Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
Do you ever have the munchies in the middle of the morning or afternoon and reach for something you shouldn’t? You are not alone; many people have discovered that a carbohydrate-rich and often sweetened snack becomes part of their daily food routine during lockdown and have continued in that way ever since.
But did you know that consuming too many unhealthy snacks (rich in refined carbs, such as sugars and saturated fats) cause blood sugar imbalances (seen as peaks and troughs of energy throughout the day), which may have a detrimental impact on the reproductive system function?
This can be explained firstly because low blood sugar (which makes you tired) encourages the release of stress hormones in the body (adrenaline and cortisol) and the continued release of these stress hormones changes the body’s response to progesterone, which is critical for the menstrual cycle to function healthily. Second, high blood sugar stimulates the body to release the hormone insulin, which helps to regulate blood sugar levels. The challenge is that if we have too much insulin in our system too often, our insulin receptors (some of which are found on the ovaries) get desensitised, resulting in insulin resistance. This is a key risk factor for PCOS and may even harm a woman’s eggs directly. Sugar is also high in empty calories, which leads to weight gain, fat conversion, and ageing of sperm and egg cells.
So, why not begin by incorporating some healthy snack swaps into your fertility diet, which will aid to maintain a more balanced sugar level? Healthy snacks can also help you get in those fruits and vegetables, which contain a variety of important nutrients for health and fertility and help you reach your daily goal of 7-10 servings.
Here are 5 great snack swop ideas to get you started:
- Dark chocolate –but up to 2 squares a day max! Dark chocolate containing 70% and above cocoa is a good source of antioxidants, magnesium, fibre and iron- providing protective benefits re insulin sensitivity, improving mood, heart health and blood pressure. When it comes to fertility dark chocolate can help support male fertility as it is a rich source of the amino acid L-arginine which in studies have been linked to improving sperm count and motility. This amino acid can also support female fertility and has been linked to helping increase the flow of blood to the ovaries and uterus.
- Brazil nuts – 2-3 per day is perfect for a snack! Did you know that these tasty nuts contain very high levels of selenium, and that just one or two nuts can provide a whole day’s recommended intake? Selenium is often lacking in modern diets due to soil being depleted of this important mineral. Selenium helps to protect us from the diseases associated with ageing. It is an antioxidant that is important to fertility because it prevents oxidation and DNA damage in the egg and sperm cells. It is also important in oogenesis and spermatogenesis (egg and sperm production). In studies, men with low sperm counts have been found, when tested, to have low levels of selenium. Increasing selenium levels may lead to improved sperm motility. A low selenium status has been tied to low birth weight babies and preeclampsia, which is high blood pressure during pregnancy. It is important for healthy functioning of the thyroid gland.Brazil nuts are also a good source of vitamin E (another antioxidant important for health and fertility), along with calcium, fibre, healthy fats, protein and magnesium (the happy mineral!).
- Snack on a boiled egg! – eggs are packed full of vital vitamins and minerals. They in fact provide all vitamins, with the exception of vitamin C, as well as many other minerals, and are a great source of high-quality protein, fat, and are low in calories.
- Homemade vegetable crisps. Why not try making some kale, courgette, beetroot or mixed vegetable crisps? A nutritious and delicious alternative packed full of numerous fertility friendly nutrients and made with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil for your dose of healthy fats- a great healthy snack swop.
- An overnight fruity yoghurt pot – Chose a nice glass! Place your chosen fruit around the inside of the bottom of the glass. Next, spoon some natural live yoghurt and cover the fruit (about an inch of yoghurt). Sprinkle over the top with chopped brazil nuts and more fruit. Repeat the layers again. Place into the fridge for a couple of hours or cover over-night. out of the fridge and drizzle over with honey. Berries, stewed apple and pears (unsweetened) and pomegranate seeds are all great fertility fruits to choose as they have a low Glycaemic Load (GL)