By Sue Bedford (MSc Nut Th)
Signs of spring are finally starting to show themselves after what feels like a never-ending grey and wet winter here in the UK
Spring bulbs are out giving us that much needed boost of colour to lift our spirits. A new season means different things to different people, for those trying to conceive it could mean taking a fresh approach to their diet and including plenty of locally sourced seasonal fruit and vegetables into their daily menu.
The importance of green foods in our diet is now being validated scientifically. Green foods are packed with vital nutrients. Greens have long been known to help with the formation of blood and the proper functioning of the circulatory and immune system in the body. There is also increasing evidence from research to suggest that green vegetables, algae, tea, along with certain grasses and seeds (to name a few) are now linked to improving reproductive health. A study published in Nature Communications in 2013 found that fathers with a diet deficient in folate were more likely to have offspring with abnormalities of the head, face and sternum (breastbone) and a build-up of fluid on the brain. In addition, a study published in the Journal of Fertility and Sterility found that low levels of folic acid in men were linked with low sperm counts and less active sperm. So, as we approach the end of the winter months why not try to include some of the following greens in your diet this spring!
Spring greens are the first cabbages of the year and are available from April to June. Spring greens do not have the hard core which is found in the middle of fully-grown cabbages. Spring greens are particularly rich in vitamin C, folate and dietary fibre all of which are vital in boosting fertility! Spring greens also contain natural compounds such as sulforaphane and indoles. Evidence suggests that these plant chemicals have anti-inflammatory properties, which is also important for fertility as inflammation is believed to be one of the root causes of many imbalances in the body. The stress of inflammation is indicated as a contributing factor in several infertility diagnosis including PCOS, endometriosis, recurrent miscarriage, poor sperm and egg quality.
Kale is a member of the cruciferous family and is packed full of antioxidants and nutrients. In addition to conventional antioxidants like vitamin C, beta-carotene, and manganese, Kale also provides us with at least 45 different recently discovered flavonoids, including kaempferol and quercetin. Many of the flavonoids in Kale are also now known to function not only as antioxidants, but also as anti-inflammatory compounds. Kale is a phyto-nutrient which is known to promote health by enhancing the immune system, repairing damage to and protecting cells, and removing harmful products from the body, and reducing inflammation. This makes Kale a fantastic choice for providing a healthy diet for fertility, especially for those with PCOS or endometriosis.
Kale is also an excellent source of Vitamin A, and is also one of the best plant based sources of calcium, which is important for fertility because calcium plays a role in egg maturation and follicular development.
Why not try kale just sautéed in a pan with a drizzle of olive oil and a little garlic, or in combination with any other vegetable(s) that you may fancy. Or put a handful in your smoothie!
Organic Wheat Grass
Wheatgrass juice is an excellent source of living chlorophyll. It is high in oxygen like all green plants that contain chlorophyll. Wheat grass is beneficial to fertility for the number of positive effects it has on the body. Consumption of wheat grass helps to balance PH levels in the body to make a more suitable environment for eggs and sperm. It increases oxygen levels in the body to improve cell and organ structure and acts as an overall fertility enhancer.
Why not try adding some to a smoothie?
Spirulina is a tiny aquatic plant that has been eaten by humans since prehistoric times and is grown worldwide. It has numerous health benefits and is an excellent source of protein and GLA (fatty acid). Spirulina is very high in bio chelated iron and contains a good amount of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and folic acid (but is not considered to be a reliable source of vitamin B12). It also contains vitamins C, D, A and E along with the minerals zinc, selenium, iron, manganese, calcium, potassium, copper and chromium.
Why not try adding a small spoonful of spirulina powder into a glass of water, juice or a smoothie. It works well in combination with sweeter fruit like bananas, mango and pineapple.
Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, vitamin B2, calcium, potassium, and vitamin B6. It is a very good source of dietary fibre, copper, protein, phosphorus, zinc and vitamin E. In addition, it is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, niacin and selenium. Spinach is a super-food that provides the body with an enormous amount of healthy vitamins and nutrients that are important for fertility and pregnancy. Spinach is rich in iron and folic acid, two nutrients which are important to reproduction and foetal health. Folic acid is important in preventing neural tube defects in the foetus, and iron helps to promote oxygen levels in cells, organs and the fetus.
Why not steam and eat with a main meal or, as it is so versatile add a handful or two to your smoothie, salad or pasta dishes!
Flaxseeds are rich in alpha linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fat that is a precursor to the form of omega-3 found in fish oils called eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA. Flaxseed is thought to be particularly beneficial for boosting female fertility. It is high in Omega-3 fatty acids and helps to regulate hormones in the body. It can be used to help a number of different female issues including menstrual cycle issues.
Try sprinkling over your porridge or cereal in the morning, or add to soups and stews. It is easy to put a handful into a smoothie too!
Chlorella a natural algae, is an excellent food for detoxification. It supports the body in cleansing toxins. This helps the body create the correct environment to help produce healthy sperm and eggs.
Why not try adding a small teaspoon once a day (preferably in the morning) to your smoothie, cereal, porridge, yoghurt or soup?
Organic Barley Grass
Barley Grass is considered to have one of the most balanced nutrient profiles of all green plants because of its abundance in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids proteins, active enzymes and chlorophyll. The nutrients contained in barley grass may help to increase fertility by improving the condition of both sperm and eggs. Barley grass is very high in folic acid which is an essential nutrient that women need to consume to help to prevent birth defects from occurring. Barley grass is high in protein, amino acids and enzymes that promote sexual vitality and healthy reproductive organs.
Why not add a small teaspoon of Barley grass powder to your smoothie in the morning?
According to a study published in Fertility and Sterility, vitamin C enriched foods are highly essential for those who are planning to conceive. Due to its high content of vitamin C, broccoli can help boost fertility. In men, vitamin C improves sperm quality and protects sperm from DNA damage. In women, it helps reduce the chance of miscarriage and chromosomal problems. Also, broccoli is rich in B vitamins as well as calcium, iron, and zinc.
Eat it raw in salads, steamed, roasted, boiled or make it into a sauce to pour over pasta.
Research has shown that green tea is very beneficial to the body, and fertility is no exception. Green tea is very high in antioxidants which can help to repair damage that has occurred to our reproductive organs. Two of the compounds found in green tea, hypoxanthine and polyphenols, may also help to produce healthier sperm and eggs which increase the number of embryos that are viable for conception.