When I was pregnant, I craved cold milk. I don’t normally consume much dairy at all, but for some reason cold milk on cereal was my vice. I just assumed that my body needed more calcium, B12 or something and gave it what it asked for.
One of the most common questions is, ‘do you eat gluten + dairy?’ During the Wholesome Inc. Preconception Program we encourage you to be your body’s number one advocate, to get to know the foods that work for you, and to be gentle with yourself and cut yourself some slack. So where does that leave the things we really love, like pizza + cheese… or cheesy pizza, mmmm…. Well, that’s not for me to say.
What I can tell you is that there is significant research around linking infertility and gluten. Women with fertility issues are:
- 3 x more likely to have celiac disease (an auto-immune condition where the immune system starts attacking the lining of your small intestine); and
- are more likely to have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance, triggering an inflammatory response in the intestine and often throughout the body.
The research on dairy and fertility is less conclusive. One study shows that full-fat dairy improves IVF success rates (to be taken with a grain of salt because Nestle was part of the panel)[i], and other studies show the scary impacts of consuming excess estrogens found in milk and dairy[ii]. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, dairy is quite stagnant, damp, and mucous-producing. This isn’t what we want when trying to make a baby – we prefer a warm body with the blood circulating and juices flowing. One thing is for sure, low-fat dairy is a definite no-go[iii].
If you have endometriosis, fibroids or have been trying to conceive for over 6 months, I would strongly suggest reducing your intake of inflammatory foods.
Both gluten + dairy sensitivities can cause inflammation in your intestines. That inflammation causes damage to the lining of the gut. Tiny gaps then allow microscopic food particles to pass through into the bloodstream undigested. The body reacts to this with an immune response, increasing inflammatory markers. This signals to the adrenals that there is an increased element of internal stress. Over time, that creates an increase in cortisol secretion and disrupts thyroid hormones, insulin secretion, and ovulation. This is when hormones go haywire and symptoms present; anything from increased PMS to infertility.
Get to know your body
If you are getting bloated, blocked up, loose stools or gassy after eating, it is a sure sign that something you’re eating doesn’t suit your body or your personal constitution. Remove them, or try preparing them in different ways to see if it helps (i.e. soak grains and pulses in water with a little apple cider vinegar, or try cultured yoghurt or kefir instead of milk). Remember, what suits one body type, doesn’t suit all body types (even if it is the latest superfood!).
I personally limit dairy intake and I avoid gluten all together (apart from the unavoidable like friend’s dinner party, or the downright impossible, like nan’s mince pies at Christmas). I believe that everyone would feel better for removing gluten. If you want to boost your fertility, it’s a no brainer. So during the program, we remove gluten all together and we have very limited amounts of dairy.
There are two weeks that we go dairy free to assess whether your body and your digestion are better without it (NB: This is not a thorough elimination diet to assess an intolerance, if you suspect an actual intolerance you can find more information on that here).
So many options
We are lucky to live in an age where we are spoilt for choice. There are plenty of gluten free and dairy alternatives to choose from. The processed alternatives can often be loaded with junk like sugar, salt, thickeners and preservatives, so try and keep these for back ups when you can’t be f’ed.
Some of my favourite gluten free grains are:
- Rice – basmati & brown rice are the lowest GI varieties
- Buckwheat – use it in porridge, as a rice substitute, flour or the activated groats
- Millet – a great cous cous alternative
- Coconut flour – for baking
- Quinoa – the great all rounder, which packs a protein punch. If you get gassy from quinoa, try soaking overnight in water with some apple cider vinegar before cooking; this is the only way I can eat it.
Non-dairy calcium-rich options which are packed with nutrients and antioxidants include: figs, sesame seeds or tahini, edamame, sardines and salmon (with bones), almonds, tofu and greens like spinach, kale, beet greens, broccoli, and bok choy.
Be gentle with yourself
Becoming too restrictive and too obsessed with ‘healthy’ food is not healthy. And it is not a long-term solution. Some dairy and wheat in your diet is fine. If you are craving butter and fresh, crusty bread, go for it. Just choose quality and eat in moderation. Remember, we are developing positive associations with food – our energy force and life giver. We’re making choices based on what makes our bodies hum… and sometimes, pizza just makes me hum.
* Note: oats are still part of the menu occasionally. Many people believe that oats contain gluten, but this isn’t the case. Oats contain avenin, which is a protein similar to gluten. However, research has shown that most people with coeliac disease can safely eat avenin. Problems can occur if oats are produced in the same place as wheat, barley and rye, as the oats can become contaminated with these other grains, so if you are coeliac, it’s best to avoid them[iv].
* Note this also: If you’re concerned about bone health, you should check out this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_IRYDnjiUU). Dr. Walter Willet3t, M.D., Ph.D who is the head of nutrition at Harvard’s School of Public Health (and the second-most-cited scientist in all of clinical medicine!). He has studied this topic in depth and makes a great point about strong point about reducing or eliminating your dairy intake.
[i] Dairy intake in relation to in vitro fertilization outcomes among women from a fertility clinic.
Hum Reprod. 2016 Mar;31(3):563-71. doi: 10.1093/humrep/dev344. Epub 2016 Jan 18.
[iii] Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner B, Willett WC. “A prospective study of dairy foods intake and anovulatory infertility”, Human Reproduction, 2007 May;22(5):1340-7. Epub 2007 Feb 28.
[iv] Oats, Coeliac UK: https://www.coeliac.org.uk/gluten-free-diet-and-lifestyle/gf-diet/oats/