For many people, boosting fertility is all about leading a healthy lifestyle. And a big part of that healthy lifestyle is nutrition. If you’ve done even cursory research into improving your chances of conception, you’ve likely stumbled into the role nutrition plays in fertility and you’ve almost certainly been warned to steer clear of sugar. But… why? It all comes down to blood sugar, baby, and it’s not as simple as cutting out the candy and cookies. We’re covering everything you need to know about the effects of sugar on the body, why it’s problematic during conception and pregnancy, and why balancing blood sugar with protein can help boost fertility. Whew!
- Carbohydrates have a direct effect on blood sugar levels, and the type of carb will affect how quickly and how high those levels rise.
- Diets high in refined carbs and sugar can create insulin resistance and have a negative effect on fertility for both men and women.
- Regulating blood sugar is one way to support fertility, and prioritizing balanced meals that include protein and fiber is a great start.
Nutrition can be difficult to manage, especially if you’ve been living on a diet of processed foods. But while you may need to depend on sheer willpower in the beginning, those cravings really will begin to subside when you’re getting adequate amounts of nourishing foods that deliver sustained energy. Pro tip? Start with protein in the morning. Not only will you make all your hard working muscles happy, you’ll start off your day with stable blood sugar – and when you’re looking for a fertility boost, that’s exactly what you want.
This is Your Body on Sugar
Have you ever seen a kid race around after downing a candy bar or a bowl of ice cream, becoming increasingly frantic and out of control until finally collapsing in (often teary) exhaustion? You’re watching a blood sugar spike in action, and it’s not pretty.
Every carbohydrate you eat breaks down in the digestive tract into simple sugars, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream and thus increasing blood sugar levels. How quickly that level rises, and how high, depends on whether you’ve eaten simple or complex carbohydrates. Simple carbs, found in baked goods, fruit juices, refined flour, candy, and table sugar, break down quickly because they’re simple molecules made with large amounts of glucose. That means a big glucose dump in the bloodstream, creating a big, rapid rise in blood sugar levels.
Complex carbs are, as the name indicates, more complex structures with fewer glucose molecules. These are the carbs found in veggies, low-sugar fruits, whole grains, and legumes. They also contain fiber, which has a dampening effect on the breakdown and absorption of glucose into the blood. While complex carbs do have a mild increase in blood sugar, it’s much slower.
Here’s the thing – it’s not great for the body to have a bunch of glucose cruising through the bloodstream. Actually, sugar is downright damaging to the organs and tissues, which is where insulin comes into play. To move glucose into muscle cells, where it can be used for energy, the pancreas releases insulin to help maintain stable blood sugar levels. The more simple carbs we eat, the higher our blood sugar, and the harder the pancreas works to release insulin. It creates a pretty nasty little cycle where we chow down a bagel and a cup of coffee, and after a little burst of energy, you realize you’re irritable, tired, and desperately craving another sugar fix.
What’s more, this kind of simple carb-heavy diet means our cells can become insulin resistant, which means we’re no longer capable of effectively regulating blood sugar. It’s a direct path to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Now, what do sugar and insulin have to do with fertility and reproductive health? We’re so glad you asked!
This is Your Fertility on Sugar
Let’s get straight to the facts. Women with diets high in sugar and refined or simple carbohydrates have a much higher risk of ovulatory infertility. Those undergoing fertility treatment have lower pregnancy rates. And because insufficient blood sugar regulation can ramp up cortisol, mess with adrenals, interfere with sex hormones, and negatively affect thyroid function, it means chances of conception drop.
If you’re familiar with PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, you may already know that insulin resistance is a key player. When the ovaries are routinely exposed to high levels of insulin in the bloodstream, they begin producing higher levels of male hormones. That interferes with ovulation, creating irregular cycles and infertility.
Oh, and men aren’t immune, either. Diets high in sugar and simple carbs can affect sperm concentration and motility, while also lowering testosterone levels. For couples hoping to conceive, experts recommend dialing in nutrition, among other healthy lifestyle habits, and in an effort to stabilize blood sugar and optimize fertility. But let’s get specific, shall we?
Regulating Blood Sugar with Protein
Clearly, you should both be prioritizing complex carbohydrates over the simple kind. But your focus should also be on protein. The big benefit of protein, especially in the morning, is its impact on blood sugar. Balanced meals that include protein, fiber, and healthy fats, along with complex carbs, slow that carb breakdown of and help stabilize blood sugar all the livelong day. Reach for organic, pasture-raised meats, eggs, wild-caught fish, nuts, seeds, whole and unprocessed carbs in their natural form (i.e. vegetables and whole grains like oats, quinoa, buckwheat), and olive oil.
Make a conscious effort to avoid processed vegetable oils, trans fats, added sugars (honey, maple syrup, agave), sodas and sweetened beverages, and pretty much anything made with flour – which is a long list. Doing so will help ensure your blood sugar stays stable throughout the day. Not only will that help support your fertility, you’ll notice that you have more energy.
No time, energy, or inclination to prepare a balanced breakfast? Mix up a nutritious smoothie and whizz in a scoop of high-quality collagen. This animal-sourced protein has all the amino acids your body needs, and because it's mostly taste-less, it's a smart addition to just about anything (think juices, coffee, oatmeal, and even soup).
Add a scoop to our fertility smoothie recipe, blend, and enjoy!
The health of both parents plays a big role in the success of a future conception, pregnancy, and healthy little baby. If you’re thinking of becoming a parent, this preconception window is a prime time to clean up your act and support your fertility. So be clear about the role your diet plays, start taking a high-quality prenatal vitamin now, and skip the nutrient-void cereals in favor of a protein-rich breakfast. You’d be surprised what a difference it makes.