By Sean Michael Hall, L.Ac.
Most of you have heard of superfoods by now.
They are foods like kale, berries, turmeric and spirulina. Superfoods are extremely nutrient-dense, or have properties that make them especially protective against disease. Although plant-based superfoods are amazing for overall health, the superfoods most essential to fertility and reproductive health tend to be animal-based. Liver and bone broths are extremely healthy superfoods for parents-to-be, but they aren’t the easiest to prepare.
For that reason, the following two foods top my superfoods for fertility list:
1. ORGANIC, PASTURED EGGS
Eggs are good for you, especially the yolk! Numerous studies show that although regular egg consumption has a slight blood cholesterol raising effect, there is no correlation between egg consumption and heart disease risk. Cholesterol is the precursor to every steroidal hormone in our body. That’s right, estrogen, progesterone and every other hormone important for fertility starts out as a cholesterol molecule. If you have low cholesterol and hormone imbalance, eating eggs regularly is a great place to start. I would rather have my reproductive health patients have total cholesterols slightly higher than 200, than in the lower range of normal.
But cholesterol is only one reason I recommend eggs for fertility. They are also powerhouses of nutrition, and loaded with minerals, most of the natural metabolites of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E, beta-carotene, vitamin B12, natural folates, omega-3 fatty acids, a complete protein profile, and much more. Many of these vital reproductive system nutrients are not absorbed well when taken in supplement form, and some of them are not found at all outside of animal sources.
From a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) perspective eggs are one of the best foods to build the Jing, or reproductive essence, as well as the Blood. Both Jing and Blood are essential to reproductive health, and eating the eggs of chickens, as well as fish roe or caviar, is one of the best ways to replenish both.
The higher you go up the food chain, the more important organic becomes. Eating conventional fruit or vegetables from time to time, is not a big deal. Especially, if the produce you eat isn’t one of the dirty dozen. But chickens that are fed pesticide and fertilizer-laden grains for during their lives will concentrate the toxins in the eggs that they produce.
If chickens are fed a diet of grains like corn, soy and wheat, which they didn’t evolve to eat, it will make them less healthy, and their eggs considerably less nutrient-dense. Chickens that are free to forage for insects, seeds, grass, and whatever else free-foraging chickens eat, will usually have a yolk that is a darker yellow or even orange color. This is just one indicator of how much more nutrition they carry.
Where to find pastured eggs:
Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl, Three Stone Hearth, and some Farmer’s Markets carry pastured eggs. All of the pastured egg sources I know raise their chickens without pesticides, fertilizers or hormones; though often, the small farms they come from can’t afford the expense of getting certified organic. A true pastured egg will cost $7 to $10 a dozen. Believe me, its worth the extra cost. Do not confuse the cheaper cage-free eggs with pastured. They are most definitely not the same.
2. ORGANIC, GRASS-FED, FULL-FAT DAIRY (especially Butter, Yogurt, and Cream)
Yes, full-fat dairy is not only good for you, it’s great for you! Full-fat dairy is one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, but unfortunately, it’s been given a bad rap. Mainly because it contains a little saturated fat, and some people are not able to digest it well. If you find that you are unable to digest dairy well, then it’s probably not right for you.
There are other great ways to get the nutrition you need, so contact me and I’ll give you some suggestions. If you do digest dairy well, then you are in for a treat. The nutrient profile it contains can help regulate hormone levels and increase spermatogenesis, ovulation and conception rates. And of course, foods made with butter and cream are delicious!
Who wants bio-accumulated dioxins, phthalates, HCBs and PCBs in their dairy? Certainly not I, nor should you, especially if your plan is to get pregnant and have a healthy child. Each of those toxins disrupts endocrine function, reduces ovarian follicles and spermatogenesis, induces ovarian failure and leads to chromosomal aberrations.
More important: Grass-Fed
Not only are cows that are fed grass healthier than their grain-fed cousins, but they also provide milk that is much higher in omega-3 fatty acids, CLA, beta-carotene, iodine and vitamins A and E. Grain-fed cows, on the other hand, have high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, which, when out of balance, increase inflammation and have a host of other detrimental effects. Grain-fed cows also have much lower levels of CLA and the fat-soluble vitamins that are so essential to reproductive health. Simply feeding cows the diet they evolved to eat converts dairy from an inflammatory food, to an anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense superfood.
Drinking non-fat dairy is a waste of calories and money. All of the micronutrients mentioned above that are essential to reproductive health are found in the fat of dairy. The non-fat part of dairy has all of the lactose. It is the sugary part that raises blood glucose and insulin levels, both of which are detrimental to ovulation and other reproduction processes.
Drinking milk without the fat is the same as drinking fruit juice instead of eating the whole fruit. We need the fiber, protein and fat that’s in the whole fruit or dairy to buffer and slow the transit time of glucose into the bloodstream. Otherwise your glass of fruit juice or non-fat milk acts very similar to a can of soda.
Where to find grass-fed dairy:
Berkeley Bowl, Whole Foods and Three Stone Hearth carry high quality dairy products. My favorite brands all come in glass, and are St. Benouit, Claravale Farms, and Strauss.
Final Note: Dairy and eggs are not right for everyone. Food intolerances, sensitivities and allergies may not make these foods the best for you. Other reproductive health issues, like endometriosis, may also make dairy and eggs less useful. If you have concerns, please contact me through my East Bay Acupuncture & Natural Medicine website at http://www.ebacupuncture.com, and I’ll be happy to give you some alternative choices.