One thing you have no shortage of when you are going through infertility is advice, or as one of my favorite bloggers termed it, "assvice." Just relax, do acupuncture, eat pineapple, lift your legs in the air after sex ... and absolutely none of it is scientifically proven to work.
That said, infertility is frustrating and soul-crushing enough to make you want to try anything that might just get you a baby. That's where Cindy Bailey found herself after a doctor told her she had only a 2 percent chance of conceiving a child. It was, she says, "simply unacceptable to me that I don't get to have a child." So she set about learning as much as she could about fertility-boosting foods, as well as putting herself on a program of yoga and meditation. Four months later, she and her husband and co-author Pierre Giauque conceived their (adorable) son.
The results of her research are gathered in The Fertile Kitchen Cookbook: Simple Recipes For Optimizing Your Fertility. Essentially, it's a super-healthy diet that would benefit anybody regardless of their fertility status. Here's the kicker, though: She recommends all organic foods, no wheat, no dairy, and no coffee or alcohol.
Cindy chatted with me over email this week about the philosophy behind the book.
What's the science behind the diet? It's obviously a very healthy diet, but I'm wondering especially about avoiding dairy and wheat.
This diet not only optimizes fertility, it’s also an anti-cancer, heart-healthy diet. The premise of the diet is this: to maximize the availability of nutrients to support our reproductive system and to eat to support hormonal health -- because that finely-tuned balance of hormones is critical to conception. So what this comes down to is getting rid of those foods (and beverages) which overly stress or tax the body and keeping or adding in those which support optimal health. For example, it’s important to give up processed sugar while trying to conceive because it negatively affects blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to hormonal imbalance. In addition, sugar also compromises our immune systems and causes cellular inflammation -- so it clearly creates added stress on the body. This added stress means, essentially, that there is less energy available to heal and nourish other systems in the body, such as our reproductive system. Another example: alcohol raises prolactin levels (prolactin is the hormone that enables breast-feeding), which can interfere with ovulation. It has other negative impacts on the body.
On the flip-side, eating an all-organic diet, for example, means minimizing intake of stressful, and in some cases hormone-disrupting, substances, such as growth hormones, additives, preservatives, and other chemicals that get added to our food and drinks. Eating plenty of vegetables, along with healthy fats, good carbs and lean protein, will help maximize the availability of important nutrients for conception and embryonic growth, not to mention overall health! Calcium, for example, not only helps build strong bones, but it also helps trigger embryonic growth, meaning if you have insufficient levels, your embryo may not develop. (There's more on the dairy and wheat ban at the Fertile Kitchen blog).
How did you eat before this? I can't imagine you were a regular McDonald's customer if you were willing to eat like this! How much of a change did this represent?
True! I’ve been an athlete most of my life and accustomed to eating mostly healthy, although not as strictly as this diet. I thought muffins and granola were healthy, so there was still a lot to change for me. I stopped eating cheese and wheat, and discovered all the great wheat alternatives available (100% rye bread, rice pasta, etc.). I noticed how many packages appear to contain healthy food, but when you read the label on the back you find they contain sugar and/or trans fat—not to mention other harmful substances. I got really strict about eating all organic, which meant eating in almost all the time (because it’s hard to eat all-organic out) -- which is the reason we created this book with tons of recipes that are so easy that even a non-cook like me could do them (my husband is the chef). What was most difficult for me to give up: my daily cups of decaf coffee and my occasional white wine.
I always recommend people ease into this diet over a period of weeks, as needed, eliminating one item at a time, and giving their bodies a chance to respond. Know that there are great, healthy alternatives, too. Natural sugar (such as pure honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup) in moderation, for example, is fine.
Incidentally, mostly out of habit, my husband and I continue to eat this way now. Also, we’ve gotten used to how much better the food tastes and we feel too (more energy, balanced energy levels, etc.).
Why is diet important for fertility?
It is no secret that what we eat affects our health. Similarly, diet also affects our fertility. Processed sugar, for example, negatively affects blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to hormonal imbalance—and the finely-tuned balance of our hormones is very important to conception. On the flip side, the variety of important nutrients we get from eating an all-organic diet that includes a diversity of organic produce, lean protein, healthy fats, good carbs and so on, helps nourish and support our bodies and our hormonal health -- putting us in the best possible position for conception.
Tell us: Would you make such a radical change to your diet to boost fertility?
Image courtesy Cindy Bailey