We are going to let you in on a little secret… technically there is no such thing as a superfood.
Yes, we know it seems like every week a new “superfood” is featured somewhere on the internet or on the front cover of health magazines.
But nutritionally speaking, there is no official definition of a superfood. And given the over-zealous claims by marketers and food companies alike, the European Union has banned using the term on products that do not clearly provide credible scientific documentation to back up the claim.
Ultimately, regardless of whether superfoods are truly a thing, we believe that the concept behind superfoods is quite REAL, especially when trying to conceive.
Let’s explore which foods are actually ‘super’ when it comes to optimizing your reproductive health…
As we briefly mentioned, there is no exact definition of what makes a superfood.
So how then did the term originate?
Some believe that the word was officially coined back in 1915 when it first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary as “a food considered especially nutritious or otherwise beneficial to health and well-being.”
And according to the Harvard School of Public Health, the banana was one of the first foods to be popularized as a superfood – largely because of the enthusiastic advertising of a food company. Alas, we digress.
Back to defining superfoods…
In our work with New York Times bestselling author and superfood chef, Julie Morris, we’ve come to come to view superfoods as foods that are exceptionally high in nutrient density and are packed with antioxidants as well as phytochemicals.
SUPERFOOD = High nutrient density + Phytonutrients + Antioxidants
For those of you not familiar with the term phytochemicals, it simply refers to naturally occurring chemical compounds contained within plants that contribute to their color, taste, and smell.
Antioxidants, on the other hand, are more well known as molecules that protect the body from harmful free radicals (molecules that damage our cells, including your ovaries – yikes!).
Nutrient density is the ratio of micronutrients (e.g, vitamins and minerals) to calories. Food with high calories and relatively low nutrients (e.g, glazed donut) will have a low nutrient density. On the other hand, food with low calories and a high amount of nutrients (e.g, kale), will have a high nutrient density.
High nutrient density = GOOD food selection ✔
Low nutrient density = LESS GOOD food selection ✘
Bottom line: superfoods don’t have a scientifically-accepted definition, but when approached with rational nutrition wisdom, a clear concept emerges that helps us see beyond any marketing hype.
Time to uncover what you really came here to learn about…
Can superfoods really benefit fertility?
Well, before jumping into the list of our top fertility superfoods, it’s important to acknowledge that very few foods have specifically been evaluated with respect to reproductive outcomes. Most of what we know about fertility “superfoods” are based upon studies pertaining to categories of overall food types (e.g., plant-proteins, whole grains, folate-rich foods, etc).
With that said, when attempting to classify fertility superfoods, here are some of the key nutrients we looked for in a particular food:
Omega-3 fatty acids
Of course, there’s a lot more to our decision making when it comes to superfoods, but we recommend you always start by looking at nutrients and you won’t go wrong or be tricked into spending unnecessary money.
Superfoods come in many different forms – from the everyday foods found in your grocery store to the more exotic items that typically reside in health food stores.
And yes, while we believe the more specialized superfoods like acaí berries, maca, and spirulina can support your fertility, it’s always best to start with foods that have been studied as part of a pro-fertility diet (e.g., seafood, plant-proteins, fruits, and vegetables).
Here’s a rundown of the everyday superfoods we recommend incorporating in your fertility diet:
Fish often gets a bad wrap when trying to conceive and during pregnancy given well-founded concerns around mercury exposure. However, choosing fish such as salmon, which is low in mercury, is an excellent superfood addition to your pro-fertility diet. Salmon offers loads of omega-3s as well as protein. It’s also a good source of vitamin D and selenium. No need to go overboard on the salmon – 2-3 servings per week is all that’s typically recommended.
We all have our favorites (Dr. Eskew = strawberries & Dr. Haas = blueberries). Regardless of your favorite, berries are filled with antioxidants and other phytonutrients. This means they are great for reducing inflammation and support the health of your energy-demanding cells (yes, that includes your ovaries!).
Unlike other whole grains, quinoa is packed with protein that contains all the essential amino acids that you’ll find in meat products (and unlike animal meal, quinoa has not been called into question as a potential fertility-threatening food). Quinoa is also a great source of zinc and folic acid. And in case you missed our post on carbohydrates, quinoa is a lower glycemic load carbohydrate as well, which along with being a whole grain- makes it a perfect addition to your Fertility Diet!
For starters, lentils are another excellent plant-based protein. As we mentioned in our post on proteins, plant-based sources in place of animal products have been shown to improve ovulation. Additionally, lentils are filled with folic acid and iron, both vital components for successful conception and the development of healthy embryos.
Rumored to be a powerful aphrodisiac, oysters are actually an extremely nutrient-dense food. They contain more iron (and zinc too) than almost any other pro-fertility food. The vitamin B12 content of oysters is also quite high and they have a healthy portion of omega-3s. All-in-all they are an excellent fertility superfood if you like the taste (not a Dr. Haas culinary favorite even though they support men’s fertility too).
There you have it, the top fertility superfoods we recommend at OvulifeMD. Other fertility superfoods worth mentioning that did not make the top 5 list include asparagus, pumpkin seeds, avocados, and walnuts.
Before we wrap up, here’s a question we commonly hear:
“Why should I eat superfoods when I can take a supplement or multivitamin?”
For starters, supplements are artificially produced and contain isolated nutrients. What remains particularly unclear at this time is just how well synthetic nutrients are absorbed, especially if one’s gut health is suboptimal as a result of eating nutrient-poor foods in the first place.
One of the more important arguments in favor of eating superfoods in their whole form is that supplements are composed of isolated nutrients. More often than not, a single “active” ingredient is reproduced and packaged into a pill, completely missing a wide variety of other phytonutrients and chemical compounds that are likely to have other beneficial properties, which may in fact enhance the effect of the isolated ingredient.
None of this is to say that supplements don’t have their place. At OvulifeMD, we believe that there are many high-quality supplements with high-quality research supporting their effectiveness. So this blurb is not a complete knock on supplements.
Ultimately, the important takeaway is that you should always start with a pro-fertility diet packed with nutrient-dense superfoods, and then look to supplement with targeted nutrients.
With or without a widely accepted scientific definition, the concept of superfoods is quite real, especially when it comes to your fertility.
Before blindly accepting marketing hype, it’s important to evaluate the nutritional composition of the food and decide for yourself.
Whatever you decide, make sure that your fertility diet incorporates as many of the top fertility superfoods as possible.
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