Infertility can feel like one of the hardest things you and your partner may ever endure when you’re going through it. Frustration, yearning, fear, desperation– your emotions may be running the gamut. And while you may feel scared and lost during this time, it’s important that you know that you are not alone: as many as 1 in 6 couples will experience infertility during their reproductive lifetime. It’s also important that you not blame yourself– which might feel very easy to do, especially if you’ve been receiving advice about all the things you should be doing to “fix” your infertility. From diets to workouts to supplements to prescription drugs– there’s a lot of information (and misinformation) out there about how you should be navigating your fertility journey. We think it’s important to keep things as simple as possible so you can focus on what’s really important: self care and self compassion.
Ovulation is an important first step of getting pregnant. Ovulation is sensitive to fluctuations in hormones, which can occur as a result of diet, exercise, sleep, and stress. Finding the right balance in all 4 of these areas is important for regular ovulation. This blog is Part 1 of a two part series about hormone balancing and your diet.
Today we’ll be talking specifically about dietary fats and how making small changes can have a big impact on hormone balance. Follow up this read with Part 2: Balance and Variety.
Dietary Fat is the first step in a hormone balancing diet so today we will discuss the truth about fat.
Hormone Balancing Diet
The truth about fat
Fat has gotten a really bad rep over the years. Don’t eat fat, don’t be fat. As a result, many women embark on diets that are extremely low in fat, and maintain a body fat percentage below what is required for reproductive function. The reality, though, is that dietary fat is a necessity for every healthy body (and doesn’t contribute to weight gain when eaten in moderation as a part of a balanced diet). Our bodies use fat for a variety of things, including maintaining healthy hair, skin, and nails, and preserving normal brain function like problem solving and storing memories. We also need fats to be able to absorb certain essential nutrients, like vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fats are also especially important for hormone production, including the hormones that regulate ovulation and menstruation. Fats and cholesterol act as building blocks for hormones like estrogen and progesterone; Without them, hormone production can go awry.
Make sure you’re getting enough
Did you know that about 30% of your daily calories should come from fat? If this seems surprising to you, you may be one of many women who are unknowingly not getting enough fat in their diets. Often this is because low-fat and fat-free foods are marketed as the ‘healthier’ options, when in fact foods that contain lots of unsaturated fats can be very healthy for us. That said, it’s important to be able to recognize what foods contain healthy fats and incorporate them into your diet without fear of gaining weight. Common foods that contain healthy fats include:
- Vegetable oils like olive and canola
- Eggs (the whole egg, not just the whites!)
- Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines
- Nuts like walnuts, almonds, peanuts, and macadamias
- Nut butters like peanut butter and almond butter
- Seeds like chia, flax, hemp, and pumpkin seeds
Avoid skim and low fat dairy products to help you balance your hormones
What about dairy? Full-fat dairy products have been shown to be more beneficial than their reduced fat counterparts for women hoping to become pregnant– not just because they contain healthy fats, but because they are also more nutrient dense than reduced fat versions. Consider the following dairy foods as sources of healthy fat as well:
- Whole milk
- Whole milk yogurt
- Full fat greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
Fats in action to balance your hormones
If getting enough fat in your diet feels completely foreign or too difficult, remember that it doesn’t have to be complicated. Try adding nuts and seeds to oatmeal or smoothies, dressing salads with olive oil- or avocado-based dressings, or cooking your food in vegetable oils. You can also substitute full-fat ingredients in recipes you already love, like using whole eggs instead of egg whites, whole milk instead of skim, and full-fat greek yogurt instead of non-fat. You may also find that adding a little fat to your meals makes them more filling and satisfying, keeping you energized for longer between mealtimes.
Recipes to help with hormone balancing
These are some of our favorite recipes that incorporate lots of healthy fats from morning to night:
Trust your body during hormone balancing
Making any deliberate change to your diet can feel overwhelming– especially if that change means eating more foods that you’ve been conditioned for years to avoid. We need fats in our diet for our bodies to do what they do best– part of that being producing hormones that allow us to ovulate and carry happy, healthy babies. It’s important now, more than ever, to trust that your body knows what to do when properly fueled. Our dietitians are here to help you along your journey.
And if the idea of eating more fat in your diet feels more than overwhelming, but downright terrifying and impossible, our dietitians are here to help you work through those emotions too. We understand that while you may want to get pregnant, you may also be experiencing fear and anxiety about changes to your diet and your body.
Kristin Jenkins, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Her passion for nutrition blossomed from her own experience and her aspiration to help others who may be facing similar challenges.