One of the best things you can do for your fertility and health, is to know and give what your body is looking for when it comes to fat. First, let’s address what you need to avoid, trans fats.
These are fats that would like you to think they are good for you, but you need to stay away from them, not just in your pre-conception period, but for as long as you’re eating. Where are you going to find trans fats? Packaged foods. The giveaways on the ingredient list is the word “hydrogentation” or “shortening”.
Hydrogenated oils are vegetable oils whose chemical structure has been altered to prevent rancidity in foods, which increases shelf life and saves money for food manufacturers. The process of hydrogenation involves the addition of hydrogen atoms to the oil's available double bonds. As the level of hydrogenation increases, the level of saturated fat increases and the level of unsaturated fat decreases. The hydrogenation process converts what are known as “cis” double bonds to “trans” double bonds. This is where the term “trans-fat” originates. Hydrogenation also has the technical advantage of making foods solid or partially solid at room temperature. The way the trans double bond alters fats, is that it allows the fat molecule to lay flat, thereby being able to tightly pack together, causing blockages.
These bad boys are a powerful deterrent to ovulation and fertility. The big thing that trans fats do is make the body more resistant to insulin (look back to Week Three, it’s ok, I can wait), which is detrimental to overall health and fertility. They increase inflammation throughout the body which will interfere with ovulation, conception and the early development of the embryo. They can also increase the risk of miscarriage. They increase bad cholesterol (the low-density lipoprotein, or LDL), and they decrease your “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL). The more trans fat in your diet, the more ovulatory infertility you’ll experience.
Think of fats as a lock and key system. The lock being various cells in your body that require fat (all of them). When a trans-fat comes along, it can fit in the lock, but cannot activate the mechanism, and then jams in the lock.
The proper fat comes along looking to do its job and cannot fit into the lock because the trans-fat is now uselessly jamming the space.
It isn’t just your trans fat intake, but his as well that can make a difference. Higher intakes of trans fats not only affected sperm quality, but also negatively affected gene expression. Men who had higher intakes of trans fats also had lower sperm counts. Don’t forget that lots of what you are doing, he will also benefit from as well (as would any children you already have, your sister, your Mom, your Uncle, Grandfather, best friend….you get the idea!)
Just to note – for the most part, trans fats are man made, however, bacteria living in the stomachs of cow, sheep, deer and other ruminants are a natural source of trans fats. As a result, beef, lamb, buffalo, venison and dairy products have very small amounts of trans fats. However, your biggest exposure to be aware of is in packaged foods, the man made trans fats.
Two off the top of my head contain hydrogenated products are low fat peanut butter (why would you do this to peanut butter - by removing the fat, you have to add something to make it creamy still), and Cool Whip. You can’t rely on fancy “trans fat free” labels, because there are minimal limits that food producers are allowed to have in food, and still be able to use the label trans fat free. You have to look at the ingredient list (remember, hydrogenated or shortening are your giveaways. There is still the impression out there among many that low-fat is the way to go – but manufacturers learned very quick that when you take the fat out, you take the flavour out – so they replace it with sugar, salt and other food-like substances. Don’t be fooled, every cell in our body needs fat. Just the right kind.
So, what is the right kind of fat?
In contrast, unsaturated (CIS bonded if you look above!) fats actually sensitize muscle and other tissue to insulins “take in some sugar” signal.
Healthy people who are given unsaturated fats instead of saturated or trans fats actually develop a greater sensitivity to insulin! They also decrease the body’s production of glucose and can help calm inflammation.
For overall health, you need to emphasize eating monounsaturated fats – so olive, nut oils, nuts, avocados, sesame and pumpkin seeds – and polyunsaturated fats (your omegas) – legumes, walnuts, fatty fish like salmon, herring and anchovies. Monounsaturated foods usually contain polyunsaturated fats too!
You can still have your saturated fats, just not as a focus. These include red meat, whole milk, cream, butter and cheese (if you have decided that you are still going to allow dairy!)
Monounsaturated fats are good at lowering cholesterol and the body’s sensitivity to insulin and inflammation. They are however unstable at high heat, so stick to coconut oil for your high heat applications. For lower temperatures, extra virgin olive oil (I’ll tell you how to pick a good one in a bit!).
These are your popular Omega 3 and Omega 6 (called Essential Fatty Acids, because we don’t produce them on our own, they must be obtained through our diet). Think of your 3’s as anti-inflammatory, and 6’s as pro-inflammatory. Our body definitely needs both but in balance. Omega 6’s are more widely available in our food, yet many struggle with Omega 3’s. Omega 3’s help regulate hormones, increase cervical mucus and aid in normalizing your menstrual cycle.
You shouldn’t need to supplement with an Omega 6, however an Omega 3 (EPA – anti-inflammatory and DHA – brain building) is a great thing to add, especially if you aren’t eating fish like wild caught salmon or sardines a few times a week. A thing to note, that you can get Omega 3 from vegetarian sources like chia, hemp and walnuts, but the body has to do an additional conversion to get them to the usable EPA and DHA; and we’re not always very efficient with this conversion.
Unless you’re vegan, it’s best to supplement with a high quality fish oil or make sure you are consuming some animal source of Omega 3 in addition to your plant source.
I want to touch on grass fed/pasture raised meats here. Scientific research is beginning to show that animals raised on a plant-based, grassy diet tend to have fats that are much healthier for the human body; Omega 3 fats. It seems that that health benefits found in the fat of animals greatly diminish when they are fed animal by-products, grain, and/or cornmeal - all of which are the typical feeds used for modern industrial livestock. Grass-fed and pasture raised animals typically have a healthier fatty acid profile, which translates into a less inflammatory effect on the humans who eat them versus grain-fed animals. So, if you can afford grass fed beef and free range chicken, it is definitely worth your investment.
Saturated fats are found in high-fat meats, whole milk and tropical oils like palm and coconut. These fats support the body’s most critical functions including a healthy brain and nervous system, strong bones and teeth, optimal lung capacity and healthy hormone function. Saturated fat is essential to fertility because it:
Provides fat soluble vitamins A, D and K2. These are essential to health but are deficient in most modern diets. They’re important for immunity, gene expression, bone production and many other reproductive functions
Strengthens cell membranes – including the sperm and eggs
Protects against toxins – saturated fats produce fewer free radicals, don’t cause liver damage or impair the body’s detox abilities
Fortifies the immune system – the lauric acid in coconut oil have natural anti-microbial properties
Best sources are grass fed beef and coconut oil which has a whole multitude of benefits (Coconut oil is high in fats called medium chain triglycerides, which are metabolized differently than most other fats. These special fats are responsible for a lot of the health benefits of coconut oil)
I can’t talk fat, without talking a little more about dairy
If you have decided to consume dairy and are not showing any reaction to it, it may be a good thing to have in your diet, but with a caveat. Whole milk products may offer some protection against ovulatory infertility, where as skim and low fat milk do the opposite. The Nurses Study shows that the more low-fat dairy that a woman consumed, the more likely she was to have trouble getting pregnant, and the opposite was true for those that consumed more full-fat dairy. One serving a day can make the difference. If your body is cool with dairy, then make the switch to full fat dairy as a temporary nutrition therapy to help improve your chances of becoming pregnant!
Dairy and seafood were prominent fertility foods in traditional diets. Together they offer 4 vital nutrients that a woman cannot get pregnant without – Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Iodine and Omega 3 fats.
Picking, Choosing and Using Oils
Where there’s smoke there’s fire! You’re chopping garlic when you notice smoke rising from the cooking oil you’ve been heating in the sauté pan. When an oil smokes (hence the term “smoke point”) it begins to decompose, known as thermal oxidation, which leads to a loss in nutritional integrity, and the creation of oxidative (free radical) molecules.
Additionally, carcinogenic compounds such as benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) have been found in fumes from cooking oil. BaP is linked to red blood cell damage, suppression of the immune system, cancers, and reproductive defects. If you see smoke coming from your cooking oil, stop breathing! It’s time to toss out the oil and start all over. The four oils I keep in my kitchen are Extra Virgin Olive, Coconut, Avocado, and Ghee (technically this is reduced butter).
In high heat applications, like frying, wok cooking or popping popcorn, you want to use a high smoke point oil to avoid the harmful outcomes from burning oil. This is where I would use my avocado oil or ghee.
When you want the flavor of the oil to be part of the final dish use unrefined oils Toasted Sesame Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Coconut Oil. These oils are best for short-term medium heat cooking, sautéing or baking. These oils can add flavour to a dish (especially the coconut and sesame). They can also be added in the last few minutes of cooking to add a healthy boost of flavor to your favorite recipe.
Oils with special nutrient qualities include Flax Oil , Flax/Borage Oil, MCT and Wheat Germ Oil. These ones shouldn’t be used with any heat (the healthier the oil, the quicker it will become rancid in light, heat, or exposed to oxygen). You can use these one after cooking, and in recipes including soups, grains, salads, or blended into dressings and smoothies. These ones should be stored in the fridge or freezer in an opaque sealed bottle.
There is an absurd amount of Olive Oils available out there, but how do you choose the best one? Did you know that a large majority of olive oil available actually isn’t 100% olive? These are the rules when it comes to picking an olive oil.
When you're eating for fertility (and for general health), one of the worst things you can do is choose low-fat items. Your body needs the proper fats to function. Fat also means flavour. When a manufacturer removes the fat from your favourite food, they need to replace that with something to make sure you'll come back for more - more often than not, sugar.
The easiest way to not be tricked by food manufacturers is to avoid foods that come with labels. If we're eating as close to how mother nature made the food more often than not, we'll be ok!
And if you want one of my snazzy wallet cards on how to choose an olive oil, send me a message!
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