conscious conception: foods for fertility

Foods for fertility – roe and wild-caught fish, fermented cod liver oil, liver, oysters and butter – represent nutrient-dense solutions for couples who are struggling to conceive, planning to conceive and for mothers who wish to nourish her child in the womb.  Prior to the advent of industrial agriculture and the processing of food, these foods for fertility held a sacred place in the human diet.  Populations went to great lengths to secure nutrient-dense foods like liver and roe and butter prepared from cows grazing and rapidly growing green pastures.  In the absence of these foods which offered an abundance of antioxidants, fat-soluble vitamins, trace minerals and wholesome fats, our nation has suffered an epidemic rise in infertility and in birth defects.  Folate, zinc, DHA, EPA, preformed vitamin A and vitamin D all play crucial roles in the reproductive health of men and women as well as the health of babies developing in the womb.

A fertility diet lacking these essential foods is not a fertility diet at all, so be wary of websites advocating casseroles filled with noodles and prepackaged seasoning mixes or zucchini and banana breads while omitting the foods for fertility listed below which are rich in vitamins A, D, E, K2, folate, zinc as well as DHA and EPA.  The Weston A Price Foundation offers guidelines for preconception, pregnancy and lactation which can be seen here.  You’ll also find encouragement to consume other wholesome and healthy foods including grass-fed beef and lamb, pasture-raised lard, mineral-rich bone brothsfermented foods,  soaked whole grainsand coconut oil.  These guidelines are based on the traditional practices of healthy native peoples across the globe and are particularly dense in vitamins, minerals and healthy fats known to play an essential role in fertility, reproductive health and fetal development.

foods for fertility: fish roe & wild-caught oily fish

Fish roe, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, vitamins D and B12 as well as trace minerals.  Traditionally heralded as a sacred food for pregnancy and lactation, fish roe is a powerfully rich superfood, teeming with nutrients.  It’s high ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids favors fertility in both men and women.  Salmon roe was particularly prized among the arctic peoples1 studied by Weston A Price, a nutritional researcher who traveled the world examining the effects of modern versus traditional diets on native populations. Price also found that landlocked peoples still adhering to their traditional diets went to great lengths to obtain fish roe for women of childbearing age as an insurance that they might bear healthy babies.

Indeed low omega-3 levels are implicated in male infertility as men suffering from infertility suffer significantly lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their sperm than men of normal fertility2.  In laboratory studies, supplementation with DHA (a fatty acid prevalent in fish roe and cod liver oil) restored fertility to infertile mice3.  Fish roe and caviar typically offer an omega-3:6 ratio of approximately 10 to 1, and regular consumption of this sacred food could certainly improve omega-3 levels among both men and women.

Recommendation: The Weston A Price Foundation recommends wild seafoods, including roe, be consumed two to four times a week.
Serve this Fertility Food: Salmon roe, or ikura, can be ordered in any good quality sushi bar and is widely available from online sources.  Serve rose on its own, paired with cucumbers, served with homemade crackers and freshly cultured sour cream.  Alternatively, consider serving taramasalata – a traditional Greek dip featuring unrefined extra virgin olive oil (see sources) and tarama – carp roe.  Consider serving salmon baked in cream and herbsor misoyaki salmon.


foods for fertilty: fermented cod liver oil

Fermented cod liver oil, much like fish roe, is potently rich in DHA, EPA and vitamin D; however, it is also rich in preformed vitamin A.  Just a half teaspoon of fermented cod liver oil, used as a supplement, contains 90% of the daily value for vitamin A and 230% of the daily value for vitamin D. Supplementation with both omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, as provided by fermented cod liver oil, offers promising results in the treatment of women suffering from infertility4.  Similarly, supplementation by foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may be particularly important in the treatment of polycystic ovarian syndrome – the most common cause of infertility affecting women5.

Fermented cod liver oil, and many other fertility foods, is potently rich in fat-soluble vitamin A.  Poor maternal intake of vitamin A is implicated in malformation of the palate1 particularly around the time of conception6 as well as throughout pregnancy while high intake of vitamin A is not associated with similar risks7.

Recommendation: The Weston A Price Foundation recommends cod liver oil to supply 20,000 IU vitamin A and 2,000 IU vitamin D
Serve this Fertility Food: Fermented cod liver oil is potently rich in nutrients, and, as such, it should be used as a whole food dietary supplement.  You can find fermented cod liver oil available online (see sources), emulsified cod liver oil as well as high vitamin butter oil / fermented cod liver oils.  Price did not typically treat patients with fermented cod liver alone; rather, he combined it with high vitamin butter oil a supplement that’s rich in vitamin K2, vitamin E and coenzyme Q10. If you or your spouse don’t care for the flavor of cod liver oil, consider stirring it into orange juice in the morning which may help to mask its flavor.

foods for fertility: pastured egg yolk

Egg yolks from pastured hens, much like fish roe, are deeply nutrient-dense – rich in fertility boosting omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A and E as well as choline.  Choline is of particular importance to the preconception and pregnancy diet as requirements for the developing nervous system.  Most pregnant and lactating women are not consuming adequate choline for their developing babies and researchers are calling for increased consumption of choline-rich foods among pregnant and lactating women8, 15.  Choline is particularly critical in tooth development9 as well as brain development10, 11.  Indeed, a mother’s intake of choline during pregnancy may improve the capability for memory in her child11, 12, 13.  Beyond an essential role in brain development and the capacity for memory, promising studies found that maternal intake of choline might significantly decrease cognitive dysfunction seen in Downs Syndrome, at least in mice14.

Recommendation: The Weston A Price Foundation recommends consuming two or more eggs, plus additional yolks daily.
Serve this Fertility Food: Eggs can be fried, scrambled, served with greens or in freshherb frittatas or frittatas brimming with vegetables like this frittata with Swiss chard and potatoes.  Alternatively, consider mixing them into soups like homemade cream of chicken soup or in smoothies like our healthy strawberry milk shake.  For a double dose of fertility boosting foods, consider serving ouefs en cocotte with lox.

foods for fertility: oysters, clams & mussels

Shellfish, particularly oysters, are a rich source of vitamins D and B12 as well as the minerals zinc, copper, selenium and iron. Just six medium oysters provide as two-thirds of the daily value for vitamin D and nearly three times the daily value for vitamin B12.  These are nutrient-dense foods that featured widely in the diet of early humans.  For pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant, vitamin D is of particular importance as it helps to mitigate glucose regulation, develop healthy bones and it even helps to tone the uterus – helping the uterus to contract properly during labor16.  For women suffering from polycystic ovarian disease, vitamin D is particularly promising as it offers beneficial effects on insulin resistance19.  A low-glycemic diet rich in these critical nutrients is also essential to improving fertility16.  Low maternal vitamin D levels are implicated in infertility, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and an increased risk of c-section17, 18, making foods rich in vitamin D like shellfish as well as fermented cod liver oil and pasture-raised lard of critical importance to women of childbearing age.

Oysters, clams, mussels and other shellfish are also a potent source of the mineral zinc – a nutrient that’s particularly essential for the reproductive health of men and, like many other nutrients, is best absorbed from animal food sources.  Poor intake of zinc and poor concentration of zinc are implicated in male infertility19.  Similarly, men suffering from low blood serum levels of copper are also at greater risk of suffering from infertility20 - shellfish are particularly rich in copper as well as zinc.   Consumption of the mineral zinc alone as well as in combination with antioxidants like vitamins C and E shows promising results for men suffering from infertility.   Zinc on its own or in combination with vitamins C and E improves sperm quality in infertile men21.

For women, too, zinc is essential to reproductive health and to the health of infants developing in their wombs. In a study of pregnant Canadian women, those with the highest overall intake of zinc were the least likely to suffer from symptoms of depression22.  And while zinc may help pregnant women to better moderate stress thus reducing depressive symptoms, her intake of zinc also affects her developing baby.  Low maternal intake of zinc is associated with asthmatic symptoms in children23.  Maternal zinc deficiency is also implicated in birth defects, low birth weight, intrauterine growth retardation, a tendency toward high blood pressure, behavioral problems, impaired immune function and fetal death24.  Given these risks, isn’t it optimal to choose a naturally nutrient-dense diet?

Recommendation: The Weston A Price Foundation recommends wild seafoods, including shellfish, be consumed two to four times a week.
Serve this Fertility Food: Serve oysters raw with homemade horseradish or try dilled shrimp saladmiso soup with clams or spaghetti with saffron clams and oregano.

foods for fertility: liver

Liver, that much loathed food, is, perhaps, one of the most nutrient-dense and valuable additions for couples who are planning to conceive and who wish to optimize their children’s nutrition in the womb.  Liver is a rich source of folate, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin A. Preformed vitamin A or retinol which is only found in animal food sources is particularly important as is folate as insufficient intake of either vitamin A or folate is implicated in birth defects including malformation of the palate, neural tube defects.  Prior to the advent of modern agriculture, modern food processing and the industrialization of our food supply, the human diet was rich in both these nutrients and foods naturally dense in both folate and retinol were particularly prized among native peoples1.  As the human food supply evolved away from whole foods and nutrient-dense organ meats to processed foods, the diet of those in industrialized societies began to lack these critical nutrients giving rise to epidemic proportions of birth defects and neural tube defects in particular.  The federal government eventually mandated fortification of certain cereal products with folic acid; however liver still represents the single best food source of folate.  A single 100-gram portion of pan-fried chicken livers contains three times as much folate as an equivalent serving of raw spinach – a food heralded for its folate content.

Despite concrete evidence implicating low maternal intake of folate with neural tube defects in their developing babies, the role of folate is more varied and complex.  Indeed, low folate intake is implicated in both male25 and female infertility16 while supplementation with antioxidants that include folate reveals improved outcomes for infertile men26 and women.  Women suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome, the most common cause of infertility, suffer from particularly low levels of folate and B vitamins and supplementation with folic acid improved their condition27. The inclusion of foods rich in food folate – like liver – may be of particular importance to these women.

Recommendation: The Weston A Price Foundation recommends eating three- to four-ounces of liver once or twice a week.
Serve this Fertility Food: Among the most appetizing ways to serve liver is in a chicken liver pâté; alternatively, try fried chicken livers or mix ground liver with ground meat at a ratio of 1:4 in dishes like classic meatloaf.

foods for fertility: butter & full-fat dairy

Butter and cream produced from cows grazing on rapidly growing green grasses were considered a fertility booster among traditional societies and held sacred.  While modern diet gurus encourage women to eschew these nutrient-dense foods in favor of margarines, vegetable oils and dairy substitutes, such butter and cream are potent sources of fat soluble vitamins A and K2.  Preformed vitamin A, also found in abundance in liver and fermented cod liver oil, helps to improve reproductive health and reduce risk of birth defects.  Vitamin K2, a nutrient critical to reproductive health and growing babies, is of particular importance and those suffering from gluten-intolerance are more likely to suffer from inadequate levels of this vitamin as well as many other micronutrients critical for fertility.  Indeed, inadequate vitamin levels adversely effect the fertility of celiac sprue sufferers28.  A recent study of over 18,000 women found that consumption of low-fat and skim milk products resulted in decreased fertility while consumption of full-fat dairy products saw increased fertility making good quality butter, heavy cream and whole milk good choices for women planning to conceive29.

Recommendation: The Weston A Price Foundation recommends drinking one quart of whole, raw milk daily plus an additional four tablespoons butter from grass-fed cows.
Serve this Fertility Food: Butter can enhance vegetables (read more about why you need to butter your vegetables), whole milk and cream can be served in strawberry milk shakes,olive oil ice creamblackberry ice cream or cultured to make raw milk yogurt.

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