There’s no shortage of advice on what you should eat when trying to get pregnant. Much less is known about how food—or more precisely the preservatives, hormones, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals lurking there—could interfere with your ability to conceive. To be on the safe side, some experts think now may be the time to go organic with at least some of the foods you consume. “The science is still inconclusive, but there is some suggestion that women exposed to persistent organic pollutants have more reproductive health problems that can lead to problems with fertility,” says Tracey Woodruff, Ph.D., director of the Program for Reproductive Health and Environment at the University of California at San Francisco.
One of the proponents of going green is Robert Greene, M.D., medical director of the Sher Institutes for Reproductive Medicine of Northern California. In his new book, Perfect Hormone Balance for Fertility (Three Rivers Press, 2008), Dr. Greene notes that about 90 percent of our total intake of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, preservatives, additives, and antibiotics comes from the foods we eat. Most of these chemicals, he adds, are hormone disrupters, which interfere with the body’s hormone balance and can reduce fertility or lead to miscarriage.
While organic foods are becoming more widely available, they still tend to be more expensive. If cost is an issue, Dr. Greene recommends focusing organic purchases on animal products (meat and dairy), which he says are likely to contain the highest levels of hormone disrupter chemicals. Dr. Greene also writes, “The most harmful BioMutagens are contained in the fat of meat and fish, so always buy lean and low-fat products.” Another good strategy is to take a good look at your daily diet, and then buy organic versions of the foods you eat most frequently.
Among fruits and vegetables, levels of pesticide residues can vary significantly, according to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). Opt to go green at least with the fruits and vegetables that are most likely to be contaminated (see chart below).
The IATP also advises that consumers buy produce from small, local farmers whenever possible. Not only is this produce generally fresher and more flavorful, but it also tends to harbor fewer chemicals than foods grown on large industrial farms. Whatever their source, fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed in cold water before being eaten. Washing can remove at least half of pesticide residues, as well as pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella, which can cause illness.
Through the foods you choose, as in all things, the goal is to maintain optimum health when you’re trying to conceive. “Anything you can do to improve overall health is likely to maximize your fertility and ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby,” says Louis DePaolo, M.D., chief of the Reproductive Sciences Branch at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Highest Pesticide Residues
Moderate Pesticide Residues
Lowest Pesticide Residues
A version of this article originally appeared in the Summer 2008 issue of Conceive Magazine .