We’ve all heard that “you are what you eat.” Many of us intuitively understand the cause and effect nature of what we put in our bodies. What’s more, diet is one of the few elements of our well-being that we can control.
When you’re confronted with the myriad of options (keto or paleo? Raw or plant-based?), it can be overwhelming. Set in a season of trying to conceive or confronting menopausal symptoms and it can send anyone into a tailspin. It feels that the available resources are both numerous and conflicting.
The American Heart Association laments the fact that medical training inadequately equips doctors to provide diet counseling. Against the sheer quantity of knowledge a medical doctor has to learn, nutrition has not been at the forefront. However, with exceedingly high obesity and heart disease rates, as well as new understanding of how diet and gut health impact women’s health, this arena can no longer be neglected.
Why Women Change Their Diets
It’s important to note that women pursue different diets for many reasons. First, you may be trying to conceive. If you are grappling with infertility or any other barriers to carrying a baby, one area many women turn to is diet. We will include information below on either peer-reviewed sources or anecdotal data for how certain diets could impact female fertility.
Second, you may have an underlying medical condition that is unique to your female body and impacts either your fertility or overall health. When you have either an unexplained or undiagnosed condition, many women turn to food as a possible source of answers. Some women have found that eliminating or including certain foods has significantly changed their health, for the better.
Third, everyone should remember that diet can change over time. Gut health is complex. The interconnectedness of our bodies means that everything, from breakfast to brain activity, is important. The journey to find a diet that fits your lifestyle and makes you feel great can be challenging. Whether or not food heals you, it certainly does impact you. Fertility4Me is here to provide as much quality information as possible as you work through what kind of food makes you feel happy and well.
Balanced Eating for Health
If you are a woman at any age, in any season of your life or fertility, what you eat is important. Here is a review of the most popular diets for women’s health. These are not primarily pursued for weight loss but are most commonly an attempt by women to take control over their digestive health and overall well-being. Each one will include additional resources for you to understand what experts in the medical and alternative health community believe about that approach to eating.
FODMAP (fermentable oligo, di, monosaccharides and polyols) is a diet that is meant to reduce gastro-intestinal issues. FODMAP is a way of categorizing fermentable carbs. This diet is pursued by women who struggle with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or have very sensitive stomachs. The goal of FODMAPs is to balance the food you eat to include the items described by the acronym.
People who are sensitive aim to eat low-FODMAP foods to reduce irritation. Here are examples of each food group:
Oligosaccharides are things like wheat, beans, garlic, onions and some fruits and veggies.
Disaccharides are things like milk, yogurt and other foods with lactose.
Monosaccharides are things like fruit, honey, agave and other foods with fructose.
Polyols are things like fruits and veggies and artificial sweeteners.
FODMAP Diet Resources:
Read this article about how FODMAP can impact PCOS and women’s health.
Read a peer-reviewed article on how FODMAP reduces GI disorder symptoms.
Read an article on how FODMAP reduced the symptoms of IBS.
Read an interview with a dietician about pregnancy and a low FODMAP diet.
Keto, or the Ketogenic Diet, is a severely low-carb, high-fat diet. The goal of the Keto diet is to put your body in a state of ketosis. This is a metabolic state which stimulates your body to burn fat. Scientifically, fat is transformed into ketones in the liver. People who follow the keto diet have seen decrease in insulin levels and blood sugar. Many people use keto for weight loss but it has additional benefits.
There are variations of the keto diet. All of them employ the same low carb-high fat and protein diet. The cycle and content of eating varies slightly.
Standard ketogenic diet (SKD): low carbs (5%), moderate protein (20%), high fat (75%)
Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): this is a lifestyle option where you can eat more carb if you are exercising strenuously
Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): this is a cyclical version of keto where you eat strictly keto for five days and are allowed two carb days in between
High-protein ketogenic diet: low carbs (5%), high protein (35%), moderate fat (60%)
Keto Diet Resources:
Read a peer-reviewed article on the long-term effects of keto in obese people (the study features more female participants than male).
Read an article from the University of Chicago Medicine on the risks of the keto diet.
Read a peer-reviewed article on the impact of keto while pregnant.
Read about the impact of low-carb diets on fertility hormones.
The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet is a food-based approach to reducing inflammation. The goal is to heal the gut, which is damaged by autoimmune health conditions. The basics of this diet is that it is focused on eliminating certain foods in an effort to restart the immune system. Once your immune system is active and healthy, you maintain it through continued healthy eating.
The AIP must be followed strictly to work. It has been called a stricter version of the paleo diet. Some people use AIP to treat a leaky gut. The emphasis is on nutrient-rich foods, including omega-3 and fatty acids.
On AIP, you must avoid:
Beans and many nuts
Nightshade veggies (tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, etc.)
AIP Diet Resources:
Read a peer-reviewed article on how AIP helps with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Read an article from Oxford on how the AIP helps with IBD but also Crohns and ulcerative colitis.
Read this article from a nutritionist on how to personalize the AIP for your needs.
Read this peer-reviewed article about the autoimmune bases of infertility.
Gluten Free Diet
Gluten free diets don’t eat any gluten protein, which is found in most kinds of grain. From gluten sensitivity to full-on celiac disease, many people simply can’t withstand gluten. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. Some people also have gluten ataxia, which is also an autoimmune condition and can impact nerve tissue. Lastly, some women have wheat allergies which can cause a variety of unwelcome symptoms.
In the absence of a health issue, choosing not to eat gluten has more to do with benefits or improved health. Eating gluten free could improve cholesterol, energy and digestive health.
People on gluten free diets will not eat:
There are many gluten free grains and alternatives that are increasingly available in grocery stores.
Gluten Free Diet Resources:
Read this peer-reviewed article about the health benefits and adverse effects of going gluten free if you don’t have celiac disease.
Read this article about gluten free diets and diabetes or blood sugar issues.
Read a medically reviewed article about gluten and fertility.
Read an article about gluten and infertility.
Dairy Free Diet
A dairy or lactose free diet eliminates all foods that contain lactose. Lactose is a sugar that is in many dairy products. There is an important enzyme in the gut that digests lactose. Some people’s bodies don’t break down lactose effectively, which can lead to significant gastro-intestinal issues and discomfort. People who are observing a dairy free diet will not eat or drink:
Lactose is present in many unexpected foods as well, including frozen potato foods and frozen waffles. If you are eliminating lactose entirely, you will want to carefully review all of the packaged food you buy.
Another area of concern for dairy is casein. Even for people without a lactose sensitivity or issue, casein is a protein in dairy products that can cause allergic reactions and has even been shown to accelerate cancer cell growth. While the conclusions about casein are varied, some people avoid dairy entirely for this reason.
Dairy Free Diet Resources:
Read this peer-reviewed article about the benefits or drawbacks of dairy consumption for bone health.
Read a physician’s committee article about dairy and plant-based eating.
Read this peer-reviewed article that includes information on the connection between dairy and fertility.
Read an article about how to go dairy free.
Check out Part 2 of this diet series.