Ever judge a food product by its package?
The picture on the box looks nourishing and it sounds healthy, so it must be a good choice for your fertility diet, right?
But have you ever scanned the nutrition label only to see a bunch of words you can’t pronounce? Just how confident are you that butylated hydroxyanisole is actually helping your efforts to conceive?
Unfortunately, many food manufacturers have highly effective marketing departments that make not so good foods sound perfectly healthy by using words like all-natural and wholesome.
So how can you really tell whether a food is nourishing your fertility?
Thankfully, each food made in the United States must contain a nutrition label in its packaging.
Nutrition labels are a guide that gives you insight into which nutrients the item contains. Using food labels can help you decide whether a food item is actually doing something good for your body and your fertility or if it is just loaded with marketing hype.
Here’s a quick overview of what you’ll discover:
Food Label Basics
A food label is a description of what the food item contains and is found on the food packaging. In some instances – like loose produce – the label can be found online.
Ultimately, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates what information must be provided on each food label. Below are the basic components of a food label:
Product Dates. Technically not a FDA requirement, but potentially helpful if you know what the various phrases mean – “sell by” = buy before this date vs. “use by” = how long a food will be at its peak quality.
Nutrient Facts. Includes information related to serving size, calories, macronutrient breakdown, and key nutrients with their % daily value.
Ingredient List. Here is where you’ll find everything contained in the product. It should be fairly straightforward, but it is common practice to abbreviate or use less common names for ingredients to hide the unhealthy stuff.
Avoid the Misleading Claims
Food companies have gotten pretty crafty with their labeling beyond what is required by the FDA.
And more often than not, health claims on packaged food are designed to convince you a product is healthy when it might be quite the opposite.
Here are some health claims on food labels that should prompt you to take a closer look:
Fat-Free. Hopefully, we’ve convinced you that some forms of fat are good for your fertility. So be wary of low-fat as this typically means more sugar added to preserve taste.
Fortified or enriched. Code for nutrients have been added to the product. Sometimes this is required as with folic acid, and other times it’s simply to overcome a lack of nutritional value in the first place.
Fruit-flavored. If something is fruit-flavored, odds are it contains chemicals designed to taste like fruit instead of the real thing. By all means, avoid beverages that are fruit-flavored as this is often code for sugar added (you probably recall that sugar-sweetened beverages are harmful to your fertility).
Made with whole grains. Remember grains are only a pro-fertility carbohydrate if they haven’t been refined and stripped of all their nutritional value. Not to mention there should be a substantial amount of grains present, which isn’t guaranteed with this label.
Organic. This label says very little about the nutritional value of a product… organic cane sugar is still sugar. Need we say more?
Zero trans fat. Potentially an accurate statement, but misleading none-the-less. The FDA allows this labeling as long as a product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, which can quickly add up to more than zero.
How To Read Food Labels When TTC
The nutrition label contains valuable information if you’re serious about sticking to a pro-fertility diet as well as optimizing your overall health.
Let’s break down the information you’ll find on a typical food label as it’s concerned with your efforts to conceive:
It’s critical to determine the serving size of any food before you sit down to enjoy.
If you aren’t careful, it’s easy to consume too many calories by overlooking the 10 total servings in the container – yikes.
And when you’re TTC, it’s important that you don’t eat all of your daily calories from any one food source. Diversity is key to getting all your pro-fertility nutrients.
Calories are tied, in part, to serving size as well as the macronutrients that make up the food.
You’ve probably noticed that we don’t make a big deal about calories at OvulifeMD. That’s because we don’t want you to meticulously be counting calories.
With that said, eating too many calories can result in weight gain, which is not conducive to your fertility goals. We also don’t want you to eat too few calories and have your body feel like it’s in “starvation-mode”.
Fat, carbohydrates, and protein are the three macronutrients that you’ll find on a food label with sodium and cholesterol mixed in. Each macronutrient each has an important role for your fertility diet as we’ve discussed elsewhere.
When you are TTC, the key is to consume a balance of all three and to choose healthier options. You should be eating a balance of all three macronutrients throughout the day, being mindful of avoiding added sugars or saturated/trans fats. Thankfully, the food labels are required to provide information to help people determine this information very easily.
Make sure you are eating the appropriate micronutrients to support your reproductive health.
The FDA mandates that each food label lists the amount and percentage of daily recommended vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium found in a serving of said food. All of these nutrients are important to overall health and many are key to supporting fertility.
The absence of other vitamins and minerals listed on the food label does not mean that the food does not contain any of the nutrients. It is simply not required to be listed.
Keep in mind that the information shown on the label is based on a diet of 2,000 calories a day. You may need more or less than 2,000 calories depending upon many factors, including activity level and gender.
Don’t forget to speak with your health care provider for more personalized guidance on your specific nutrition needs.
Always read the ingredients list!
Here’s a little known tip – ingredients must be listed on the food label in order of the largest to the least amount used. So, if you’re shopping for orange juice and the first ingredient is sugar, then you’re probably missing out on the benefit of those oranges.
Another recommendation when it comes to eating for fertility, the few the number of ingredients, typically the better. How many ingredients does it really take to make a quality tomato sauce anyways?
Finally, if you can’t pronounce the ingredients or they contain numbers with dashes in their name, chances are it’s not nourishing your body or the body of your future baby.
Being able to read food labels is a great tool to figure out which foods support both your overall health and your fertility too.
Taking a few moments to read food labels before you make a purchase can help you make good food choices for years to come.
Whenever you're ready, join us and other women trying to conceive who are optimizing their fertility with a pro-fertility diet.