How food affects our health and fertility
Your digestive system has it tough. It has take all that good food you eat — and all the junk too — and turn it into the nutrients that fuel your body and keep you running in top form. It’s those nutrients that nourish your maturing eggs, keep your hormones balanced, build your uterine lining, and, eventually, will help build a whole new person inside you. That’s a big ask!
When we don’t eat the cleanest food, our digestion and metabolism are damaged and they don’t perform as well. This means that we have a harder time converting food into energy and the building blocks that our body needs. Environmental toxins and chemicals in our food can also damage digestion. It’s like putting dirty gas in your car’s engine — it’s not going to burn hot and clean, and you’re not going to get very far.
One fantastic way to tune up your digestive system is by eating congee. Do not skip this recommendation. It can make a HUGE difference in your digestion, energy, sweet cravings and healthy weight management.
What is Congee?
Congee is a traditional, highly nourishing Chinese breakfast used for healing since the Han Dynasty (206 BCE). Made with rice, other grains, and water, eating congee is a simple and powerful way to support digestion and overall health. Translated as ‘rice water’, it’s a slow cooked rice porridge that, when added to the diet, offers easily digestible nutrition to boost metabolism and build blood. Slow cooking breaks down rice kernel into a state that the body can easily absorb, and in Chinese medicine, warm foods are more digestive friendly than cold foods like cereal and yogurt.
So why is eating congee helpful for fertility?
In order for your body to function properly, produce all the necessary hormones, generate blood to create a good uterine lining, and grow strong healthy follicles (that ultimately lead to strong healthy babies) you need energy and nutrients. The only way your body can get this energy is by absorbing it from the foods you eat. The problem for many isn’t that they aren’t eating, but rather their digestion is so week it isn’t absorbing many of the vital nutrients from the food. Eating congee improves metabolism and boosts digestion activity. This breakfast will warm your digestive organs while removing excess fluids and providing therapeutic value. Plus since you can make a week’s worth at a time, it cuts down morning stress and ensures that you have a healthy start every day.
It’s good to eat congee in the mornings on an empty stomach so your body gets quick nutrients right away. Because it is already so broken down you will often find yourself hungry again soon after eating. Adding a bit of fat to the recipe can help keep you full a little longer and can add some valuable nutrients.
So how do you make it?
- 1 cup of rice
- 8 cups of water
- Put the ingredients into a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Cover and bring to a boil.
- After it reaches boil, reduce to lowest temperature to bring to a simmer.
- Cook covered, stirring every 30-45 minutes, for 2-3 hours or until rice takes on a consistency of porridge. If rice becomes dry, you may need to add more water.
- Note: Using a slow cooker is an ideal and easy way to cook congee, Combine rice and water in a crock pot. Add in additional ingredients, listed below. Cook on low setting for about 6 hours. Stir occasionally. Add salt to taste. Portion it out in glass containers for easy heating in the mornings. Dilute if desired when preparing.
- Extra note: this can also easily be made in an Instant Pot which reduces cook time drastically.
When the congee is cooked you may add most anything you want to give it flavor and a higher nutrient content. Some common additions that are especially good for fertility, pregnancy and postpartum health:
- Bone broth: Use chicken, beef, pork bone broth in place of the water
- Grains: Use millet, quinoa, amaranth, or any combination of the grains
- Hard-Boiled Eggs: Eggs are very beneficial for building blood. They moisten dryness in the body, and regulate the GI tract. Very good post-partum food. (Add the hard boiled eggs post-cooking)
- Meat: Beef or chicken (always use organic, grass-fed)
- Ginger: Add slices as a great additive for pregnant women with mild morning sickness. For fertility, use after ovulation
- Black sesame seeds: Grind 2 tablespoons to the uncooked rice. Black sesame seeds nourish the reproductive system for fertility and build blood for postpartum.
- Dark Leafy Greens: Bok choy, chard, kale and any other greens
- Mushrooms: Mushrooms are nutrient dense, contain amino acid and antioxidants, and stimulate the immune response
- Kimchee– Fermented Korean vegetables. High in Vitamins A, C and probiotics
- Adzuki Beans: Increase urination to treat fluid retention
- Carrots: Carrots contain beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A and which helps to produce the female sex hormones important for ovulation. During pregnancy and throughout the breastfeeding period, vitamin A has an important role in the healthy development of the fetus and the newborn, with lung development and maturation being particularly important.
Breakfast option: Add cinnamon, honey, 1 teaspoon coconut oil, and fruits and nuts (place all ingredients in pot with rice and cook for the 3-4 hours instructed above). Once cooked, serve with shredded coconut, nuts and seeds, chia seeds, and/or fruit and berries.
As the seasons change, it’s normal to feel the need for something a bit more substantial. The colder weather inviting us to bring out the crock pot and get cooking! This is a warming and nourishing variation on the breakfast congee that we recommend eating a few times a week. You can use this recipe for your morning congee, if you like, or for a gentle nourishing meal on these crisp shorter days. This is a combination of many recipes and some modifications I’ve made along the way. As always, halve the recipe if you can’t get your partner to use the magic of congee with you. It will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 days.
- 6 cups water
- 4 cups organic low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 cup organic long-grain brown rice
- 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, skin on and sliced into 4 chunks
- 2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more as needed
- 6 scallions—2 whole, 4 thinly sliced for garnish
- Coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
1. In the slow cooker, combine the rice, stock, water, salt, sliced ginger and whole scallions. Cover and cook on low overnight or high for 4 hours.
2.Pick out and discard the ginger and whole scallions. Stir the chicken into the congee.
3.Season the congee with cilantro, scallions and additional salt if desired
Breakfast Bliss Congee
Have a serving of congee each morning to start the day or you can make a more savory version for lunch/supper. We recommend adding dried fruit, almonds, and a natural fat (butter, coconut oil, etc.), but I love experimenting with different add-ins and I love hearing how my patients dress up their congee. Here are some ideas:
- crack one egg into the pot when you’re reheating, which makes congee nice and creamy, and has great flavor. A touch of cojito or feta or parmesan and some salt and pepper makes a great breakfast treat.
- add leftover diced grilled chicken along with a dark leafy green (chopped kale, spinach, bok choy) and mushrooms. Season it up with a little soy sauce and chili paste.
- add shrimp, some sauteed onion and a little cheddar cheese topped with parsley for a congee version of shrimp and grits.
The possibilities are endless, and a great way to get protein and veggie servings. Congee is really a great fertility friendly addition to your diet, helping to regulate digestion and promote blood building in the body. Make your weekly batch on Sunday and you’ll have it ready for your whole week!
Sweet & Savory Congee
The sweet and salty flavors along with the healthy oils help give extra nutrients to support blood production. It is simple, easy and affordable.
- ½ cup brown rice
- ½ cup steel cut oats
- 7 cups water
- Cooked on low in a crockpot overnight (or about 8 hours)
After cooking add:
- a few tablespoons of a healthy butter alternative, flax seed oil or coconut oil, salt and honey and/or molasses to taste