I always think how magnificent a human egg looks when I see images of it – large, regal and ready for the sperm.
The egg needs both nutrients and energy to prepare it for fertilisation and to make its journey to the uterus.
Surrounding your ovarian follicles is a follicular fluid that contains hormones and nutrients that nourish the egg before it leaves the ovary.
However, this fluid can also contain free radicals that can harm the egg. So, above all, healthy eggs need lots of antioxidant foods, which neutralize the effects of free radicals.
Then, the natural compound myo-inositol may help improve the follicular environment and egg quality and to help balance blood sugar.
Foods rich in inositol include beans, brown rice, lentils, cantaloupe melon, citrus fruit, nuts and seeds so make sure you include plenty of these in your diet, too.
The natural compound myo-inositol may help improve the follicular environment and egg quality and to help balance blood sugar. Melons, citrus fruit, beans and brown rice are rich in inositol
THE DIET PLAN AND YOUR CYCLE
Mood, weight and hormones can change rapidly according to where a woman is in her cycle. It is possible to support your body’s monthly shifts through your diet.
In this section I want to encourage you to think about how you feel at each of the stages (phases) in your cycle.
Then, I’ll tell you which foods will help support your shifting moods and emotions (a natural by-product of your changing hormones) over the course of the month.
Phase one of your cycle
Many women can actually feel the hormonal shift on the first day of their period – pent-up tension seems to fall away and a sense of relief and calm ensues.
However, like many other women, you may also feel a bit depleted or lethargic. Take some time out when your period begins – enjoy some quiet time that allows you to conserve and then restore your energy.
Avoid exercising and treat yourself to an early night (or two).
Good sources of iron to help you maintain energy during your period are dried apricots and shellfish.
This is a time for warm, nourishing foods. Choose a diet rich in iron and vitamin C, as these nutrients help to replenish the iron that you lose with your period.
Vitamin-B-rich foods will help you to regain some energy.
Good sources of iron include lean red meat, pumpkin seeds, beans and pulses, dried apricots and raisins, shellfish and dark green leafy vegetables.
For B-vitamins include whole grains, lamb, beef, poultry, shellfish, eggs, and dairy products, leafy green vegetables, yeast extract and nutritional yeast flakes.
Most fruits and vegetables will provide good levels of vitamin C (this is essential for iron absorption), but particularly good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, berries, kiwi fruit, leafy green vegetables and red pepper.
If you suffer from period pain, try taking an omega-3 supplement to help reduce levels of inflammation in your body.
Phase two of your cycle
During this phase, which can vary in length from month to month, oestrogen is on the rise as your body prepares for ovulation.
Many women feel great – attractive, flirty, full of libido. This is usually a time when you’ll burst with energy – you may feel like hitting the gym or pounding the streets (if that’s your thing).
Now is the time to noticesome of the vital signs and secretions associated with this fertile time of the month.
Spicy foods such a curry are rich in capsaicin, isofavones and L-arginine, which encourage the body to make nitric oxide (NO). During this phase, stock up on your B-vitamins, which are important for hormonal balance.
B-vitamins also help with healthy cell division (a crucial part of babymaking).
Lecithin (a phospholipid found in animal products) will help to keep your cell membranes healthy.
Keep eating the vitamin-C-rich foods as this vitamin is thought to increase the amount of water in your cervical mucus, making it more plentiful.
Foods rich in capsaicin, isoflavones and L-arginine (such as, in turn, spicy foods, tofu and watermelon) encourage the body to make nitric oxide (NO).
This compound helps to dilate your blood vessels, easing blood flow through your whole system, which is good news for your reproductive organs (including your genitals, uterus and ovaries).
Finally, for healthy implantation to occur during this crucial part of your cycle, your immune system needs to be in optimum condition.
For healthy implantation of an egg, the immune system needs to be strong. Vitamin D, the workhouse of immunity, is found in salmon, sardines and shiitake mushrooms
For this reason, stock up on vitamin D – the workhorse of your immunity. Exposing your skin to sunlight is the best way to get your body to manufacture this vitamin, but it is also present in salmon and sardines, and in shiitake mushrooms (if you’re vegetarian).
Phase three of your cycle
This is the luteal phase of your cycle. The corpus luteum (the ruptured ovarian follicle that produces progesterone to thicken the womb lining, close the cervix and maintain a pregnancy) contains a high level of betacarotene, which is the orange–yellow pigment found mainly in foods such as carrots and butternut squash, as well as other vegetables.
Betacarotene is also a powerful antioxidant – a free-radical scavenger that helps protect your cells from damage.
During this phase of your cycle, try to include plenty of betacarotene-rich foods in your diet, including butternut squash, carrots, collards, kale, spinach, potato and mustard greens.
Spinach, kale and butternut squash are a great source of betacarotene – the orange pigment found in carrots. It is an antioxidant and helps protect the cells from damage
If no fertilisation has occurred, your hormone levels start to fall. During this phase you may begin to feel more lethargic again – it’s this time (on the run-up to your period) that many women find they crave sweet foods.
Remember your 80:20 leeway and allow yourself the odd treat, but try to make sure that generally you eat foods that will keep your blood sugar stable.
Your cycle begins at the end of this phase – marked by the moment you get your period.
FULL FAT IS GOOD FOR FERTILITY
Many women make the mistake of substituting foods containing fat with low-fat products, thinking they won’t gain weight using them.
However, for fertility – and, for that matter, for weight management – the principle is flawed.
These products often contain trans fats, sugar and sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners disrupt the normal hormonal and neurological signals that control hunger and satiety.