By Charlyn Fargo
We don’t often think our diet could have an effect on whether we can conceive or not, but research shows it does. Good nutrition and a healthy body weight for both partners can have a significant impact on the ability to conceive.
Infertility affects about 9% of married women of childbearing age, according to a national survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To help with fertility, women need to maintain a healthy weight and choose foods that will promote a healthy baby — foods that are high in folic acid, iron and calcium. Foods high in folic acid include dark leafy green vegetables, fortified cereals and breads. Folic acid is needed to prevent neural tube defects. The neural tube develops into the brain and spine three to four weeks after conception, before most women even realize they’re pregnant.
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Foods high in iron include red meats, spinach, beans, lentils, fortified cereals, whole grains and enriched long-grain rice. You can enhance iron absorption by adding vitamin C to meals from foods such as strawberries, bell peppers or berries.
And to boost calcium, choose dairy products such as yogurt, milk, cheese and cottage cheese, as well as vegetables such as broccoli and leafy greens.
A woman who is underweight may have irregular menstrual cycles or stop ovulating altogether. In addition, those who participate in high-intensity exercise (like gymnastics or dancing), or those who have an eating disorder or follow highly restrictive diets, may be at an increased risk for reduced fertility.
A healthy weight is important for men as well because male obesity may alter hormone levels and lead to low sperm count or motility. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends loading up on fruits and vegetables, which contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that may help create strong sperm.
Who knew fruits and vegetables were so important to having a healthy baby?
There’s even a fertility diet, published by a team of Harvard researchers in 2007. In the fertility diet study, they found that women with ovulatory infertility who followed the diet had a 66% lower risk of ovulatory infertility and a 27% reduced risk of infertility from other causes than women who didn’t follow the diet.
Women following the “fertility diet” chose:
— Less trans fat and more monounsaturated fat (from foods such as avocados and olive oil).
— Less animal protein and more vegetable protein.
— More high-fiber, low-glycemic carbohydrate-rich foods (including whole grains),
— More vegetarian sources of iron and fewer meat sources.
— High-fat dairy instead of low-fat dairy.
The bottom line? Eating more vegetables and a variety of types, eating healthy monounsaturated fats instead of saturated and trans fats, making at least half your grains whole grains and getting enough calcium-rich foods — including dairy — will help meet nutrient needs, promote a healthy weight and conceive a healthy baby.
Q and A
Q: Avocados are high in calories. How can they be good for me?
A: It’s true avocados are high in calories due to their fat content, but the fat is considered a good (monounsaturated) fat, like olive oil. Over 75% of an avocado’s fat is unsaturated. Studies show that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat while staying within calorie needs is more effective in reducing the risk of heart disease than simply lowering total fat intake. Fresh avocados are a smart, vegetarian substitute for animal fats in baked goods, sauces, smoothies and salad dressings. Like any fat in your diet, the key is moderation.
Here’s a recipe to incorporate avocado’s healthy fat into your diet. These Chocolate Avocado Energy Bars are a no-bake bar that deliver a boost of energy when you need it.
CHOCOLATE AVOCADO ENERGY BARS
1 cup pitted dates
1 cup almonds, toasted, slivered
1 ripe, fresh avocado, halved, pitted and peeled
1/2 cup coconut, shredded
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup raw shelled sunflower seeds
Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Process dates, almonds and avocado in a food processor until mixture is finely chopped and sticky. Add coconut, chia seeds and cocoa powder, and pulse until mixture is well combined. Stir in sunflower seeds. Press mixture into prepared pan, and refrigerate until firm and chilled, at least 2 hours. Cut into 16 bars, and store in refrigerator. Makes 16 servings (serving size: 1 bar).
Per serving: 140 calories; 4 grams protein; 14 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams fat (2 grams saturated); 5 grams fiber; 0 milligrams sodium.
Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com
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