If you're trying to get pregnant, you might not think that what you're eating is all that important. It's just a sperm meeting an egg, right? What does that have to do with diet? Well, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), your diet has a lot to do with your fertility.
In TCM, it is your Kidneys (capitalized to differentiate from the scientific definition) that govern your ability to conceive, as they contain your Essence. Your Essence is made up of two parts, one the Congenital with which you're born and have only a set amount, and secondly your Acquired Essence, which you can nurture through life with exercise, diet, a healthy lifestyle, and (of course) TCM.
Because your Acquired Essence is nourished in large part through your diet, your Spleen must be strong and healthy. Your Spleen is responsible for taking the food you eat, the air you breathe and the fluids you drink and transforming them into Qi (energy), Blood, Body Fluids, and Acquired Essence. When your Spleen is in good health, your Acquired Essence is in good supply and you are more fertile. Here are some tips on eating well to keep your Spleen healthy and your Acquired Essence in good supply:
1. Avoid Cold Foods. Because your Spleen likes warmth and slows down with cold, it's best to avoid cold foods when you're trying to conceive. Some cold foods are obvious, e.g. ice cream or cold drinks, but cold foods in TCM also include raw foods – even raw fruits and vegetables. Best solution? Try to cook your food while trying to get pregnant, even a little steaming if that's all you can manage. Next best idea? Drink a hot drink like green tea or boiled water to warm up your Spleen before eating that raw salad.
2. Avoid White Foods. So-called 'white foods' include foods that have been processed and often bleached of their colour, plus any dairy-containing foods. These types of food are very Yin in nature and create Dampness in the body, thus causing harm to your Spleen, which is particularly susceptible to damage from Dampness – one of the 'pernicious influences' in TCM. So avoid grains unless you can be sure that they're whole grains, and avoid dairy, even in yogurt. If dairy is really that important to you, however, some cottage cheese is acceptable in moderation since it doesn't seem to generate Dampness as much as other dairy products.
3. Avoid Sweets. The flavour associated with the Spleen is sweetness, and so too much sugar can damage your Spleen and make conception more difficult. Some fruit (although cold in nature) is acceptable, but cooked is better. Try steaming or baking some apples and eating them with a little honey – this can be very satisfying to a sweet tooth and can also be quite nourishing.
4. Eat Clean. This includes avoiding leftovers whenever possible because food that's been stored (even in the refrigerator) loses nutrients and Qi. This point also includes trying to eat organic and additive-, antibiotic- and hormone-free foods whenever possible, for the same reason that food that's been sprayed with pesticides or animals that have been raised unnaturally will have less nutrients and less Qi. The subject of eating clean could also point to how your food is cooked: cooking with gas energy is supposed to be the best, while electricity is next, and microwaving your food should be avoided whenever possible.
5. Eat More Broccoli. In fact all cruciferous vegetables help strengthen your Spleen and Kidneys, and are also good at helping to promote the efficient use of estrogen in the body. This factor can help reduce your risk of cancer as well.
6. Drink More Water. Preferably boiled water that you drink at room temperature, water is the element associated with the Kidneys and so can be linked to increasing your chances of conception. And while you're drinking more water in this fashion, try to eliminate caffeinated drinks as they can be too Yang in nature, and this potentially throw off the balance you're trying to achieve by nourishing your Kidneys. Also limit your alcohol too, as it is Damp and Hot in nature and can be harmful to your Spleen.
7. Seek Balance. On the subject of Yin and Yang, try not to have too much or too little of anything – get enough rest, don't work too much, exercise enough but don't overdo it, and try to not take too many supplements, vitamins or medication where possible. Obviously only limit your medication intake according to your doctor's instructions, but if they say you don’t really need what you're taking, then try to cut down.
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner
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