plus 99 micrograms of calcium…plus protein!
The folate will help with the development of baby’s brain, spinal cord and makes sure the neural tube closes properly, preventing complications such as spina bifida. It’s hard to get adequate folate in your diet without supplements, and one cooked cup of spinach can provide 66% of your daily folate intake. Calcium helps with development of baby’s bones and teeth, as well as keeping your bones strong and preventing blood clots and ensures good muscle function. The Vitamin B in spinach can help to boost your mood during pregnancy, as well as reducing the stress and anxiety that pregnancy can sometimes contribute to. B group vitamins can also help to improve your vision.
Spinach also has Vitamin C that helps boost your immune system – very important during pregnancy when your immunity is often compromised. It has Vitamin E to balance cholesterol levels, regulate blood pressure. The protein content of spinach keeps you feeling full for longer and stops you reaching for that family block of chocolate. Protein is also important for maintaining healthy skin, so if you want that pregnancy glow…eat spinach.
Keep in mind that like everything else, moderation is key and don’t go overboard. You can’t overdose on spinach but because it’s also high in fibre you may experience constipation and bloating if you go overboard. It can also cause diarrhoea and may even cause kidney stones.
So – if you start to notice an upset stomach, cut back on the leafy greens. About half a cup a day of spinach well and truly meets your nutritional needs. This is pretty easy if you think about having a smoothie or salad every day. Remember basic food safety and make sure you’re eating fresh, washed leaves. If the leaves are looking a little slimey, don’t eat it.
If you’re taking warfarin or have kidney disease, chances are you’re being closely monitored during your fertility journey, but always check with your doctor to make sure you’re ok to eat spinach.
My number 2 pregnancy superfood is: BANANAS
Just like spinach, I’d recommend a banana everyday. Perfect to add to a smoothie or as your 3:00 slump snack. Bananas are rich in carbohydrates, fibre, essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6, Vitamin C, B group vitamins and minerals like manganese, magnesium, potassium, calcium, copper, and selenium.
Bananas contain vitamin B6 which helps with hormone balance that can have a huge effect on ovulation. Vitamin B6 can also help with nausea and vomiting, so they’re wonderful for the early days of pregnancy when you’re battling morning sickness. In later pregnancy, they can help with managing swelling, which can be really common in the legs and feet.
I mentioned the 3pm slump before, and bananas are perfect for a quick energy boost in the afternoon as your blood sugars drop or before you exercise. They’re high in carbs and simple sugars so your body can burn them quickly for an energy boost when you need it. Bananas have folate and vitamin B6 which help with development of the brain and central nervous system, fibre to relieve constipation (a common side effect of pregnancy) and potassium to regulate blood pressure. They have vitamin C for immunity, healthy skin and bones and they can help to neutralise stomach acid and relieve heartburn.
What a superfood!
Because bananas do have a high sugar content, women with gestational diabetes shouldn’t overdo it because they can cause blood sugars to rise suddenly – remember that quick burst of energy I talked about? Otherwise, go for it! Stick to ripe yellow bananas and avoid those brown ones that have been sitting around for a little too long…
Here’s a fun fact for you, there’s an old wives tale that eating bananas increases your chances of having a boy. And there’s a study that backs this up! It’s all due to a high potassium diet and a high calorie diet, which may correlate to conceiving a boy. The study also said you should be eating a lot of breakfast cereal to produce a boy, so maybe we’ll take that one with a grain of salt. In my opinion, it’s all about the timing…
Now, number 3 on my list of all-time top 5 fertility superfoods is NUTS.
Full of good fats, plant proteins, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants; nuts are an incredible energy booster and great for fertility.
Nuts, especially peanuts, are an amazing source of protein, which is essential for the growth and repair of your body’s tissues. This includes the growth and development of your baby. One ounce (convert) of peanuts, walnuts, almonds or pistachios gives you the same amount of protein as a glass of milk – about 8 grams. Nuts have more fats than milk, but these are your healthy fats, unsaturated fats that reduce your bad LDL cholesterol and boost the good HDL cholesterols.
Eating nuts almost every day can reduce your risk of heart attack and heart disease by 30-50%. They also protect against Type 2 diabetes and gallstones.
Walnuts in particular contain omega 3 fatty acids, which support your fertility by regulating your sex hormones. Omega 3’s also improve your cervical mucus production (amazing), promote ovulation and boost blood flow to your uterus. Omega 3’s also help to tone down our body’s inflammatory processes. This is especially important for reproductive concerns such as endometriosis, PCOS and fibroids, where there is a strong inflammatory component.
Don’t worry about your waistline, either, because nuts will reduce your feelings of hunger. So next time you’re feeling peckish, keep a stash of nuts on hand instead of heading to the vending machine.
One of my favourite things about nuts is that they’re so versatile. You can blend almonds or peanuts with water to create a healthy nut butter from scratch, or you can add them to salads, a lot of Mediterranean or Asian dishes. My top tip is to use nuts in your baking. Being gluten free, I use a lot of almond meal in breads and cakes and I also love to make muesli bars full of nuts and seeds -because even the healthy store-bought muesli bars contain a hell of a lot of sugar. I simply throw it all in my food processor with some honey or nut butter to hold everything together, spread on to a tray and place in the freezer for half an hour. So easy!
There’s also some studies out there that suggest that nuts can help to boost male fertility. And you know I’m a huge advocate for getting your man on board with your healthy fertility journey – healthy eating is not just for the mama to be because that baby is 50% his too! Eating 2 handfuls of nuts a day can improve your man’s sperm count, vitality, motility and morphology. In other words, sperm cells are a better shape, move further, swim faster and show less signs of damage. Sperm health can be improved with a diet rich in omega-3s, antioxidants such as Vitamins C and E, selenium, zinc and folate – and yep, you guessed it, all of those nutrients are found in nuts.
My favourite fertility-boosting nut? The brazil nut. It’s full of selenium. In fact, just 2 brazil nuts every day provides you with 100% of your daily selenium requirement. A deficiency in this nutrient is quite commonly found in women who have struggled with infertility or miscarriage, as well as low birth weight babies and pre-eclampsia. It’s a really powerful antioxidant that prevents damage to the DNA in your eggs.
I recommend mixing up your nut varieties as much as possible to keep life interesting, aim for about 30 grams a day, which is about a handful. And obviously, if you’ve got nut allergies, stay away. Nut allergies can be really serious and the most recent studies don’t suggest that eating nuts during pregnancy can reduce your child’s risk of a nut allergy. So be smart about it. It might be worth checking in with an allergy specialist to get tested for what nuts you can and can’t eat.
To make the most out of your nuts, choose organic and raw variety. Make your own nut butters and milks – it’s easy, I promise, and tastes way nicer than store bought! Avoid nuts that have been roasted in oil or are salted.
So now, we are up to fertility superfood number 4. And it is the egg.
We’re talking about our eggs, so it only seems appropriate that we include chicken’s eggs in our list. Seriously, I can’t think of any single food that gives us as many nutritional benefits as an egg. It is an absolute superfood for fertility and pregnancy.
Now, we all need to be eating protein every day, and really with every meal, because protein is the main nutrient that gives us that feeling of fullness. If we don’t eat protein, and we eat a high fat or high carb meal, chances are we will be hungry again in an hour. I love eggs and they are a fantastic non-meat source of protein. Eggs for breakfast, eggs for dinner, I could seriously eat an omelette for every meal!
Eggs are a fantastic protein source because they contain all 9 of the essential amino acids. Now, amino acids are the building blocks of protein and essential amino acids are the ones that our bodies can’t make, so we need to get them from our diet. And eggs have all of them!
Eggs also give us folate, iron, zinc, omega 3 fatty acids, the vitamins A, D, E and B12, antioxidants and also choline, which you may not have heard of before and it plays a role in healthy development of a baby’s brain, nervous system and development of the spinal cord.
Avoid eating raw eggs. In pregnancy, you need to make sure you’re cooking them really well. So this means not eating cake mix out of the bowl before you cook it! Obviously check the best before dates and store your eggs in the fridge. Now egg shells are porous, meaning they can take in air, moisture and bacteria from the surrounding environment. Keep your eggs in the carton they came in and separate to other foods in the fridge.
And finally, last but not least, number 5 on my list of all-time top 5 fertility superfoods is salmon.
It is high in protein, low in saturated fats and full of omega 3 fatty acids which are so important in hormone balance as well as boosting blood flow to your lady parts.
There are some rules about eating fish during pregnancy and they can get really confusing really fast. The rules exist because of concerns about pregnant women being exposed to mercury and other contaminants if they eat too much fish. Basically, small fish eat algae and plankton and so take in mercury. Bigger fish eat smaller fish and so take in even more mercury, and on and on it goes. So the bigger fish are the ones to avoid. Mercury can cross the placenta from mother to baby and high levels can cause brain damage and may contribute to long term neurological effects and learning difficulties. There’s been a lot of research about this, and the conclusion seems to be that eating fish is worth the relatively low risk of contamination. That’s how good fish is for fertility and pregnancy. So, there are lots of different dietary guidelines about types of fish to eat, how often and how much and as I said, it can be super confusing.
My recommendation – unless of course you are seafood obsessed and willing to do your research – is to stick to salmon a couple of times a week. You can also eat mackerel and sardines, but I’m kinda betting that salmon is your go-to from that list. The bigger fish are the ones to avoid, like bass, kind mackerel, shark, swordfish and white tuna because they contain the highest levels of mercury. If you love your fish and chips, I would suggest avoiding flake.
If you’re not a fish fan – and I totally get it, I like salmon but no other seafood – you can still make sure you’re getting enough omega 3’s with flaxseeds, almonds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds. I add all these nuts and seeds to smoothies, homemade muesli bars and gluten free bread.
And there you have it, my all-time top 5 fertility superfoods for boosting your fertility naturally and making sure you’re getting all the essential nutrients when preparing for pregnancy.
#1 – Spinach
#2 – Bananas
#3 – Nuts
#4 – Eggs
#5 – Salmon
Before we wrap up today, please remember this. Some women are going to be able to eat whatever they like, drink alcohol, live on junk food and get pregnant easily. Some women will do everything right and still struggle to conceive. But, a junk food diet probably isn’t doing your fertility any favours, and nourishing your body healthy, balanced and wholesome foods will improve your overall health and significantly improve your chances of conceiving a healthy baby and enjoying a smooth pregnancy. If you’re struggling with your fertility or you’re experiencing irregular menstrual cycles with heavy, painful periods, then tweaking your diet could make a real difference. If you’re serious and you’re ready to start trying for a baby, you should be looking after your body as though there was already a baby growing in there. And remember, it takes about 3 months for both men and women to really improve the quality of their egg and sperm through diet and lifestyle changes.
Even if you’re not ready to have a baby right now, you still want to preserve your fertility. Women are born with all the eggs we’ll ever have, we don’t produce new eggs throughout our lives like males do with sperm. And so we need to look after our eggs, so that when the time does come to conceive, they are healthy, ovulation is regular and stress-free and
And don’t forget, if you want to really deep-dive into understanding your menstrual cycle and your body’s fertile signs that can help you to achieve pregnancy faster, you can grab your free chapter of The Mana Guide to Understanding (and Loving!) Your Menstrual Cycle which breaks it all down for you. You can grab that freebie and today’s show notes at manawomenswellness.com/4.
If you learnt something new or found value in today’s episode, I’d love to hear from you! Send me an Instagram DM, post it on your stories – share a story of yourself listening to the podcast – and let me know what you want me to talk about. This podcast is for you and so I want to talk about the things that are most important to you!
I will see you in next week’s episode, where I’ll be talking about stress and your menstrual cycle. Why your period is irregular and your hormones have gone haywire (and what you can do to fix it)
Bye for now.
Want to say goodbye to hormonal contraceptives and their weird and unpleasant side effects?
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