The Preconception Detox – foods you should be eating to prepare for a healthy pregnancy and baby
Detoxing sounds like a bit of a chore and is probably not the quite word for preparing for preconception which should be a happy and exciting period of your life. I like to call it “Eating for Beauty and Bubba” as it actually is just a healthy way of eating for you, your beauty and your unborn baby.
One of the quickest and most effective ways at getting both male and female ready for conception is cleansing the mind and body, both inside and out. This ensures that you are able to rebalance your hormones, improve your gut health and microbiome and create a lush womb ready to provide a cosy and safe environment whilst at the same time providing the most optimal building blocks (sperm and egg) for a beautiful baby. This is the 101 to a healthy pregnancy as it ensures that increased toxicity - which may be creating imbalanced hormones, poor liver metabolism, decreased circulation, inflammation, poor cellular function, a compromised microbiome and decreased vitamin and mineral absorption - have been addressed. Cleansing therefore is not only important but quite essential for a healthy pregnancy and ultimately a healthy baby.
Below are my naturopath approved tips to ensure both parents-to-be are nourishing their bodies with the correct nutrients for a healthy conception, pregnancy and baby – and of course, glowing skin!
— More nutrients. There is substantial evidence indicating that organic food has a significantly higher level of antioxidants than conventional produce. After reviewing 343 studies on ‘the compositional differences between organic and conventional crops,’ a Newcastle University study found that switching to organic fruit, vegetables, and cereal would provide additional antioxidants equivalent to eating between 1–2 extra portions of fruit and vegetables a day1. The study found that concentrations of antioxidants such as polyphenolics were between 18-69% higher in organically-grown crops. Substantially lower concentrations of a range of the toxic heavy metal cadmium were also detected in organic crops (on average 48% lower). A similar study found that the amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in organic meat and dairy products are consistently about twice as abundant in organic as opposed to non-organic. Organic milk products were found to have an average 56% more and organic meats approximately 47% more omega-3’s2.
— Hormone disruption. Chemicals used in pesticides and fertilisers acts as endocrine disruptors and mimic human hormones or otherwise interfere with hormone-controlled systems, which can block (or put into overdrive) a range of biological processes. Throughout a lifetime, endocrine-disrupting chemicals can damage the reproductive system in a number of ways. Some kill or damage cells; if these are sperm cells or oocytes, infertility can result. Others alter DNA structure, causing gene mutations that may result in birth defects or an inability to conceive. There is a growing body of scientific evidence linking chemicals to many reproductive health harms. Research is particularly strong linking pesticide exposure to reduced sperm count and quality, early puberty in girls, birth defects, miscarriage and stillbirth. In the first study of its kind, scientists at Harvard found that men who ate food with more pesticide residue had lower sperm count and fewer normal sperm3 . Exposure to the herbicide atrazine has been linked to menstrual disorders, low-birth weight babies and birth defects4.
— Choose organic fruit and vegetables along with meat and protein wherever possible.
— Find local farmer markets that can speak to you about how they grow their produce, whilst they may not be certified organic they may practice pesticide-free and sustainable farming methods.
— Wash all of your fruit and veggies using a veggie wash or add a half cup of apple cider vinegar to your sink of water and let your fruit and veggies soak before gently scrubbing, rinsing and storing.
— Avoid all preservatives – basically anything that includes a number should be avoided. You are likely to find preservatives in commercial dressings, dried fruit, snacks, packaged fruit, fruit juices, breads and most processed foods.
— If it is difficult for you to buy organic produce, make an extra effort to buy the below foods organic. They are classified as the “dirty dozen” due to their generally higher concentration of pesticides.
- The Dirty Dozen: Apples, Celery, Cherry Tomatoes, Cucumber, Grapes, Nectarines, Peaches, Potatoes, Snap Peas, Spinach, Strawberries, Capsicum.
— Removing pesticides from your diet lightens the load on your liver’s detoxification system which ensures that hormones are being excreted effectively. Hormone imbalance, and an excess of oestrogen and testosterone are what tend to play havoc with sebum balance and exacerbate acne production, particularly around the cheeks (oestrogen), forehead and chin (testosterone).
— Preservatives and pesticides can be allergens which not only affect immunity but also irritate the skin, leading to inflammation, redness and even eczema.
— Source of essential minerals and nutrients. Green vegetables are probably one of the very best things that you can eat for your fertility. They contain an abundance of hormone balancing and fertility boosting nutrients including B vitamins, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C and magnesium. Leafy greens in particular are rich in folic acid, a critical nutrient in reproductive health and developing foetuses.
— Provide alkaline balance. An acid alkaline balance is essential for our bodies to function optimally. Western diets tend to be abundant in acid-forming foods including sugar, white processed foods, coffee, alcohol and meat which can lead to issues such as vaginal infections, urinary tract infections, yeast infections, menstrual difficulties, fungal problems and even infertility. Sperm are also unhappy in an acid environment within vaginal fluid which can make them swim less effectively and have trouble surviving to make the journey towards the egg. Eating an abundance of vegetables and leafy greens ensures there is an appropriate acidalkaline balance in the body.
— Provide hormone regulation & assist the body’s detoxification processes. Vegetables are loaded with fibre which assists in removing excess hormones, in particular the “bad” form of oestrogen. Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy and kale contain glucosinolates which help the liver produce enzymes for detoxification. Bitter vegetables such as bitter gourd, dandelion greens, mustard greens and chicory promote the production and flow of bile which is important in the excretion of toxins from the body.
— Keeping up your intake of greens ensure that you are continually cleansing your body of excess hormones and toxins. Excess hormones are what play havoc with conditions such as acne and oily skin. After a week or two on a green smoothie a day the skin has an incredible way of becoming blemish-free and smooth.
— Bitter greens have an excellent way of nourishing the liver and promoting the production of enzymes required to absorb and digest proteins and fats. These are nutrients required to hydrate and nourish the skin and produce collagen
— Greens are rich in folate and B vitamins which are excellent anti-inflammatory vitamins. They assist in reducing redness, eczema and inflamed skin conditions.
— Increasing your intake of greens boosts your fibre intake which is critical to keeping your gut microbiome in good health – this is intricately linked to the health of your skin!
— Loading up on greens reduces the recirculation of fat and toxins in the body and ensures your body is kept full, preventing you from eating beauty destroying foods
— When choosing leafy greens reach for spinach, romaine, kale, mustard greens, dandelion, and watercress. Bitter greens such as dandelion root and radicchio are in particular a treat for the liver.
— Rotating your greens is important. Be sure eat a variety of greens and don’t always stick to eating the same ones.
— Aim to have three cups of leafy greens daily. One of the best ways we find to do this is by having one large salad daily (see recipes), one of our fertility smoothies daily and a bowl of steamed vegetables with one of your meals.
— Aim to have three cups of vegetables daily, in particular those from the cruciferous vegetable family (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy and kale).
— For maximum nutrient absorption lightly steam greens or consume raw and always add a little bit of olive oil (or other fat, e.g. avocado or nuts) to boost absorption.
Nurture your gut microbiome
— Improve your nutrient absorption. Having healthy gut flora ensures that you are absorbing nutrients required for reproductive health and general health and vitality. It is also instrumental in ensuring you are producing key vitamins such as B vitamins and vitamin K.
— Transfer healthy gut microbiome. We have already noted the that a baby “inherits” the microbiome from its mother with the groundwork for each person’s gut flora being laid from birth which makes it critical to address your gut health. Researchers are increasingly looking at the role of gut bacteria in the development of autism specifically. One particular study found that children with autism possessed lower levels of three types of gut bacteria compared with children free of the condition5.
— Increase your immunity. As much as 80% of our immune system can found in our gut lining so ensuring that yours is kept intact will eliminate the issue of infection as a cause of conception problems.
— Enhance sperm count. Very new research has shown that men who are put on probiotics to establish beneficial strains of bacteria in the gut showed a higher sperm count, a higher count of sertoli cells which are responsible for testosterone levels, elevated testosterone, and more vigorous ejaculum6.
— Improve chances of conception. Fermented foods nourish the health of the gut as well as other mucosal surfaces, like the vagina. A healthy gut microbiome will also ensure that you have a healthy vaginal ecosystem, that you are less likely to have chronic low grade vaginal infections thus providing sperm with a better chance to survive and travel to the egg7 .
— The health of our belly is often overlooked as one of the critical factors in determining the health of our skin.
— Having a leaky gut disrupts the flora in the skin as it creates inflammation which affects the integrity and the protective function of the skin. This can then lead to a drop the microbial power of the skin to fight against infection and inflammation.
— Research reports show that small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), a condition involving inappropriate growth of bacteria in the small intestine, is ten times more prevalent in people with acne rosacea than people not suffering from SIBO, and that a correction of gut flora led to marked clinical improvement in their skin conditions8
— Gut flora also influences the skin. Substance P is a neuropeptide produced in the gut, brain and skin that plays a major role in inflammatory skin conditions. Altered gut flora along with stress can activate the release of substance P in both the gut and the skin leading to an exacerbation in skin conditions.
— An unhealthy gut can result in maldigestion and the malabsorption of proteins, fats, and carbs, as well as vitamins. SIBO can lead to nutritional deficiencies including vitamin B12, as well as vitamins A, D, E, and K (fat-soluble vitamins) which are all critical for optimal skin health and overall good health9 .
— Stop feeding the bad guys. The bad flora in your gut does really have a field day with sugar, dairy and processed grains. Starve the little critters by reducing your intake of these foods and your skin will start to thank you.
— Incorporate polyphenol rich foods into your diet. Polyphenols have an incredible ability to balance our inner gut flora by weeding out the bad guys and encouraging the growth of good flora. Polyphenols are typically found in the skins, peels and seeds of fruits and vegetables. They have been largely stripped from our food supply but can be found in blueberries, cranberries, apple peels, cacao and carob along with grapeseed and tea. The Edible Beauty Gut Replenish powder contains an abundance of polyphenol rich superfoods along with gut healing herbs and prebiotics.
— Start a probiotic. Oral probiotics have been shown to improve skin conditions such as acne by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress as well as strengthening the intestinal barrier. In one study, 80% of participants who received a probiotic experienced improvement in their acne10. Choose a broad-spectrum probiotic with at least 8 strains of different probiotic species and more than 30 billion CFUS per serve.
— Eat prebiotic and fibre rich foods. Prebiotics provide food for probiotics and can be just as important as probiotics in maintaining healthy skin and a healthy gut. Go for foods such as asparagus, beetroot, pumpkin, flaxseeds and garlic as wonderfully rich prebiotic foods for the gut. The benefit of fibre is that it also works to sweep away toxins and excess hormones which can play havoc with the skin. Gut Replenish contains prebiotic rich green banana powder which works to encourage beneficial gut bacteria to flourish.
— Eat fermented foods. Fermented foods can be a wonderful way of introducing good gut flora into the bowel in a natural way. They also assist with improving digestion and stopping persistent sugar cravings. Try making your own fermented veggies, or kefir. If you are stretched for time you can find some wonderful pre-prepared fermented foods including Peace Love & Vegetables and Amphore Coconut Milk Kefir.
— Improve your digestive ability. Promoting the body’s hydrochloric acid production is critical in improving the body’s ability to break down and absorb food. Splash apple cider onto your salads and increase your consumption of bitter foods such as rocket, dandelion, lemon and radicchio which will all increase your digestive juice power. Edible Beauty Detox Shot contains bitter herbs designed to activate liver enzymes to enhance your digestive fire.
— Improve your embryo quality. Protein is essential for good quality embryos and better egg quality. This makes sense given amino acids found in protein provide the building blocks for every cell, organ, enzyme and hormone in your body and your baby’s body and are crucial to foetal growth. In fact, studies in patients undergoing in vitro fertilization has shown that patients whose protein intake represented 25% of their daily diet, and whose carbohydrate intake was 40% or less had pregnancy rates four times higher than those who ate more protein and less carbohydrates while undergoing IVF11. Whilst this study is focused on IVF patients, it does not change the overall result which is that fertility levels and embryo quality are improved significantly.
— The right protein. Studies associated with protein consumption and fertility show that replacing some animal protein (meat, fish and eggs) with vegetarian protein (wholegrains, beans, nuts and seeds) can be associated with a reduced risk of infertility . One study found that a higher protein intake from meat was linked to a 32% higher chance of developing ovulatory infertility12. On the other hand, eating more vegetable protein may protect against infertility13.
— Improve your iron stores. Both animal and non-animal protein sources are rich in iron which is an essential nutrient in fertility. Low levels of iron in women may contribute to low ovulation and poor egg health, which can inhibit pregnancy significantly.
— Improve your liver’s detoxification processes. Protein contains amino acids which are instrumental in the liver’s detoxification processes. These proteins are responsible for what is called Phase 2 of the body’s detoxification which involves converting toxins into water soluble forms so that they can be excreted from the body. Sulphur containing amino acids such as taurine and cysteine are instrumental in this process. Many detox diets advocate no protein (even vegetarian protein sources) which can be defeat the purpose of a detox. Ideally, we w ant to be supporting the liver’s excretion of toxins and chemicals to support optimal reproductive health.
— One third of protein being consumed by the body is used to produce skin which makes it essential in providing the building blocks to healthy skin cells. Collagen is produced from amino acids found in protein - glycine, proline, lysine as well as Vitamin C. Adequate protein consumption therefore ensures that the skin is being kept firm, tight and plump.
— Aim for a palm sized serving of protein providing food at least two times a day before conception. Ensure that at least one of these protein serves is a non-animal protein which includes either nuts, grains/seeds or legumes.
— If you are not eating animal protein, ensure you eat TWO of the food groups below such that you have a COMPLETE vegetarian protein source. This can include:
— When choosing animal protein and eggs look for organic sources and grass-fed meat which ensures that you are avoiding growth hormones and antibiotics commonly fed to livestock to help them grow faster.
— When choosing fish ensure that it is wild caught and not a deep-sea fish which tend to be high in heavy metals.
The Right Fats
Essential Fatty Acids include Omega 3s and Omega 6 fatty acids. They are called essential as they cannot be synthesised by the body.
— Regulate hormones. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are constituents of the membranes of all cells in the body. They can assist in improving reproductive cell structures in the body, and promote ovulation by reducing sensitivity to the hormone prolactin which can suppress ovulation. Gamma-Linoleic Acid (GLA), an Omega-6 fatty acid found in borage oil, hemp seeds and evening primrose oil has been linked to higher progesterone levels which are important for the healthy development of the womb. Essential fatty acids are also required in all functions of the liver including detoxifying which ensures that unwanted hormones and toxins are being effectively removed from the body.
— Enhance fertility. One of the main benefits of consumption of Omega 3 fatty acids is that they enhance blood flow to the uterus increases oxygenation and nutrient delivery to the uterus lining allowing ensuring that it fully develops and is able to support implantation should a fertilised egg arrive. Omega 3s can also increase healthy cervical mucous production which is needed for sperm to reach the egg. Omega 3 fatty acids have been widely studied in male reproductive function. Increased DHA content in sperm membranes is associated with improved sperm motility, morphology and concentrations14, 15. When there are not enough fatty acids present in the body, cholesterol replaces the needed fatty acid in sperm membranes. This prevents sperm from proper maturation and may create free radicals, which damage any healthy sperm that may be present.
— Reduce inflammation. The consumption of Omega 3s may help lessen chronic inflammation-related fertility problems. For instance, women with high levels of EPA omega-3s were less likely to have endometriosis compared to women with low EPA levels16.
— Essential Fatty Acids are vital to our beauty. Think of a lack of fatty acids as very dry and depleted skin. Fatty acids perform two functions when it comes to the skin, they have a strong protective barrier function and provide anti-inflammatory action.
— Research suggests exciting benefits of higher dietary fatty acid consumption, including a reduction in skin damage caused by UV sunlight, a reduction in the inflammatory response associated with acne, more youthful skin appearance, and lower incidence of dry skin and skin thinning.
— So, if you are after smooth, hydrated, dewy and youthful skin, then fatty acids are essential.
— Aim for a handful of walnuts daily. They are a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids with about 2,270 mg of Omega 3 fatty acids. Consume them raw or make a fresh walnut milk with 1 cup of nuts to 2 cups of filtered water. Ensure you purchase raw walnuts, as heat damages the essential fatty acids.
— Aim for a tablespoon of chia seeds and flaxseed oil daily. They are particularly wonderful for boosting your Omega intake and regulating hormones.
— Aim for one tablespoon of raw hemp seeds daily to support progesterone balance.
— Use cold pressed olive oil (unheated) as a salad dressing and cook with coconut oil or olive oil on a very low temperature.
— Aim to eat 2 to 3 serves of fish weekly if you are not vegetarian. Avoid large fish e.g. tuna, shark (flake), stingray, gemfish, orange roughy (deep sea perch), ling, king mackerel, catfish & billfish (broadbill, swordfish & marlin) which are high in mercury, crustaceans which are polluted and raw fish which may contain bacteria. Wild fish is preferable to farmed (salmon & trout). Ask your fishmonger for fish that are wild caught. Examples include wild caught sardines, barramundi, trout, snapper, John Dory, cod and perch.
— To ensure that you are not over consuming Omega 6 fatty acids which can shift the Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio such that you are not receiving the anti-inflammatory benefits of your Omega 3 intake, eliminate the consumption of all vegetable oils (sunflower, corn oil, soybean oil and margarine) and avoid the consumption of grain-fed meat and eggs.
Dose up on antioxidants
— Protect your reproductive system. Oxidative stress may be negatively affecting sperm and egg health. Pregnancy complications such as spontaneous abortion, recurrent pregnancy loss, and preeclampsia can develop in response to oxidative stress. Studies have also shown that lifestyle factors such as cigarette smoking, alcohol use, and recreational drug use can promote too much free radical production, which could in turn affect fertility. Exposures to environmental pollutants are of increasing concern, as they too have been found to trigger oxidative states, possibly contributing to female infertility. Antioxidants are critical when it comes to reducing both sperm and egg damage. Vitamins C, E and bioflavonoids act as buffers to any environmental or endogenous damage that is being directed at our reproductive system.
— Antioxidant-rich foods perform three critical roles when it comes to boosting beauty. They prevent collagen breakdown and UV damage, encourage collagen synthesis, and promote cellular repair and healing.
— Antioxidant-rich foods prevent collagen breakdown by neutralising free radicals, unstable electrons that have an unpaired electron in their outer shell – a bit like a knife without a sheath. Antioxidants sheathe the knife, binding unstable electrons, to prevent them from attacking collagen strands and other cells in the skin’s architecture.
— There is no single miracle antioxidant! We recommend that you take a “cocktail” approach and consume a variety of different antioxidants. After all, there is strength in numbers and we see wonderful results when these superfoods are consumed together. Think colourful fruits and vegetables. These are key as the bright pigments represent an abundance of antioxidant protection.
— Edible Beauty Native Collagen powder contains an array of antioxidant rich botanicals including Australian natives, sea buckthorn and Macqui berry. Designed to support healthy collagen production and ward off free radical damage, it provides a natural boost in vitamin C, with one teaspoon providing four times the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of vitamin C.
- Baranski. et al., ‘Higher antioxidant concentrations and less cadmium and pesticide residues in organically-grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses’, British Journal of Nutrition, vol. 112, no.5, 2014, pp. 794-811.
- Leifert et al., “Higher PUFA and omega-3 PUFA, CLA, a-tocopherol and iron, but lower iodine and selenium concentrations in organic bovine milk: A systematic literature review and meta- and redundancy analysis”, Journal of Nutrition, vol.115 (6), 2016, pp.1043-1060.
- Chiu et al., ‘Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic’. Human Reproduction, vol. 30. no.6, 2015, pp.1342-1351.
- Jose, et al., ‘Prenatal exposure to organochlorine compounds and birth size’, Paediatrics, vol. 139, no.1, 2011.
- Kang et al., ‘Reduced incidence of Prevotella and other fermenters in intestinal microflora of autistic children,’ PLoS ONE, vol.8, no.7, 2013.
- Weng et al., ‘Bacterial communities in semen from men of infertile couples: metagenomic sequencing reveals relationships of seminal microbiota to semen quality,’ PLoS One, vol.9, no.10, 2014.
- Verstraelen, ‘Vaginal lactobacilli, probiotics, and IVF,’ Reproductive BioMedicine Online, vol. 11, no.6, p. 674 – 675, 2005.
- A,Parodi, ‘Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth in rosacea: clinical effectiveness of its eradication,’ Clinical Gastroenterology Hepatology, vol.6, no.7, p.759-64, 2008.
- Bowe et al., ‘Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis – back to the future?’ Gut Pathogens, 2011, vol.3, no.1
- Siver, ‘Lactobacillus for the control of acne,’ Journal Medical Society of New Jersey, vol. 59, 1961, p.52-53.
- American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) 61st Annual Clinical Meeting: Abstract 96. Presented May 6, 2013.
- Chavarro et al., ‘Diet and lifestyle in the prevention of ovulatory disorder infertility’, Obstetrics & Gynecology, vol.110, no.5, pp. 1050-8, 2007.
- Chavarro et al.,’ Protein intake and ovulatory infertility.’ American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. vol.98, no.2, p. 210, 2008.
- Gulaya NM, Margitich VM, Govseeva NM et al. Phospholipid composition of human sperm and seminal plasma in relation to sperm fertility. Arch Androl. 2001; 46(3): 169-75.
- Safarinejad MR, Hosseini SY, Dadkhah F et al. Relationship of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids with semen characteristics, and anti-oxidant status of seminal plasma: a comparison between fertile and infertile men. Clin Nutr. 2010; 29(1): 100-5
- Hopeman MM et al. Serum Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Endometriosis. Reproductive Sciences. 2015 Sep; 22(9):1083-7. doi: 10.1177/1933719114565030. Epub Dec 23, 2014.