Plant-based Diets, Fertility, and Pregnancy
During ovulation, blood sugar levels can be more erratic than at other times of the month. When blood sugar levels are too unstable, it can lead to something called insulin resistance, where it becomes more difficult for your body to utilize the insulin it creates. Eventually, extremely high insulin levels can lead to irregular menstrual cycles and—because your ovaries have insulin receptors and too much insulin in your system could cause ovaries to produce extra testosterone—even infertility. Maintaining balanced blood sugar levels can actually help keep hormone levels healthy and support ovulation.
Additionally, when your body becomes resistant to insulin and experiences high blood sugar levels, it can decrease progesterone levels, which also leads to a host of menstrual issues like irregularity or exaggerated PMS symptoms. While decreasing progesterone, which is also necessary for a healthy pregnancy in the early days after fertilization, increased insulin can also cause a rise in estrogen, which can contribute to uncomfortable menstrual symptoms like a heavy flow or breast tenderness.
It’s no secret that one of the best health benefits of eating primarily plant-based meals is the stabilization of blood sugar levels. A vegan diet is naturally high in fiber and healthy fats, which slow down digestion, keeping blood sugar levels steady, while also including lots of fruits and vegetables that have little effect on blood sugar overall. So, because eating a plant-based diet usually means you’ll regulate your blood sugar, it can benefit women especially in terms of hormone levels that are involved with fertility, menstruation, and pregnancy.
Moreover, vegan and vegetarian diets are packed with vitamins and minerals that are necessary for healthy menstrual cycles, conception, and early pregnancy. One nutrient that’s singularly significant during the luteal phase—between ovulation and menstruation—is magnesium. Magnesium is the primary mineral needed to maintain healthy progesterone levels. Many foods the Hallelujah Diet loves to include are super magnesium-rich; avocados, nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains, bananas, and leafy greens are all excellent sources of this meaningful mineral.
Another integral ingredient for a healthy, successful pregnancy is folate. A smart vegan diet contains plenty of folate, the natural form of folic acid. Women of childbearing age are recommended to consume about 400 mg a day of folate supplements. Birth defects can develop extremely early on in pregnancy, so women who might or plan to become pregnant should be keeping their folate levels high all the time, before you even conceive, to reduce your risk of a pregnancy resulting in birth defects. Foods the Hallelujah Diet encourages that are full of folate are leafy greens, avocados, legumes, sunflower seeds and peanuts, fresh fruits, and much more.
Finally, the antioxidants present in many fruits and vegetables also fight against oxidative stress and positively impact egg quality.
Uterine and Vaginal Health
Endometriosis is a painful condition afflicting many women—up to 1 in 10 women will experience this condition during their years of fertility. Non-cancerous cells that are similar in makeup to the cells lining the uterus (endometrial cells) begin to grow outside the uterus. Symptoms are rough: pelvic pain, diarrhea, constipation, low back pain, fatigue, bloating, intense cramping—it’s a truly debilitating condition that, left untreated, can even lead to infertility.
One thing that can help with endometriosis is eating a plant-based vegan diet! Trans fats (an unhealthy form of saturated fat) and red meat, which are present in the Standard American Diet we call SAD, are two foods which actually exacerbate the condition. On the other hand, a vegan diet contains many nutrients that can help assuage and avoid endometriosis. Once again, fiber is your friend, so eating things like legumes and whole grains is wise. A diet rich in iron can help, too, so dark leafy greens, broccoli, nuts, and seeds are in order. Fatty acids found in things like avocados, and many nuts and seeds like chia or walnuts, are also recommended. What’s more, low magnesium levels have been associated with the development of endometriosis, so that’s another way a vegan diet helps you stay healthy. And lastly, foods like berries and beets, which are full of highly effective antioxidants, can also fight off some of the painful symptoms of endometriosis.
Fibroids, another painful growth, are tumors made of muscle cells and fibrous tissue, and can appear most commonly outside the uterus, where they invade pelvic space and cause pain, or within the walls of the uterus itself. Fibroids particularly afflict black women; while 6% of white women between the ages of 18 to 30 experience fibroids, almost 25% of black women do. Fibroids exhibit many of the same symptoms as endometriosis like painful periods and pelvic pain, but also frequent urination and difficulty conceiving. Fibroids can even cause a miscarriage. Again, diets high in processed foods can make fibroid symptoms worse, and so can alcohol and caffeine. And again, plant-based meals are more helpful; research shows that eating foods rich in fiber and potassium can help slow the growth of fibroids and manage symptoms. Potassium-rich vegan foods include of course bananas and avocado, but also potatoes, tomatoes, collard greens, cantaloupe, citrus fruits, and dates.
As for general vaginal health, women should focus on maintaining healthy pH levels throughout their bodies, and on keeping the microbiome of the vagina in good condition, keeping both bacteria and yeast in check. Factory-farmed red meat and highly processed foods contain things like antibiotics and artificial hormones that can wreak havoc on your body and cause dysbiosis—an imbalance of the bacteria naturally occurring in your body that can lead to bacterial infections. Plant-based diets, on the contrary, help regulate pH levels and keep mucus membranes functioning well so you can avoid things like yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. Beta carotene and vitamin A are essential for mucus membrane function, and the superfood sweet potatoes contain these important nutrients in abundance; they have the added benefit of regulating insulin levels. Garlic, turmeric, and apple cider vinegar have all been shown to help combat yeast infections. Coconut oil is another amazingly effective vegan food that helps with yeast infections as it has incredibly strong antifungal and antimicrobial properties.
Chronic Inflammation and Autoimmune Disease
Autoimmune diseases, which include ailments like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease, among many others, happen when the body’s immune system turns on itself and attacks healthy cells. Nearly 80% of people with autoimmune diseases are women, making this issue an important focus of women’s health. One thing research suggests contributes to the development of autoimmune disease is chronic inflammation, which can negatively affect the body in other ways, too, causing persistent joint pain and muscle aches, ongoing fatigue, fever, certain skin rashes like psoriasis, and abdominal pain. Foods that make inflammation worse are fried foods, cured meats, trans fats, and highly processed sugars. In other words, the antithesis to a healthy vegan diet. An anti-inflammatory diet includes yet again foods that are high in fiber—fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains—and Omega-3s found in things like nuts and seeds.
Heart Disease and Cardiovascular Health
The number one killer of women in the world is heart disease. Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) account for a whopping 35% of deaths among women globally. Heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, arrhythmia, and problems with heart valves make up most of the diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels.
Even the American Heart Association has proclaimed that a plant-based diet is an effective preventative against CVD, for adults of all ages. One study showed that for young adults, and into middle adulthood, a plant-based diet reduced the risk of CVD developing in middle age. And another study showed that for post-menopausal women, eating a mostly plant-centric diet focused on lowering cholesterol levels was integral to fighting heart disease. A healthy, vegan diet that includes a variety of plant-based foods will automatically lower cholesterol. Some of the best foods to lower “bad cholesterol” are whole grains, oats, beans, eggplant and okra, apples and grapes, and expeller-pressed, unrefined oils like sunflower oil and canola oil.
The largest risk factor of all for cardiovascular disease is high blood pressure. A vegan diet is, perhaps unsurprisingly, very effective at lowering blood pressure and then keeping it there. Anthocyanins are a specific type of antioxidant that research suggests lower blood pressure—and they’re plentiful in delicious berries like blueberries and strawberries, a perfect addition to any vegan meal. Two other fun foods that help lower blood pressure are pistachios and kiwi. Incorporating these into your diet can work wonders for your heart health.
As women get older, their bone density decreases a great deal; it’s estimated that in the first five years after menopause, a woman can lose up to 10% of her bone mass. When bone mineral density and bone mass are greatly reduced, osteoporosis can develop. Bones can become so fragile that even the slightest impact or injury can cause a break or a fracture. It’s important for women, especially, to eat a diet that bolsters bone health. Of course, the most important ingredient to achieve this goal is calcium. Many people think that a vegan diet can’t replace the calcium provided by dairy products, but in fact, it can—in ways that are healthier for you because these foods often have multiple health benefits. Collard greens and other dark leafy greens are rich in calcium and have a balanced amount of magnesium, which is also critical for bone health. Other good sources are figs, soybeans, and tempeh.
Women’s life expectancy has always been higher than men’s, but in recent years, as men’s life expectancy improves, the gap between men’s and women’s life expectancies has narrowed noticeably, suggesting that as men’s health is definitely getting better, women’s health may be lagging. A well-known feature of a plant-based vegan diet is that it can actually increase life expectancy. One Swedish study found that a vegan diet can add 10 to 13 years to a person’s life! And even if a person doesn’t make the switch until after age 60, a vegan diet can still add up to 9 years to someone’s lifespan. It’s the compounded benefits of a vegan diet that contribute to this overall extension of life. A vegan diet, as mentioned, is beneficial for many aspects of health—combating heart disease, fighting against cancer, and improving brain health overall.
Recommended Supplements for Women on a Vegan Diet
While a vegan diet can supply everything a woman needs to stay in prime condition, we know sometimes you need a little extra assistance. That’s why the Hallelujah Diet also suggests taking dietary supplements to boost your health. You can take our quiz here to see which combination of supplements would be the most useful for you.
Ultimately, the SAD diet, which is high in processed foods and unhealthy additives, can be damaging to a woman’s health. The Hallelujah Diet can work to undo some of that damage and to fortify a woman’s body, so it functions at optimal levels of overall health, leading to a happier life.