Infertility in the Bible: Evidence that Food Matters for Fertility
Ciara Dove-Reid, RDN
August 25, 2022
Infertility in the Bible: Evidence that Food Matters for Fertility
Have you ever thought to yourself, what is the point of eating healthy during your fertility journey if God can give you a healthy baby regardless of your circumstances?
Well, today I want to pick up our Biblical perspectives of infertility series with the story of Samson’s mother, one of the most unique stories about infertility and food in the Bible-A story that teaches us that although God can do whatever He pleases, He still expects us to be active players in maintaining a healthy temple spiritually and physically.
The Story of Samson's Mother:
You may have heard the story of Samson in the Bible- He grew up to be an immensely strong man who supposedly got his strength from his hair. He would ultimatley deliver the Israelites from the slavery of the Philistines.
But before he came along, we see that his parents suffered from infertility. They both were slaves to the Philistines, and his mother is described as being barren, that is, until God gave her news that she would have a son.
“An angel of the Lord appeared to her [Samson's mother] and said to her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son” (Judge 13:3).
Biblical dietary instructions for conception/pregnancy:
Interestingly, the angel also gave her unique instructions regarding what she should eat to ensure the healthy delivery of her son, which we see followed in Judges 13:4.
“Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine, nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing: For lo though shalt conceive and bear a son.
Notice that the angel said “BEWARE-I PRAY THEE”those are very strong words. He was giving her a stern warning that failure to follow these dietary instructions could end in a very bad outcome.
But why did God go out of his way to tell them what to eat?
I believe he did this for two primary reasons:
To prepare them spiritually to be parents: By telling them to eat clean foods, they would have been reminded of God’s laws, his moral standards, and his overall existence. This may have been a very needed wake-up call for them as they were surrounded by Philistine culture which was centered around the worship of a false god named dagon, and inundated with witchcraft and sorcery. God needed them to be set apart so they could properly raise Samso in a world ridden with wickedness.
To ensure they had a healthy child: God’s dietary laws reflect a wealth of knowledge about the inner workings of our bodies. By telling them to avoid unclean foods and alcohol, he would have been ensuring that they gave birth to a healthy and intelligent baby boy.
The wisdom in "eating clean" and avoiding alcohol:
Let’s explore just how wise God’s dietary advice would have been for conception and pregnancy
Avoiding unclean foods:
Just to give a bit more insight, most of the foods God considered unclean happen to be animals that we now know carry a higher risk for dangerous foodborne illnesses such as shellfish, swine, and dogs. Eating the blood of any animals was also considered unclean (no rare burgers or sushi for them!).
Avoiding foods that naturally carry a larger risk of food-born illness would have been very good advice. Science tells us that due to the immunological changes needed for pregnancy, the risk of foodborne illness is far greater in pregnant women. This is important because foods borne illnesses greatly increase the risk of miscarriages.
You can read more about shellfish, pork, and food-borne illness on the blog under Biblical Health Insights, and stay tuned because we will be discussing more about foodborne illnesses and miscarriages on the blog too!
Avoiding Animal Fat!
Another dietary law the Israelites followed was removing cuts of fat from their animals-as it was reserved as a sacrifice to God by the priest which we see throughoutLeviticus chapter 7:
“ it shall be a perpetual statute for your generation throughout all your dwellings that ye eat neither fat nor blood”.
“ Speak unto the children of Isreal saying, Ye shall eat no manner of fat of ox, or of sheep, or of goat”.
*Note-this did not include dairy- the passage clearly noted what was considered animal fat which stressed visual portions of fat on various cuts of meat.
Why would avoiding animal fat have been a healthy practice for pregnancy?
The aversion of eating the fat of meat remains the most fascinating dietary practice God instituted, especially when considering the health implications.
One of the most consistent dietary risk factors for infertility (and other health concerns like heart disease) continues to be the consumption of saturated fat which is found in the highest amounts in animal fat. In contrast, consumption of plant-based fats have been associated with improved fertility in men and women.
Animal fat from red meats like beef, and goat, also contain naturally occurring trans fat, a type of fat that has been associated with a lot of negative reproductive outcomes including poor egg and sperm quality.
If Samson's mother were to have followed the dietary requirements instituted by God during that time, she would have greatly lowered her risk of having adverse reproductive outcomes that stemmed from many of the foods that were considered unclean.
Lastly, avoiding alcohol would have been very smart advice as well. The negative effects of alcohol on fetal health have been well researched. We are also learning more about the effects of alcohol and overall fertility.
The more alcohol a woman consumes, the higher the risk of negative fertility and reproductive outcomes.
Alcohol is also associated with hormonal changes in estrogen and testosterone in men and women, which may result in menstrual irregularity, and poor sperm quality in men.
To play devil’s, advocate, the newly emerging research shows that most women can conceive just fine if they drink moderate amounts of alcohol before and during pregnancy, but with all the data presented, my clinical consensus is that it should be limited (in my opinion avoided) if you want to increase your odds of having optimal reproductive outcomes, and I believe that God would agree with that consensus.
This dietary wisdom may have been very needed for Samson’s parents. Especially because most slaves assimilated into the culture of their captors, and historical records show that the philistines commonly ate foods that were considered unclean such as dogs and mayhaps alcohol was more commonplace as well.
Nonetheless, this story shows us that God appreciates us playing an active role in preparing for the blessings He has for us. Which almost always require physical and spiritual preparation.
This story reminds us of the importance of maintaining the physical body by eating wisely as you prepare to conceive and carry a child in your womb. It also stresses the importance of growing spiritually as you embark on the journey of becoming parents. God wants to see that you are an active participant in your journey to motherhood, so be proactive and fuel your body wisely and continue to seek God without ceasing.
What did you think about today’s post? Comment below!