Stocking your larder with the right ingredients (and ditching the unhelpful ones) is the logical first step in creating a strong foundation in healthy cooking and if you’re a food nerd like me, something that you can get excited over! I feel so positive about cooking and happy to be in my kitchen when my larder is well-stocked with natural, whole-food ingredients that I know are good for me.
Below is a selection of my favourite fertility-boosting ingredients that are useful to have on hand, enabling you to whip up a healthful meal easily. I hope to inspire confidence and encourage you to add a few new items to your larder. I’ll chat about each ingredient and give my tips on selection, storage and preparation where appropriate. I’ll also let you know my favourite brands.
My whole grain staples are brown basmati rice, short grain brown rice and quinoa (which is actually a pseudo grain). I use long grain basmati as a side, for example with curries, and short grain rice for risottos, as it tends to be stickier (I don’t use risotto rice as it is white). Quinoa is fabulous as it is one of only a few plant-based complete proteins so I often use this to up the protein content of a dish, such as a salad. It’s also super easy to prepare and is cooked within 15 minutes. You must always rinse quinoa before cooking.
Gluten free flours
There are a great variety of inherently gluten free flours readily available now. My favourites are oat, buckwheat, quinoa and chickpea (gram) flour. Oat flour is lovely and dense and great for adding moisture so I often use it in baking (it’s fab in pancakes!). You can easily make oat flour yourself in a food processor, just process gluten free oats to your desired texture. Another staple is buckwheat flour which is relatively high in protein, I like it because it gives an earthy taste and I often use it in combination with oat flour. Quinoa flour is another lovely flour and like buckwheat, is a way of boosting protein in a dish. Finally, chickpea flour is also a wonderful baking flour, it is made from ground up chickpeas. I favour this in savoury bakes.
I buy all my flour directly from Shipton Mill, I have found it to be the best and I’ve tried a fair few! If you’d rather not buy individual flours you can get gluten free flour blends (Dove’s Farm, Bobs Red Mill), however, bear in mind that these will contain a high proportion of white rice flour, which is why I prefer to make my own blends.
Beans and legumes
I love beans and lentils as they are nutritional power houses! However they can be tough on your digestion, especially if you aren’t used to consuming them. I recommend introducing them slowly into your diet and if you have the time, buying beans dry and soaking then cooking them yourself. This requires a bit of forward planning but I believe is the best method for your fertility (and general health!) as you will avoid the plastic that lines cans and they will be more digestible. I buy all of my beans dry and soak them in double the volume of filtered water for at least 8 hours with a strip of wakame or kombu seaweed. The seaweed tenderises the outer skin of the bean and adds iodine, a mineral that is very important in pregnancy; the maternal thyroid hormones that depend on iodine for their production are essential for normal brain development in the foetus. After soaking rinse the beans and cook according to the instructions, you can then freeze these in glass containers for a convenient ready supply.
All beans and lentils are nutritionally dense foods, my favourites include black beans, chickpeas, edamame beans, kidney beans, brown lentils, green (puy) lentils, and yellow split peas.
Nuts and seeds
These are good sources of fertility-boosting protein, healthy fats and fibre. Essential fatty acids play a vital role in fertility and the healthy development of the foetus. Fibre is important for elimination and detoxification. Nuts and seeds make an excellent snack as they keep you fuller for longer so it’s useful to always have some on hand. They can be added to salads, stir fries and soups for an extra hit of protein. My staples include almonds, cashews, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and flaxseeds. Nut butters are also an important part of a fertility-friendly diet, great for snacking (e.g. with sliced apple or celery) and as an accompaniment to porridge or pancakes. My favourite brands are Biona, Meridian and Pip & Nut, or you can make it yourself. i always have almond, cashew and peanut butter in my larder.
I cook with organic, cold-pressed coconut oil (flavourless if I don’t want the taste of coconut oil in a dish), I use extra virgin olive oil to dress salads (don’t heat this to high temperatures – it’s best not to cook with this oil) and toasted sesame oil for Asian dishes, it has such a wonderful flavour.
Apple cider vinegar ‘with the mother’, this means that it is unrefined and still retains the mother culture (a complex structure of beneficial acids), I use Biona Organic. Rice vinegar is perfect for making stir fry sauces and organic balsamic vinegar is great for drizzling over salads or avocado toast.
Herbs and spices
I like to use fresh herbs wherever possible, in accordance with the seasons (e.g. basil, coriander, parsley). Of course it is great to have a good selection of dried herbs on hand too. My favourite brand is Steenbergs and I also use Barts. Make sure you store your dried herbs in a cool, dry place and to preserve spice strength buy whole spices and grind them yourself using a pestle and mortar when a recipe calls for a ground spice such as cumin. It’s worth having a good selection in your spice rack such as bay, black peppercorns, cayenne, chilli powder, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, curry powder, e.g. garam masala, ginger, oregano, smoked paprika and turmeric.
Other items that are useful to have in your larder include gluten free baking powder and bicarbonate of soda (Dove’s Farm), vegetable boullion powder (Steenbergs), nutritional yeast – this is a powder harvested from inactive yeast and has a cheesy flavour so it’s suitable for use in pasta dishes, tamari – a gluten free soy sauce (Clearspring), vanilla extract (Ndali – the only sugar free brand I have found) and milled flaxseeds (Linwoods).