All posts by Dora Koutsospyrou

Enjoy British Tomato Week if you’re trying to conceive

It’s British Tomato Week (21-27 May 2018) and, if you’re trying to conceive, there’s even more reason to support our British tomato growers and eat plenty of tomatoes because they are packed full of the powerful antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene is a naturally occurring carotenoid which provides the red, yellow and orange colour to our fruit and vegetables. The antioxidant in lycopene has an important health role to play in that they protect the cells of the body from damage caused by free radicals.

There have been various studies conducted into the benefits of lycopene for the prevention and treatment of various cancers, particularly prostate cancer, and atherosclerosis. Tomatoes also contain important heart-healthy nutrients, such as niacin, folate and vitamin B6, which help to maintain a healthy heart.

In relation to fertility, there have also been some studies into the beneficial effects of lycopene on male fertility. Research has been conducted that examined the effect of the antioxidants in lycopene in helping to protect developing sperm from free radical damage and possible DNA damage.

‘Our work shows that a diet rich in lycopene can promote fertility in men who are struggling with infertility. In part we can conclude that men who have poor quality sperm can benefit from a diet rich in lycopene, and should consider a balanced diet as part of their strategy to reproduce, especially a diet including tomatoes’ said Dr. Narmada Gupta, Head of the Urology Department at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, India. Further studies have now found that antioxidants can elevate sperm count, morphology, motility and concentration.

In women, recent research has indicated that lycopene may be useful in reducing the abnormal activity of cells and as a result, may reduce the adhesion effects of endometriosis. Dr Tarek Dbouk, from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, said: ‘What we found in our laboratory study is that lycopene can help with the adhesions that these conditions cause. One of the major complications of endometriosis is that it causes inflammation which induces adhesions. The inflammation basically causes scarring. What we did was to look at protein markers that could help us trace the activity of the abnormal cells that cause these adhesions. The lycopene worked to reduce the abnormal activity of these cells. So, hypothetically speaking, we might be able to reduce the adhesion effects of endometriosis.’ Dr Dbouk also added that ‘It is certainly possible that you can easily get the amount you need from your diet.’

Because research has found that cooking tomatoes release more lycopene from the cell walls of the tomato when compared to raw tomato, roasting tomatoes and making sauces and soups is the best way to get the maximum intake. Lycopene is also fat-soluble, so for maximum absorption add olive oil when cooking them. Other good food sources of lycopene are pink grapefruit, watermelon, guava and rosehip.

Top tips on how to get the most out of your tomatoes!

  • Buy fresh ripe tomatoes as they have a considerably higher lycopene content than was thought to be the case, under-ripe tomatoes contain considerably less lycopene.
  • Buy locally grown British tomatoes or, even better, try growing your own! Imported tomatoes will have been stored and then travelled a great distance, so may not be as fresh as you might think.
  • Cook meals using tomato puree as it has a lower water content than fresh tomato, so the nutrients are concentrated. In recent studies, it has been discovered that lycopene is more bioavailable from tomato paste than from fresh tomatoes.
  • Enjoy your tomatoes with a little olive oil as this will increase how much lycopene your body absorbs.

Further reading:

Agarwal, A et al (2015). A unique view on male infertility around the globe. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology. Volume 13, Issue 37.

Gupta NP, Kumar R. Lycopene therapy in idiopathic male infertility—a preliminary report. International Urology and Nephrology. 2002;34(3):369–372.

Silke Schwarz, Ute C. Obermu¨ ller-Jevic, Eva Hellmis, Winfried Koch, Gu¨nther Jacobi, Hans-Konrad Biesalski 2008 Lycopene Inhibits Disease Progression in Patients with Benign Prostate Hyperplasia1,2 J. Nutr. 138: 49–53

Here’s a  fabulous lycopene-rich tomato soup made using fresh tomatoes.

Tomato soup

Ingredients:

8 large ripe tomatoes

2/3 tablespoons olive oil

4 potatoes

2 onions

1 stick of celery

1 carrot

1 clove of garlic – crushed

1 litre of vegetable stock – add more if necessary for desired thickness

Seasoning

Fresh herbs to taste, such as fresh rosemary and thyme

Instructions:

  1. Slice the tomatoes, onion, celery, and potatoes into cubes. Grate the carrot.
  2. Warm a large pot and add in olive oil. Add in the onions and garlic and cook until soft.
  3. Add the potatoes, tomatoes, celery and carrot – and the herbs if you have chosen to include them. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the vegetable stock and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
  5. Using a blender or food processor, blend the soup until smooth. Adjust thickness as necessary by adding extra water if required.
  6. Adjust the seasoning – swirl with cream or crème fraiche to serve.

 

The Mediterranean diet is a smart choice if you’re trying to conceive

Because the Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional eating and living habits of people from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea it is hailed as being possibly the world’s healthiest diet and can be a smart choice for women and men who are trying to conceive. Not only is the diet abundant in all the healthy foods we should eat more of, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and olive oil, but quality protein in the form of fish and poultry are favoured over red meats.

The Mediterranean diet has received much attention in recent months due to the fact that it has many health benefits, such as; better control of blood sugar levels, helping to sustain a healthy BMI and reduced inflammation. Research has shown that following a Mediterranean diet can reduce the chance of developing conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease.

Choosing to follow a Mediterranean diet may also help to reduce fertility issues in both men and women. Being either underweight or overweight affects hormone regulation, which in turn may affect ovulation in women, and semen quality and count in males.

The Mediterranean diet and fertility

Although there is no one  ‘miracle’ fertility food, there certainly are essential fertility nutrients obtained through eating a variety of healthy foods that can support your reproductive health, such as folic acid, B6, B12, omega-3 essential fatty acids, zinc and antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E. One important benefit of the Mediterranean diet to fertility is its high vitamin B content. Optimal levels of B6 and B12 vitamins (including folate) are not only important for the prevention of neural tube defects, but these vitamins also help ensure that your body’s cells are strong and have healthy DNA – which, in turn, can influence your chances of conceiving.

In fact, research has shown that eating a Mediterranean style diet – categorised by consuming a high intake of fruits, vegetables, fish, chicken and whole grains and a low intake of red meats and processed foods – boosts levels of B vitamins in the body, along with the right kinds of fat (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), can lead to a higher success rate for women trying to conceive or those undergoing fertility treatment.

In a study conducted by Dr Jorge Chavarro and colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health in the US, they researched how an intake of different types of fats affected the success of IVF treatment in 147 women, mostly in their 30s. They found that women who ate the most monounsaturated fat had up to a three times improved chance of giving birth via IVF as those who ate the least.  The top third, who derived on average 25 percent of their calories from mono-unsaturated fat, had three times the chance of success compared to the bottom third, who derived on average nine percent of their calories from it. In contrast, those women who ate the most saturated fat produced two fewer eggs suitable for fertilization than those who ate the least – nine compared to 11.

The Mediterranean diet is based on the following principles:

  • Eat small amounts of low fat, dairy products.
  • Consume a good variety of vegetables, legumes, fruits and whole grain cereals each day (ideally between 7-9 portions).
  • Drink plenty of water each day and avoiding all sugary drinks completely.
  • Eat fish and poultry and limit red meat consumption.
  • Use monounsaturated vegetable oil, olive oil or rapeseed oil instead of animal fats, such as butter or lard.
  • Do not add salt to your food at the table (cook with herbs and spices instead).
  • Snack on fruit, dried fruit and unsalted nuts rather than cakes, crisps and biscuits.
  • A Mediterranean diet advocates drinking red wine during meals – no more than two small glasses per day if you are a man and only one small glass per day if you are a woman. However, we know that drinking alcohol, even in moderation, affects fertility, making it more difficult to conceive. So we strongly advise that if you are trying to conceive naturally, or you are about to embark upon fertility treatment, all the advice, for both men and women, is to refrain from drinking alcohol completely.
  • Avoid fast food or processed ready meals completely.

 

Tips for starting a Mediterranean diet which can help you makeover your meals and enjoy the benefits.

Oil

Forget the oils you have been cooking with until now, just make the switch to extra-virgin olive oil. The olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids which could improve HDL cholesterol, the “good” type of cholesterol. Add olive oil in your salad dressings or vinaigrettes, drizzle it on finished dishes like fish or chicken to boost flavour even add it to mashed potatoes, pasta, and many more meals.

Fish

This diet put emphasis on fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Even those leaner fish with less fat, like cod or tilapia, can also provide a good source of protein. Cooking fish in baking paper or foil packets is one no-fuss, no-mess way to put dinner on the table but there are many recipes to try.

Vegetables

A good way to add veggies in your diet is to eat one serving at snacktime, like crunching on bell pepper or carrot strips or having a smoothie with a handful of spinach, and add a side dish at your dinner menu. Try to have at least two servings per day.

Whole Grains

Add in your meals “real” whole grains that are still in their “whole” form and haven’t been refined. A hot bowl of oatmeal is perfect for breakfast in the morning. Quinoa cooks up in just 20 minutes, making it a great side dish. Barley is full of fibre and it’s filling: pair it with mushrooms for a steamy, yummy soup. Even popcorn is a whole grain —simply keep it healthy by eating air-popped corn and replace the butter with a drizzle of olive oil instead. If you find it hard to make the switch from your favorite pasta and rice, mix your preferred pasta and rice with whole grains ones, like half whole-wheat and half white.

Nuts

Nuts contain more fiber and minerals, such as potassium, than processed snack foods. Replace your snacks with a handful portion of any type of nuts, whether that’s almonds, cashews, or pistachios, you will be surprised on how satisfying this snack option can be.

Fruits

Fresh fruits are a good source of fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants and a great way to indulge your sweet tooth. You can drizzle slices of pear, apple or banana with honey or sprinkle a little brown sugar on grapefruit. Better to place fresh fruit somewhere visible at home and take some with you at work so you have a healthful snack when your feel like it.

Dairy products

Eat Greek or plain yoghurt, and try smaller amounts of a variety of cheeses.

Meat

Change the way you think about meat. If you like meat, go for smaller amounts – choose poultry or have small strips of sirloin in a vegetable sauté, or even a dish of pasta garnished with diced prosciutto.

 

Our preconception nutrition and diet advice can go a long way to helping you to improve your fertility over the course of 6-12 months. However, if you have been trying to conceive for one year with no success, we would recommend undertaking fertility investigations to be sure there are no underlying health reasons as to why you are not conceiving. Our One-Stop Fertility Assessment checks your general well-being, as well as assessing your fertility.

Simply call us on 01992 78 50 60 to arrange an appointment or email enquiries@hertsandessexfertility.com.

 

Further interesting reading:

The preconception Mediterranean dietary pattern in couples undergoing in vitro fertilization/intracytoplasmic sperm injection treatment increases the chance of pregnancy. Vujkovic M1, de Vries JH, Lindemans J, Macklon NS, van der Spek PJ, Steegers EA, Steegers-Theunissen RP.

Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, et al (2013). Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet. The New England Journal of Medicine. Published online February 25 2013.

 

Go nuts for coconut water to improve fertility

Coconut water is a natural, nutrient-rich isotonic drink. Coconut palms are found naturally in tropical coastal areas around the globe. Top producing countries are Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Brazil, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Coconut water is the sweet, clear liquid found in freshly opened coconuts. Coconut water has so many amazing health benefits it is often referred to as a ‘fluid of life’. This is because it contains key nutrients needed by our cardiovascular, muscles, nervous and immune system. It is low in kilojoules (calories), sugar and is 99% fat-free. It is rich in potassium, magnesium, chloride and has a moderate amount of sodium, calcium and protein.

Coconut water aids digestion and weight loss, plus it’s very nutritious and hydrating; helping to prevent dehydration and relieving tiredness by replenishing the natural salts lost by the body when we sweat.  It is also a very good source of B-complex vitamins, such as riboflavin, niacin, thiamine, pyridoxine, and folate, essential if you are trying to conceive. Coconut water carries a very good amount of electrolyte potassium. 100 ml of coconut water has 250 mg of potassium and 105 mg of sodium. Together these electrolytes help to replenish any electrolyte deficiency in the body due to diarrhea.

Fresh coconut water contains a small amount of vitamin C, which provides about 2.4 mg or 4% of RDA. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and anti-oxidant. These vitamins (water soluble) are essential in the sense that the human body requires them from external sources to replenish each day, and are very important prior to conception, throughout any fertility treatment, as well as during pregnancy.

Coconut water is thought to provide many medical benefits for women. Many women around the world drink coconut water in order to boost their fertility and to aid a healthy pregnancy. Aside from the important nutrients it contains, these are some of the following ways in which coconut oil is thought to benefit women in particular:

  • Helps in the treatment of urinary tract infections – These are common infections which many women experience. Coconut water is a natural diuretic and so helps to remove bacteria from the urinary tract. It has been found that drinking coconut water twice a day if you suffer from these infections may help.
  • Hydration – to keep all body cells hydrated. This is particularly important in the 90 days before conception to ensure that all chemical reactions within cells can work as they are meant to. Many women who are trying to become pregnant and those that are pregnant living in tropical countries drink coconut water each day. Women can drink coconut water during pre-conception to gain the nutrients and hydration from the coconut water, and once pregnant in order to ease morning sickness, vomiting and constipation. Coconut water contains electrolytes, chloride, calcium, potassium, sodium and riboflavin.
  • It is rich in vitamins which are needed during pregnancy. Coconut water also contains lauric acid which helps to balance hormones and also has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, which strengthen the immune system to help protect against infections.
  • Coconut water and oil are very good for the skin. Drinking coconut water benefits the skin as it hydrates it and leaves it feeling soft. And coconut oil is great for rubbing into dry, itchy skin associated with hormone imbalance.

Coconut power smoothie

For a pure rejuvenation drink, try this smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups pure natural coconut water
  • 2 cups ripe mangoes
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 2 fresh mint sprigs
  • ½ cup of ice.

Blend all ingredients in a blender and your drink is ready.

Coconut water hydration juice

If coconut water alone is too plain for you, try mixing it with other fruit juices – it goes very well with pineapple.

Here is a recipe for a Coconut water hydration juice drink that contains coconut water as well as other fruit and vegetable juices for optimal hydration.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces coconut water
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 1 whole cucumber
  • 1 peeled lime
  • Handful of ice

 

Eating an alkaline diet will boost your fertility!

Most women are aware that they should be getting plenty of folic acid when trying to get pregnant and many already know that they need to eat a healthy balanced diet, however, most do not realize that the pH of their diet may affect their fertility and that eating an alkaline diet will boost fertility.

We all need a good alkaline/acid balance in our diet to make sure our body functions are working well.  Western diets are notoriously acidic and this produces an acidic environment in your body, which can be particularly hostile for sperm. Eating an alkaline-forming diet not only prevents acidity but also provides many of the nutrients required for a healthy conception.

It is important for the body and all of the biochemical reactions that take place within it, to maintain the correct PH level (which is roughly around 7.35-7.45). How we consume our food, the foods we consume, the stress we are under, and the amount of sleep and exercise we get, can all impact on the acidity levels within our bodies.

Excess acidity can lead to inflammation, premature ageing, muscle and joint pains, bloating, constipation, dull skin, lack of energy, frequent colds…to name just a few!

Micro-organisms such as yeast, fungi, certain bacteria and viruses can thrive in an acidic environment. An overly acidic environment can lead to an environment within the body being created which may impact on fertility such as, fungal overgrowth, urinary tract infections and menstrual difficulties.

Foods can be classed as either alkaline–forming or acid-forming depending upon which residue they leave during the process of digestion. Acid forming foods include sugars, refined fats, meat, dairy and salts. Alkaline foods are most fruits and vegetables, peas, beans, spices and herbs, and seeds and nuts.  The aim is to try to base your diet roughly on 80% alkaline-forming foods and 20% acid-forming foods.

Too much acidity in the body can also impact on fertility. Sperm prefers a slightly alkaline environment to survive in. Too much acidity can also affect women with endometriosis and make the condition much worse. Consuming more alkaline forming foods has also been linked to an improvement in the quality of cervical mucous.

Examples of acid-forming foods include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy produce, peanuts, cranberries, prunes, rhubarb, sugar, vinegar, table salt, carbonated drinks, tea, coffee and alcohol. Mildly acidic-forming foods include brown rice, oats, bread, beans, lentils, tofu, most nuts, olive oil, untreated honey and grain coffee substitutes.

Try to include as many of these alkaline-forming foods in your diet as you can! Alkaline-forming foods include most fruits and vegetables, millet, buckwheat, quinoa, sprouted beans and seeds, almonds, Brazil nuts, flax seed oil, herbal teas and vegetable juices.

 

Vegetables

  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Chilli
  • Capsicum/Pepper
  • Courgette/Zucchini
  • Dandelion
  • Snowpeas
  • Green Beans
  • String Beans
  • Runner Beans
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Wakame
  • Kelp
  • Collards
  • Chives
  • Endive
  • Chard
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet Potato
  • Mint
  • Ginger
  • Coriander
  • Basil
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrot
  • Beetroot
  • Eggplant/Aubergine
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Parsley
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Watercress
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Broad Beans
  • New Potato
  • Pumpkin
  • Radish
  • Squashes
  • Pumpkin

Fruits

  • Avocado
  • Tomato
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Grapefruit
  • Fresh Coconut
  • Pomegranate

Nuts & Seeds

  • Almonds
  • Coconut
  • Flax Seeds
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Sunflower Seeds

 

Also, in addition, to help to alkalise your body …

  • Reduce red meat consumption
  • Drink lots of water – filtered preferably (with a slice of lemon where possible)
  • Reduce stress
  • Avoid too much sugar
  • Eliminate coffee and alcohol

 

Recipe ideas

  • Make your own green juice each day from a combination of green apples, celery, kale, parsley and spinach leaves.
  • Scrambled eggs with watercress or baby spinach on toasted granary bread
  • Quinoa with diced chicken breast, sliced avocado, rocket and celery

 

Hearty Vegetable Soup

or an  Easy Vegetable Broth (use organic vegetables where possible)

Makes about 8-10 bowls, so you can freeze any that is left over

1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic  crushed
3 large carrots, diced
3 potatoes, diced
1 cup diced autumn squash of your choice
2 large tomatoes, diced,
4 sticks of celery, diced
2 small courgettes diced
1 red pepper, seeded & diced
1 can of cannellini beans, rinsed (or dry beans, soaked and pre-cooked)
Himalayan salt or sea salt
1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley, additional 2 tbsp for garnish
1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley, additional 2 tbsp for garnish

For the broth

additional vegetables as required
1/4 onion
1/4 small cabbage
2 small courgettes
4 carrots
4 sticks of celery
1/2 red pepper
filtered water

Method

Place all broth vegetables into a juicer and juice.

In a large pot add diced onion, garlic and 2-3 tbsp of the filtered water, steam fry for a few minutes until the onions are see through.

Add the broth and one cup of the filtered water.  Heat the broth and then add the carrots, potatoes and squash, simmer for 5 minutes.

Now add celery and courgettes and simmer for 5 minutes.

Next, add the peppers, tomatoes and cannellini beans and simmer for 5 more minutes, adding a little bit more water if required. Season with Himalayan salt or sea salt and stir in the chopped herbs.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with fresh chopped basil and parsley.

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