May 11 is Mother’s Day! And while many women spend a good part of their adult life (read college years) trying to avoid getting pregnant, infertility is on the rise as many women wait to start a family while pursuing their careers.
But what many women don’t realize is that what you eat prior to pregnancy is just as (if not more) important than what you eat once you’re expecting. Below are some guidelines of what to eat and what to avoid to improve your chance of conceiving.
Whole grains. Researchers reviewing diets from the Nurses Health Study have found that choosing higher fiber carbohydrates (whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal) improve the chance of ovulation as they have a more positive effect on insulin levels, which affect fertility.
Not that. Women attempting to get pregnant should avoid/limit easily-digested carbohydrates (read cake, pie, doughnuts, candy, regular soda), as they interrupt the balance of hormones needed for pregnancy. They may also lead to excess weight gain, which impacts chance of pregnancy.
Healthy fats. While foods containing fat tend to be higher in calories, it is the type of fat that matters when it comes to fertility. Studies show that women consuming mono and poly unsaturated fats from nuts, seeds, olive and canola oil have better chances at pregnancy than those consuming unhealty fats (see below).
Trans fat. There are many reasons to avoid trans fat- mainly to do with your arteries and risk for heart disease. Trans fat is the type found in highly processed foods (like stick margarine and commercial cookies) as well as fast food. Research indicates that even 4 grams of trans fat per day can impact ovulation.
Beans. While beans may not be popular due to their “gassy affect”, scientists believe protein from plant sources improve chance of ovulation over animal sources. Dried beans, tofu, nuts & seeds, whole grains and vegetables all provide protein. Beans are also a source of folic acid- a B vitamin needed to prevent spina bifida.
Animal protein. Research suggests too much animal protein (beef, chicken, pork) may affect chance of ovulation. Consume animal protein in moderation (3-4 x/week) as it is a good source of iron, which is needed in higher amounts during pregnancy.
Full fat dairy products. Yup- you read that correctly. Scientists evaluating the Nurse’s Health Study diet database found that those consuming more full fat (read ice cream, whole and 2% milk) had higher rates of fertility than those consuming lower fat dairy products. Researchers believe the fatty acid conjugated linoleic acid may be protective. Aim for 3 servings/day, 2 being full fat.
Low fat dairy products. Consuming low fat dairy products (skim, 1% milk) have been linked with higher rates of infertility according to the Nurse’s Health Study.
Prenatal vitamin. Even if you’re not planning on becoming pregnant, up to 50% of pregnancies are unplanned and all women of childbearing age are advised to take a multi-vitamin (or prenatal) containing the RDA for folic acid to prevent birth defects such as spinal bifida.
Caffeine and alcohol. Not surprising, risk for miscarriage increases with excessive caffeine consumption- especially when combined with smoking. And while the jury is still out regarding alcohol (some doctors say “ok” in small amounts, others advise against it), I’d advise avoiding booze when trying to conceive and especially during pregnancy.
Although the government has switched from using a food ‘pyramid’ to a plate, consumers still have trouble figuring out what counts as a serving. You may have heard the suggestion that the size of your palm is about 3 ounces of meat. Correct me if I’m wrong, but won’t that size vary based on the size of your hand? I think we can all agree, we need something a bit more standardized.
In general, we should all aim to consume a minimum 4 servings of vegetables (1/2 cup cooked, 1 cup raw or ¾ cup juice. Fruit intake should be around 3 servings per day (1 medium fruit, ½ cup canned fruit, ¼ cup dried fruit or ¾ cup fruit juice), though athletes or others with higher calorie needs may consume more.
The suggestion for dairy products is 3 per day, which include 1 cup milk, yogurt or 1 oz of cheese. Protein needs vary individually, but in general, most adults require around 5 or more ounces per day.
Grains such as cereal, bread, pasta, rice, crackers should be mostly whole grain and serving sizes vary. A serving of most cooked grains is ½ cup or 1 slice bread, ½ a bagel, etc. Go for 100% whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole oats, etc. over processed grains.
Below are a few ideas to clue you in on what a serving size really looks like.
1 oz = pair of dice
1 ½ oz = 9 volt battery
2 oz. = a pair of dominoes
3 oz. cooked meat, fish or poultry = a deck of playing cards
¼ cup = 1 egg
½ cup = 1 scoop of ice cream
¾ cup = 1 raquetball
1 cup = 1 baseball
1 slice of bread = a CD case
1 tsp. = 1 postage stamp
2 Tbsp. = a ping pong ball
Looking for a way to use the beautiful seasonal strawberries? Try a yogurt and fruit parfait! This simple treat provides a great source of calcium and protein as well as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Fiber from cereal or other grains and “friendly bacteria” in yogurt help to keep your gut healthy. This can be made with your choice of yogurt, fresh or frozen fruit and high fiber cereal or chopped nuts. Try Greek yogurt for a higher protein alternative! Below are the recipe and alternative ingredients to try.
1 cup vanilla yogurt (low fat or Greek)
½ cup fresh or frozen berries of choice
½ cup Fiber One cereal
Take ½ cup of yogurt and place on bottom of a glass
Take ¼ cup of berries and place on top of the yogurt
Take ¼ cup of Fiber One cereal on top of the berries
Repeat the above steps to make a layered effect.
Makes 1 serving. Nutrition information per serving: 259 calories, 4 gm fat, 16.4 gm protein, 47.6 gm carbohydrate, 15 gm fiber, 15 mg cholesterol, 560 mg calcium, 277 mg sodium
|Carbohydrate, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals||Cheerios, shredded wheat, low fat granola|
|Carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber||Pineapple, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, melon|
|Vitamin E, protein, magnesium, fiber||Chopped almonds, pecans, pistachios walnuts|
|Calcium, protein, B vitamins, potassium, vitamin D||Greek yogurt, low fat yogurt, sugar free yogurt, low carb yogurt|
Diet, cheat, repent, repeat. We’ve all seen the cycle of dieting. But sometimes, dieting can go too far. Disordered eating is characterized by abnormal eating habits and includes anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. These disorders are more common in women than men, but some sports (such as wrestling or boxing) may increase the risk in men.
Those with eating disorders often exhibit depression and anxiety over their weights and may be afraid to eat. Individuals with eating disorders may skip meals or starve them-selves to lose weight. Some may eat large quantities of food (in secret) then compensate for binge eating behavior by vomiting, using laxatives or working out excessively. Eating disordered patients are more likely to develop substance abuse problems than individuals with normal eating patterns.
Being a teenager in the 80’s, I knew my share of girls with eating disorders. They were the beautiful cheerleaders, gymnasts, dancers and overachievers in my class with perfectionist issues who had to starve, vomit, take laxatives and exercise non-stop to achieve a ridiculous size 2. I always felt sorry for them thinking “someday they will accept themselves for who they are”. Most of them (if not all) were never overweight to begin with and likely ruined their health and psychological well-being through excessive dieting and exercise.
Sadly, eating disorders are on the rise- but in a completely different age group. Perhaps you’ve seen the overly thin mom in the grocery store with her normal (or even overweight) daughters? According to University of North Carolina research, unhealthy eating practices are on the rise in women over 50. Approximately 1800 women participated in a Gender and Body Image Study. In the female subjects over 50, almost 27% were obese, 29% were overweight, 42% were normal weight and 2% were underweight. The results of the study also found that approximately 4% of the women binge, about 8% purge (vomit) and 70% were regularly dieting to lose weight. Additionally, about 36% percent spent about half their time in the previous five years dieting, 40% weighed themselves at least twice per week and 41% check their body size on a daily basis. Surprisingly, 62% said their body weights had a negative impact on their life, 79% claimed it hurt their self-image and 64% said they think about their weight daily.
If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of an eating disorder, don’t just blow it off. Seek help from a qualified professional. Eating disorders are typically treated by a team of professionals including your medical doctor, a registered dietitian and qualified counselor or therapist. With help, women of all ages, shapes and sizes can learn more body acceptance.