The Norman Transcript

February 23, 2014

Healthy foods can help reproduction

By Nicole Hudon, RD/LD
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Q: My husband and I have decided to begin a family. Are there any diet changes I should make?

A: When it comes to reproduction, diet plays a key part. Not only your diet but your partner’s diet, as well.

One area that researchers agree upon with regard to fertility and health is body weight. Body weight extremes are not good for fertility, and being overweight can affect hormonal balance in both women and men. Being too light also can make it harder for women to get pregnant, as well as affect the size and strength of the sperm.

To get closer to achieving a healthy weight, as a couple you can:

· Get moving. Along with healthy eating, get moderate physical activity for about 30 minutes on most days of the week. Men — keep it moderate. Too much exercise may negatively affect sperm counts, and avoid testosterone supplements.

· Add in strength training to build muscle. Having more body fat than lean muscle mass is not good for fertility. (Body fat affects hormone balance.) Lift light weights or use resistance bands at least three times a week. This will help you build muscle and lose body fat.

· Make calories count. Keep weight within a healthy range, avoiding excess calories from added sugars in regular soda, sweets and baked goods.

· Balance calories and activities. Balance your overall calorie intake with the amount of calories you burn every day. It’s a step in the right direction for getting pregnant and staying healthy for life.

Women-specific:

· Increase iron-rich foods. Other than red meat, foods high in iron include all types of beans, eggs, lentils, spinach, fortified cereals, long-grain enriched rice and whole grains. Add vitamin C from citrus fruits, bell peppers or berries to your meals to enhance iron absorption.

· Befriend folic acid. While it will not increase your fertility, when trying to get pregnant, it is important to increase folic acid to 400mcg a day to help prevent neural tube defects such as Spina Bifida, which often develops within the first month of conception before you may know you are pregnant. Food sources of folic acid include dark, leafy green vegetables and fortified grains. Many women add a supplement when approved by their physician.

· Research the “Fertility Diet.” Published by a team of Harvard researchers in 2007, researchers found that women with ovulatory infertility who followed this eating plan had a 66 percent lower risk of ovulatory infertility and a 27 percent reduced risk of infertility from other causes than women who didn’t follow the diet closely.

Women following the “fertility diet” chose, less trans fat and more monounsaturated fat (like avocados and olive oil), less animal protein and more vegetable protein, more high-fiber, low-glycemic carbohydrates (like whole grains), more vegetarian sources of iron and fewer meat sources, multivitamins and high-fat dairy instead of low-fat dairy.

In general, eating more vegetables, swapping healthy monounsaturated fats for saturated and trans fats, making at least half your grains whole and getting enough calcium-rich foods — like dairy — will help you meet nutrient needs and promote a healthy weight.

Men-specific diet adjustment:

One-third of the cases of infertility are related to the male partner. Some common causes of sperm-related infertility are low sperm count, slow-moving sperm, abnormal shape and size of sperm and problems with semen. Diet and lifestyle choices can affect the health of a man’s sperm.

Eating for fertility:

· Get your fruits and vegetables. Color your plate with at least 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit: leafy greens, purple and yellow vegetables, apples, oranges, kiwi, blueberries and melon.

· Choose whole grains. Eat at least half of all grains as whole grains each day, like a bowl of oatmeal in the morning, whole-grain bread at lunch and brown rice with dinner.

· Eat low-fat dairy. Dairy products are full of calcium, vitamin D, potassium and protein — all nutrients that keep your body functioning well. Choose at least three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy, such as one cup of milk or yogurt or one ounce of cheese each day.

· Cut down on meat. Eat less red meat and choose leaner protein sources: fish, turkey, chicken breast or pork chops. Eat vegetable proteins like beans, nuts, seeds and tofu.

· Be smart about fats. Limit saturated fats from meats, full-fat dairy products and fried foods. Replace with healthy fats. Snack on an ounce of walnuts or almonds each day, drizzle extra-virgin olive oil on roasted vegetables and salads or add avocado to your sandwich.

Other healthy lifestyle choices for conception:

· Don’t drink too much alcohol. Over-consuming alcohol is linked with poor production of normal, healthy sperm. If you drink alcohol, follow these guidelines for men: no more than two drinks a day (one drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1 1/2 ounces of spirits).

· Avoid cigarettes and marijuana. Tobacco use is linked with low sperm counts and slow-moving sperm; smoking marijuana over a prolonged period of time can result in low sperm counts and poorly developed sperm.

Information adapted from EATRIGHT.org as authored by Caroline Kaufman, MS, RDN, is a family nutrition expert and freelance writer. Norman Regional Health System offers the guidance of registered dietitians. Those interested can schedule an appointment with a referral from their physician.

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