By Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
If you’ve ever wondered why plant foods are so colourful and appealing to the eye, it’s because of the beautiful pigments they contain — no wonder bees and other pollinating insects love them! Some of these pigments also aid in the defence of the plants against intruders. Have you ever been told to eat your greens as a child and questioned why?
It’s because green fruit and vegetables are packed with vital nutrients and the health benefits from green plants are obtained from phytonutrients. Green plants contain a lot of phytonutrients in the form of polyphenols, flavonoids, nitrates, folate, chlorophyll, phytosterols, catechins, isoflavones – that is just a few!
Some examples of Healthy Green Fruit and Vegetables for you to try
Broccoli, Kale, Romaine lettuce, Collard greens, Bok Choy, celery, Brussels sprouts, Green grapes, Green apples, Pears, Olives, Asparagus, Spinach, Swiss chard, Green beans, Peas, Courgettes, Kiwi fruit, Avocado, Edamame
How do Green Fruit and Veg help our general health?
Green coloured fruits and vegetables are some of the healthiest foods you can eat. They help support the immune system, help detoxify the body, restore energy and vitality and have been linked in studies to reducing the risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and mental decline. Greens have long been known to help with the formation of blood and the proper functioning of the circulatory system in the body.
And what about fertility?
Because they are low in fat, high in fibre, and an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium and magnesium, nitrates and folate, greens are a key colour to include plenty of in your diet when TTC.
They are packed full of antioxidants which have an important role in the body as they zap free radicals (these are molecules that contain oxygen but have an uneven number of electrons, which makes them unstable. So, they travel around the body hunting for another electron to pair up with, making them highly reactive and leading to oxidation) that can lead to oxidative stress of cells including egg and sperm cells, leading to premature ageing of the cells. If your body has an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants, then it is experiencing oxidative stress. If there are too many free radicals in the body this can lead also to chronic illnesses.
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. This study was conducted on mice but the importance of folate in preventing neural tube defects is well known prior to conception and in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and is why women are advised to take a daily folate/folic acid supplement of 400 micrograms if planning to get pregnant. This is because the brain and spinal cord form in the first few weeks of pregnancy. The authors of the study say that the changes they found were specifically in the sperm epigenome – the chemical compounds that tell the genes which proteins to make and which to switch off. They concluded that this indicates that the diet of men may be as important as that of women in the months before conception. In addition, a study published in 2001 in the Journal of Fertility and Sterility found that low levels of foate in men were linked with low sperm counts and less active sperm.
The vitamin c obtained from green vegetables and fruit is important when it comes to male fertility as it has been shown in studies with sperm motility and quality (as it is an antioxidant it helps prevent damage to DNA). In females it is thought to help the endocrine system balance oestrogen and progesterone more effectively and so aid ovulation. Folate is important in preventing neural tube defects in the foetus (as mentioned above – please see our article on folate vs folic acid for more info on this), and iron helps to promote oxygen levels in cells, organs and the developing foetus.