With the New Year in full swing, by now many of us have strayed off the path to our diet resolutions. But if you’re trying to conceive, your diet is an important piece of the conception puzzle. The age old advice of following the food pyramid and eating your greens does hold true, but for those of us who live on planet Earth, who have deadlines to meet, time cards to punch, a picky spouse who won’t eat anything green and a home to maintain, well, the pyramid can start to look more like a circle. A circle of pre-packaged food containing preservatives and artificial sweeteners that most of us cannot pronounce, a circle of drive-thru windows that offer a quick meal at a cheap price and beverages that offer the nutritional value of a rock but the calories of a small breakfast. Below, Dr. Anne Wold suggests tips to help break old eating habits, find easy ways to slip good nutrition into our lives and promote overall health and wellness, especially when priming our bodies for conception and beyond.
Know your BMI
Your BMI- body mass index- is a measurement of body fat based on height and weight (You can find your BMI by using an online BMI calculator). A BMI of 18.5-24.9 is considered the ‘normal range’. While BMI does not account for muscularity and frame, knowing how far off-or close- to that range you are can assist you in making the right diet choices. Weight has a big impact on fertility and pregnancy-being over or underweight can be detrimental to conception and pregnancy. According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) obesity (a BMI of 30 or greater) can cause fertility issues such as: irregular or infrequent menstrual cycles, increased risk of miscarriage, increased surgical risks and decreased success with fertility treatments. Obesity can cause pregnancy complications such as: increased risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy (pre-eclampsia), increased risk of gestational diabetes, increased risk of birth defects and increased risk of high-birth weight infants and an increased need for c-sections. Being underweight (a BMI under 18.5) can also cause infertility and problems such as: absence or irregular ovulation, irregular or absent menstrual cycles and decreased infertility treatment success.
Less White, More Color
A realistic tip for a healthy diet isn’t to eliminate your favorite foods, but to find healthier versions or substitutions for the foods you love. An easy tip for a healthy diet is to replace white bread, pasta and rice with the whole-grain versions. Not only do refined (“white”) carbs have less nutrients than whole grains, but they also have the potential to make insulin levels in the bloodstream surge, causing sugar crashes and rebound hunger. For women with polycystic-ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition that is associated with infertility, it is especially important to keep insulin levels consistent, to reduce symptoms and promote healthier weights. In addition to eliminating as much white for “brown” (whole grain) as possible, think color- and not just green. Did you know sweet potatoes are healthier and more nutritious than regular white mashed potatoes? Fruits and vegetables not only deliver a wealth of vitamins and minerals, they also are abundant with antioxidants. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables, like spinach, tomatoes, red peppers, and blueberries are great examples of nutrient-packed produce. Lean protein like skinless chicken or small amounts of fish like cod and salmon are great to satisfy hunger for long periods of time and fulfill nutritional needs. Eggs and red meat, contrary to popular belief, do not need to be avoided, but limit portion sizes to nothing larger than an adult fist.
To make it easier to stay on target, start by replacing only one item in each meal for a healthier alternative. For breakfast try whole-wheat toast instead of white toast and/ or exchange whole milk for skim. Replace the chips you have with your sandwich at lunch for some lightly salted cucumber slices. Exchange your snack of M&M’s for a handful of strawberries, serve vegetable medley with your grilled chicken dinner rather than butter mashed potatoes. If you are a chocolate lover, try indulging in a small piece of dark chocolate (which is healthier) to satisfy your craving. If possible, eliminate soft drinks altogether. Whether the soft drink is diet or regular, you can and should live without the added sugar (or sugar substitutes), chemicals and caffeine normally contained in these nutritionally-deficient drinks. Water is a great way to hydrate and cleanse your body. If caffeine is a must in your life, limit yourself to 1-2 cups daily. At the end of the day, small substitutions add up and make a big difference. To fill any holes in your diet, be sure to take a pre-natal vitamin, even if you aren’t pregnant but are trying to conceive. Pre-natal vitamins contain the iron and folic acid a woman’s body needs to maintain a healthy pregnancy.
The ‘Other’ Stuff
The ‘other’ category. We all know what is in the ‘other’ category usually isn’t good, so let’s be brief and basic. If you shouldn’t do it while you’re pregnant, you probably shouldn’t do it while you’re trying to conceive. That means if you smoke, drink or use recreational drugs, now is the time to quit! Don’t wait until you are pregnant, you should quit while trying to conceive so that it allows time for your body to heal and cleanse out the toxins.
In terms of food, artificial sweeteners, chemicals and preservatives are in almost everything. While it isn’t always realistic (or affordable) to buy organic, limit the amount of chemicals you take in by reading labels. If you find that the light yogurt you love has more artificial sweeteners and preservatives than you’d ever thought possible- think about substituting it for another brand or a half cup of cottage cheese with fruit. Be sure to wash your fruits and vegetables well, to remove pesticides or other toxins that could be coating them.
The bottom line: there are many factors out of our control when dealing with fertility, conception and pregnancy. One cannot change the impact that their age, family history or genetic makeup has on fertility- but the factors that we CAN control, such as a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and reducing or eliminating toxin exposure can not only help us- but empower us during one of the most challenging and important journeys in our life.