Increase the Nutrient Density of Your Diet with Fall Harvest Vegetables
by Margaret Eich, MS, RDN
When we talk about a fertility friendly diet, we emphasize the importance of nutrient density – in other words, maximizing the vitamin and mineral content of your diet. What does that mean for your diet? It means eating whole and real foods and minimizing refined and processed foods, which have had most of their nutrients removed. The fall is an excellent time of year to practice focusing on nutrient density, as there is such a wide variety of produce in season. Here’s a sampling of what’s in season now, and what fertility friendly nutrients they contain:
Butternut squash, pumpkin, carrots, and sweet potatoes
These orange vegetables are rich in beta-carotene that gives them their orange color. Beta-carotene is the plant form of vitamin A, which acts as an antioxidant and may be helpful for neutralizing free radicals that would otherwise damage eggs and sperm. You may have heard that vitamin A can be toxic at high levels during pregnancy. This is true, but does not apply to beta-carotene. Only pre-formed vitamin A from animal products and certain supplements has the potential to cause birth defects when intake is too high. Beta-carotene is better absorbed from food when served with fat. Roasted vegetables with some fat or drizzle olive oil over steamed vegetables.
As the hot summer days give way to cooler temperatures, leafy greens become more widely available again at farmer’s markets. These include spinach, chard, and kale. These leafy greens, like the orange vegetables, are a great source of beta-carotene. You can’t see the beta-carotene, because the orange is masked by the green chlorophyll. These greens are also a great source of vitamin C, which is a potent antioxidant. Vitamin C may also help support progesterone levels in those with low progesterone. Vitamin C may also help prevent DNA damage to eggs as they mature.
Leafy greens are also good sources of folate, important for preventing neural tube defects. Leafy greens also provide magnesium. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to infertility in some studies.
The cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale are also in season in the fall. These vegetables are a good source of magnesium, folate, and indole-3-carbinol, a phytonutrient that may help balance estrogen levels. Cruciferous vegetables are best eaten cooked. Try roasting broccoli in the oven, or sauté kale with mushrooms for a savory side dish.