Our modern, fast-paced and often frenetic lifestyles can make proper nutrition feel like an almost impossible chore. With the ubiquitous “quick food solution," frequent trips to the market, meal planning and preparation may seem unnecessary and inconvenient. This is particularly true when we aren't sure exactly what it is we should be eating.
While we may do our best to avoid high fat, high sodium and high fructose corn syrup found in the usual suspects a la fast and frozen food, donuts and other processed and packaged snacks, there are many more considerations when seeking out the most healthful foods. A good diet can produce a higher level of health, which in turn creates awareness and optimism that is of utmost importance when trying to conceive. As Dr. Dean Ornish recently stated in the LA Times the “joy of living is much more sustainable than the fear of dying.”
Over the last decade, a lot of attention has been given to the benefits found in foods that are certified organic, a process that restricts the use of pesticides and fertilizers on fruits and vegetables and prohibits the use of growth hormones and antibiotics in animal products. Certified organic foods may have more nutritive qualities than non-organic options and many people have reported more flavor in the organic options versus their conventional equivalent. Organic foods also leave less of an environmental footprint, which is healthy for us in other ways such as cleaner air and water.
In addition to organic, many people have also been making an effort to eat locally. What does that mean, exactly? Eating locally is synergizing with the seasons in your area and eating the freshest foods available at that time of year. Here in California, we have an abundance of fruits and vegetables year round, but the selections change over the months, offering a tasty variety of foods to choose from. Little else can match the excitement of waiting for your favorites to come into season. Right now, there's lots of fresh California berry picking and of course there are the grins of happy peach lovers who've waited all winter for their fuzzy favorite.
Eating locally is also sustainable, cutting down on the use of petroleum to transport foods across the globe. Because the food is being grown closer to your home, it may also retain more vitamins and minerals versus food that has traveled a great distance, likely sitting in a truck for days before ending up in your shopping cart.
But perhaps there is no more important consideration when it comes to food than how it affects your body. Food is medicine. It is what gives us life and strength, or, too often, discomfort and disease. If we are not eating the right foods for our bodies, we become imbalanced. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) focuses on bringing balance to our systems for a healthy life. Balancing is especially important for women trying to become pregnant. As "Generation X" is waiting much longer to start families, many women are turning to fertility treatment programs. TCM can be used in tandem with fertility treatments, and adding certain foods to your diet can greatly improve your chances of becoming pregnant.
Kidney Essence is vital to fertility and can be balanced by eating healthy salts found in foods such as miso (fermented soy paste), mineral or sea salts and seaweeds, and salted cultured vegetables such as sauerkraut or kimchee. Be very careful not to over eat salt as it can have the opposite effect. Cutting out salt from processed foods is one very easy way to avoid "bad" overuse of salt. The less salt you eat, the more sensitive you will become to it, making it easier to self-regulate and insure that you are only eating the right types of salt for kidney health. Lean, hormone-free red meat is an excellent source of iron and helps prevent anemia. It is useful in the production of red blood cells and is also an excellent source of vitamin B 12, which is key in the maintenance and development of the nervous system.
Nature carries a doctrine of signatures. This means that foods often look like the correlating organ that they benefit. Foods that are kidney shaped will enhance kidney essence. This includes all beans and seeds, especially kidney beans, black beans and mung beans, and pumpkin, flax and black sesame seeds. Dark berries such as blueberries, blackberries and mulberries, all of which are currently in season are also very beneficial to the kidneys. Nuts too can be very balancing, especially walnuts and chestnuts. California walnuts are incredibly delicious and versatile. Try adding them to a salad or soaking and pureeing with seaweed and flax oil for a creamy pate.
Eating wild caught fish and shrimp can support the water element, also vital to fertility. If you live in a coastal area, there are typically dozens of fresh fish options available. Check with your local market on where and when their selections were caught, especially if you live inland, you'll want to know as much as you can about the fish selections. Avoid "farmed" fish, as these conditions are incredibly unnatural and poorly regulated. You are what you eat, so keep in mind how your food was grown or raised. Other animal proteins can be helpful too, such as stock made from beef bones, which is rich in collagen and amino acids good for the elasticity of the blood vessels. Chicken is rich in zinc, which is very nutritive. Buy the freshest, free range and holistically treated animal products available.
Dark leafy greens are an excellent source of folic acid known to be crucial in fetal health. This is not the same as laboratory made folic acid found in prenatal vitamins. When we eat foods rich in naturally occurring nutrients, our bodies recognize them quicker and can integrate them faster. Dark leafy vegetables, such as collards, cabbage, kale and mustard greens can grow in most any climate. They are easy to prepare and can be incorporated in to most any dish. They cook quickly and taste great.
Eating for fertility can be a delicious and rewarding experience. By putting intention towards your healthy diet, you are helping to create the ideal environment for a pregnancy. You are also helping the planet and your local economy, which is creating a better world to raise your children in!