As with every aspect of our health, diet has a massive impact on egg quality and fertility.
And my guess is that you’re already sold on the importance of a healthy diet but…you need help figuring how to put together a fertility diet to improve egg quality.
Well, rest easy because you’re in the right place.
Whether you’re just getting started with trying to conceive, or you’ve been trying for a while, this post is designed to simplify and demystify the whole process of boosting fertility through food.
By the end of this article, you will have an understanding of:
- what causes poor egg quality.
- how diet impacts egg health.
- which foods to eat and what to avoid.
NOTE: for the full list of research papers and other resources that were used to put together this post, see the “References” section at the end of this article.
MAIN CAUSE OF POOR EGG QUALITY
Stress. That’s the underlying cause of poor egg health or a rapid decline in ovarian reserve.
Now, that might sound waaaaaay too simplistic, but just hear me out…
You see, by design, everyone of us is supposed to be in good health and therefore, be fertile.
However, life happens. And usually, when life happens, we’re taken by surprise or thrown off-balance.
And this is where stress comes in because stress is the one thing that throws the body off balance. In addition, food is one of the most significant sources of stress that we’re exposed to all day, every single day.
Now, the thing about food-related stress (and all stress as a whole) is that it puts your body in survival mode (aka fight-or-flight mode).
And when you’re in survival mode, then that takes your body’s attention away from “normal” activities.
So, normal activities like the development of a follicle, releasing an egg or even, supplying blood to your reproductive organs…all of these things get less attention as stress piles up.
To help you make more sense of what I mean, here’s an overview of what happens when there’s a stressor of any kind:
- The inflammatory response is triggered because inflammation is a process that allows your body to fight off a stressor.
- Once the inflammatory response is triggered, your adrenal glands release cortisol, which is a potent anti-inflammatory hormone.
Now, this simple sequence of events is fine for short periods of time.
However, when stress lasts for months or years, then we can experience all sorts of hormonal imbalances and fertility-related issues.
You see, when stress and inflammation increase, your needs for cortisol and adrenaline also increase.
And this is how stress can end up affecting everything related to the menstrual cycle, ovulation and fertility:
- The body “sacrifices” progesterone so that it can make more cortisol. Why? Well, cortisol and progesterone are made from the same precursor called pregnenolone. So, guess what happens when your cortisol requirements are chronically high? Your body uses more pregnenolone to make cortisol, which means there’s less pregnenolone available to make progesterone.
- The pituitary releases more prolactin. Higher prolactin levels can interfere with the ovary’s ability to make estrogen. And this ends up contributing to menstrual irregularities as well as difficulty conceiving.
- The hypothalamus releases less GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone). This is problematic because GnRH is a hormone that stimulates the pituitary to release FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone). Both FSH and LH are a must for ovulation. But when GnRH is low because of dietary stress, for example, that means FSH and LH will be low too. And low FSH and LH means everything related to ovulation and your cycle works less optimally, slows down or worse...comes to a halt.
Now, everything we’ve covered so far may seem like a vicious cycle, but it’s actually designed for our benefit.
Remember that biologically, the body sees stress of any kind as a threat to your life. Danger!
And nature has mechanisms in place to ensure that in times of danger we’re not spending energy on “non-essentials”…like reproduction.
So, from that perspective, it’s easy to understand why the body naturally produces less GnRH hormone when stress builds up.
Your body can’t afford to worry about follicles, ovulation, fertilization, implantation and so on when there’s a crisis.
So, going back to diet, it’s easy to see how months, years or decades of eating unhealthy foods can affect natural fertility.
After all, eating is the one thing that we all do. All day, every day!
And if our food is made from unhealthy ingredients and/or it’s low in nutrients well, that puts your body in a state of toxicity and/or deficiency. And that is very stressful for the body.
FOODS THAT ARE BAD FOR YOUR EGG QUALITY AND FERTILITY
Now that we have an overview of how food affects egg quality, it’s time to talk about some practical steps to take when putting together your fertility diet.
And we’re going to start off by talking about the foods that are harmful to your eggs.
Foods To Eliminate
- Sweetened drinks and juices: they contain dyes, artificial flavors, preservatives and added sugar. As for store-bought juices, they’re pasteurized and this kills many important nutrients.
- Packaged foods: crackers, chips, cookies, pastries and other convenience snacks.
- Gluten: the way modern wheat is grown, processed and used in the commercial setting, leads to a lot of inflammation. So, unless you’re growing your own wheat and making your own wheat-based foods, it’s best to eliminate gluten-containing foods so that you can bring down inflammation.
- Unfermented, GMO Soy: over 90% of the soy that’s sold to us is genetically modified and unfermented. Unlike Asian countries where they eat a lot of fermented soy, we eat mostly unfermented soy in the West. This along with the pesticide residue that is in GMO soy can be disastrous for your fertility. So, for the sake of your eggs, remove soy milk, soybean oil, edamame, tofu, textured vegetable protein and all other unfermented soy foods from your diet.
- Alcohol: It doesn’t matter how pristine or even, organic it is, all alcoholic drinks must go.
- Dairy (except organic butter and ghee): conventionally-raised cows can be given growth hormones and antibiotics on the regular (even if they’re not sick). And those two things can end up in the food products that come from the cow. So, when we eat conventional, non-organic dairy products we run the risk of ingesting leftover antibiotics and growth hormones. Even if they’re just trace amounts, the cumulative, long-term effects could be damaging. A surefire blend for leaky gut, inflammation and hormonal imbalance.
- Refined sugar: ugh, hello inflammation and cellular confusion!
- Caffeine: sadly this has to go too because caffeine is a stimulant and guess what it stimulates? The adrenals. Overly-stimulated adrenals means more cortisol and eventually, adrenal fatigue.
- Cigarettes: it’s not a food but just need to make sure that I include it on the no-no list.
- All Meats (except fish): aside from dairy, meats are another major source of antibiotics and growth hormones. In addition, things like farmed fish have been found to contain traces of pesticides, plastic, dioxins and a laundry list of other toxins.
DO’s AND DON’Ts FOR A FERTILITY DIET PLAN THAT INCREASES EGG QUALITY
1. DO Start With Whole, Unprocessed and Unrefined Food
This is non-negotiable.
No matter what your health goals are, it comes down to the same boring advice: eat real, whole food.
This means veggies, fruits, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds that are in their whole form.
Also, make sure to eat them in both raw and cooked form because you get different nutritional benefits depending on the state of the food.
Now, you might be wondering how would you eat legumes raw? Well, just sprout them!
So, yes, sprout your chickpeas, red beans and so on.
And by the way, this doesn’t have to be a daily thing.
The whole point is you need a variety of foods. And different food preparation techniques also reduces the chances of you getting bored with the food.
2. DO Eat As Much Organic Food As Possible
Because pesticides and herbicides are estrogen-based, they can seriously mess with our hormones.
So, for the health of your eggs and your soon-to-be little one, eating organic can be a real game-changer.
Now, the thing with eating organic is that it usually brings up two issues: cost and the whole “everyone else is getting pregnant without eating organic” question.
So, let’s address the first thing: cost
Eating organic is not always expensive…unless you buy packaged/premade organic foods (like cookies, granola, cereals, and other convenience foods).
The good thing is packaged foods are on the fertility no-no list, so you don’t have to worry about that!
As for whole food, you simply have to choose wisely in order to keep cost low. And to help you get started I’ve put together this list of 22 tips for how to eat clean on a budget.
Now, let’s address the second thing: why eat organic if others are getting pregnant with conventional food?
As women, we all know that what works for one woman doesn’t always work for the next.
And if you’ve tried different treatments or diets but are not able to conceive, then it’s time to ask yourself: could organic food be the missing ingredient for me?
My point is, you won’t know until you try.
Also, remember that if you really want to get pregnant quickly, then guess what? You have to do more healthy things.
The “shortcut” to a quick pregnancy is to implement more healthy habits.
Yes, it may not be fun but having that bundle of joy in your arms is worth it, right?
3. DON’T Forget to Stay Hydrated
Water is essential for various chemical processes, as well as for hydrating our tissues and flushing out waste.
So, to help your body get rid of any toxins that have built up in your body, make sure to drink plenty of water.
In this case, I recommend going for a gallon of water per day.
Yes, it’s a lot but your body is about 60% water and dehydration can cause stagnation.
We definitely don’t want any impurities to stagnate and stay in your tissues, do we?
4. DO Stick to Wild-Caught Fish
Fish is the only type of meat that is actually considered anti-inflammatory.
This is because certain types of fish have high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for reducing inflammation.
However there are two main rules you must follow when it comes to fish:
- First, buy wild-caught only (stay away from farmed fish. And stay away from salmon labeled “Atlantic.” It’s usually a code word for farmed).
- Second, eat fish once or twice a week (so that you’re not overexposing yourself to things like mercury).
5. DON’T Skimp On Natural Fats
Natural fats are a critical part of egg health because all of our sex hormones are made from fat.
So, eating healthy fats gives your body the raw materials that it needs to keep those hormones in check.
In addition, the walls of our cells are made from fat.
So, whether we’re talking about your gut lining, or the lining of the uterus, all cells need fat for proper function.
This means that foods like coconuts, avocados, eggs, nuts, seeds, ghee and butter should be a regular part of your fertility boosting diet.
6. DO Consume Organic, Fermented Soy
As I already mentioned, unfermented and GMO soy is a no-no.
So, if you want to eat soy products, they must be organic and fermented.
Examples of fermented soy foods are:
- Tamari sauce (this is a fermented soy sauce)
7. DO Consume Pasture-Raised Eggs
Eggs are full of omega-3 fatty acids, iron, vitamin A, folate, selenium, antioxidants like (lutein and zeaxanthin) and lots of other good stuff!
However, the quality of the eggs depends entirely on the health of the chicken (very much like us humans!).
So, this means that you want to stay away from chickens that were raised in cages (they get no sun, exercise or fresh air), as well as chickens that were given GMO food, hormones and antibiotics.
Instead, when buying eggs for your fertility diet, they must meet meet all of these requirements:
- pasture raised (or free range if you can’t find pasture raised)
8. DO Add Nourishing Teas to Your Fertility Meal Plan
Red raspberry leaf, oatstraw and nettle are 3 teas that every woman should have close by throughout her entire life.
Let’s have a look at what makes these teas for beneficial for hormones, egg health and fertility
- Rich in antioxidants that protect cells from damage (such as the damage caused by inflammation).
- Good source of vitamins B and C, as well as iron, zinc and magnesium…all of which play important roles in reproductive health.
- Has a particular affinity for women’s reproductive organs and is a go-to women’s herb for all phases of life.
- A nervine herb (i.e. acts on the nervous system) which means it nourishes the nerves, and creates a sense of relaxation.
- Supports the body’s response to stress, which is good for your adrenals (and indirectly, for the reproductive system).
- Contains proteins, B vitamins, vitamin E.
- Natural anti-inflammatory herb that also helps with anemia, liver function, blood sugar regulation and thyroid health.
- Contains iron, vitamin K, vitamin C, fatty acids, various minerals and proteins.
These 3 teas are definitely worth including in your rotation.
Quick note: you can learn more about nettle in this post on the benefits of nettle for hormones.
9. DON’T Forget About Fertility-Boosting Juices and Smoothies
Whenever there’s inflammation and we’re trying to rebuild the body, it becomes double important to drink your nutrients.
This is because taking in liquids is much easier on the digestive system.
And the two best things you can drink are juices and smoothies.
Now, can you get away with just one? Sure.
But will drinking both give you better and faster results. Oh yeah!
Here’s the main difference between juices and smoothies:
- Juices don’t contain the fiber that was originally in the fruits/veggies. It’s pure nutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and so on). It’s a super concentrated form of nutrients. It’s like a supplement but better because it’s living food. And since it has no fiber, it doesn’t put any strain on the gut or digestive system.
- Smoothies do contain fiber. However, since they’re in liquid form, it’s gentler on your digestive system.
Adding both of these to your diet allows you to get nutrients and support detoxification, while allowing your gut, liver and other systems in the body to recover from stress and inflammation.
10. DO Support Your Gut With Prebiotics and Probiotics
In a previous post on gut health and hormones, I talked about the fact that the gut affects every single hormone in the body.
This is because the gut either produces hormones and/or participates in a process that leads to the production of hormones.
So, it’s essential that your fertility diet includes both pre- and probiotics for gut health.
What’s the difference between the two?
Well, prebiotics are soluble fiber that is found in our food (whole foods like fruits, veggies, grains, legumes).
That soluble fiber feeds your gut bacteria so that they can multiply.
As for probiotics those are live bacteria that comes from fermented foods.
Eating these foods gives you direct access to various bacterial strains that colonize your gut.
For the best results, your diet should include both types of “biotics.”
FOODS THAT IMPROVE EGG QUALITY AND FERTILITY NATURALLY
So, we’ve covered the basic guidelines of what to eat and what not to eat.
Now it’s time to break down each category of food so you know what to include in your grocery list.
- beans (for example red, black, lima, pinto, beans)
All fresh or frozen, whole fruits are beneficial for fertility.
This list below is just a sample of what you can eat. Ultimately, go with what’s in season or locally available in your region.
Just like with fruits, all vegetables should be included in your diet.
However, pay particular attention to leafy greens: you should consume them every day because they are packed with nutrients.
And at least two meals per day should include some type of veggie.
Examples of veggies to include in your diet (this is not a complete list – choose what’s available to you):
- dandelion greens
- mustard greens
- bok choy
- collard greens
- mustard greens
- brussel sprouts
- garden cress
- green beans
- rice (all types)
- corn (must be organic because most corn is gmo)
Nuts and Seeds
- sunflower seeds
- pumpkin seeds
- chia seeds
- flax seeds
- sesame seeds
- raw honey
- maple syrup
- blackstrap molasses
- dried green stevia leaf or green stevia powder
- brown rice flour
- almond flour
- garbanzo flour
- coconut flour
- spelt flour
- buckwheat flour
- avocado oils
- coconut oil
- grapeseed oil
- olive oil
- sesame oil
- ghee and butter (organic, grass-fed, hormone-free, antibiotic-free)
- hemp seed oil
- palm oil
Choose from plant-based milks like:
- rice milk
- almond milk
- oat milk
- cashew milk
- macadamia nut milk
Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are full of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and many anti-inflammatory compounds.
So, be sure to incorporate as many as you like into your cooking!
A few to consider are:
- pink salt
- celtic sea salt
- cayenne pepper
HOW CAN I IMPROVE MY EGG QUALITY AFTER 40?
Even though egg quality, and the quantity of viable eggs, naturally declines with age, it doesn’t have to be a steep decline.
And the truth is, improving your egg quality when you’re over 40 still boils down to the basic principles we’ve already covered: keep stress and inflammation low.
So, stick to the clean eating principles we’ve covered in this article.
And pay attention to other areas of your life that might be a source of stress.
Then find ways to manage your reaction to stress. This could be breathing exercises, meditation, mindfulness practice and gentle exercise.
Overall, the key is to remember that while age plays a role, your level of commitment to taking care of yourself matters a lot too.
Can you get pregnant with low quality eggs?
While it’s possible to get pregnant with low quality eggs, the overall chances of succeeding are lower because there are less viable eggs to choose from.
And if you are able to get pregnant with low quality eggs, there’s a greater risk of miscarriage or developmental problems because the egg wasn’t healthy to begin with.
Does folic acid improve egg quality?
Folic acid supports various processes leading up to fertilization and implantation, and is also necessary for a healthy pregnancy (particularly the baby’s development).
So, making sure that you have enough folate in your diet is just one of many things that can help improve the health of your eggs.
CONCLUSION: CAN YOU REVERSE POOR EGG QUALITY?
It takes approximately 90 days for an egg to fully develop. So, this means that if you start eating healthy today and you stick with it for at least 90 days, you will be improving the quality of future eggs.
I hope that this post was helpful in giving you an understanding of what affects egg health and the power you have to change it through food.
Also, keep in mind that supplementation is another important aspect of egg health. And I’ll be covering that in another article, so be sure to stay tuned 🙂
In the meantime, if you have questions or comments about this topic, feel free to leave your feedback below.