Since the 80’s we’ve been told to avoid fat. Fat has taken the blame for most chronic health disorders from heart disease to cancer. Though fat from dairy products may not be all that bad when it comes to female fertility. The link between a high intake of low-fat dairy products and anovulatory (absence of ovulation) infertility has been well established.1 While a normal intake (1-2 serves daily) of whole of full-fat dairy products may actually be protective and benefit female fertility.2 Woman who are planning to conceive may benefit from swapping low fat or skim dairy, usually devoid of not only fat but also essential nutrients to organic, grass-fed full-fat dairy...
A lot of pregnant women report craving dairy products, usually ice cream, and it seems there is a good reason why. Full fat organic grass-fed dairy products can offer many nutritional benefits when preparing for and during pregnancy. While dairy products don’t always agree with everyone, they can offer nutritional benefits including a complete source of protein, omega 3 fatty acids, CLA, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K2.
Dairy products, especially cheese and yogurt, can offer a complete source of protein. The protein requirement for women increases by 25% during pregnancy, from 0.75g/kg of body weight to 1g/kg of body weight. I find that even non-pregnant women are struggling to meet their daily requirements. This is often due to displacing proteins rich foods with too many carbohydrate dense meals. Carbohydrate meals are often convenient, so it is easy to fall short of your protein requirement without even realising. I encourage my preconception clients to still include carbohydrates with their meals as they are important for ovulation, but to stick to complex ones like sprouted grain breads, legumes, and root vegetables, while ensuring at palm-sized portion of protein is consumed at each main meal.
We all know that dairy products are a good source of calcium. Interestingly, the calcium requirement for non-pregnant and pregnant women remains the same. This is because the intestinal calcium absorption and bone demineralisation of calcium3 are increased during pregnancy. Ensuring you are meeting your requirement (1000mg, per day) helps maintain your bone density, supports foetal skeletal development as well as muscle and nerve transmission. Studies have shown that ensuring adequate calcium intake is protective of developing pre-eclampsia, a complication in later pregnancy. 4
Full-fat dairy products are one of the few food sources of vitamin K2. K2 helps to regulate maternal bone loss, foetal skeletal development and is essential for the synthesis of blood clotting factors.
Vitamin D, though not technically a vitamin but a hormone, is also important to regulate calcium metabolism and bone health. It is also vital for optimal immune function, cellular differentiation, and blood sugar regulation. There aren’t many food sources of vitamin D and we rely mostly on sun exposure for our daily intake. The sun safety message has also been received and as you can imagine, vitamin D deficiency is very common. This is why testing vitamin D is high on my priority list for preconception blood work.
When choosing dairy products, always opt for organic to avoid synthetic hormone and pesticide residues. Milk and dairy products from cows that have been grazing on pasture will also offer more nutrients compared to conventionally raised cows.
I understand that dairy products don’t suit everyone. If lactose intolerance is an issue, you may be able to tolerate hard cheeses or fermented dairy such as yogurt and kefir. Fermented dairy products also offer the benefit of probiotics. If consuming plant-based milks, ensure they are free from vegetable oils,5 carrageen and as a general rule, fresh is best. Plant-based milks do not naturally contain the same amount of nutrients as dairy milk, though some are fortified with calcium, vitamins D and vitamin B12. Eating whole nuts will provide more nutrients when compared to nut milks.
In summary – Consume 1-2 serves of full-fat organic dairy products daily when planning to conceive and during pregnancy because it provides complete protein and a variety of essential nutrients. Avoid high intakes of low-fat dairy, as it is correlated with anovulatory infertility. If you cannot tolerate lactose, try fermented dairy and hard cheeses. When choosing plant-based milk, choose a refrigerated one, free from vegetable oils and ensure you are consuming adequate protein and calcium from other sources and getting enough sun exposure for vitamin D.
1 N. Panth, A. Gavarkovs, M. Tamez and J. Mattei, Front. Public Health, 2018, 6, 211.
2 J. E. Chavarro, J. W. Rich-Edwards, B. Rosner and W. C. Willett, Hum. Reprod., 2007, 22, 1340–1347.
3 M. L. Riess and J. K. Halm, J. Gen. Intern. Med., 2007, 22, 1212–1215.
4 H. C. Bucher, G. H. Guyatt, R. J. Cook, R. Hatala, D. J. Cook, J. D. Lang and D. Hunt, JAMA, 1996, 275, 1113–1117.
5 R. F. Mendes-da-Silva, D. J. S. Ferreira, A. A. C. Lopes-de-Morais, P. F. C. de Macêdo, C. J. Lagranha and M. Batista-de-Oliveira-Hornsby, Nutr. Neurosci., 2018, 21, 753–760.