When did fertility become a “woman’s issue”? With women waiting to get married and have families later in life I understand why fertility clinics are directing their marketing to women but there are two halves to making a baby, right? Couples looking to conceive focus on the mother’s nutrition and lifestyle but most fail to understand that the same lifestyle issues affect sperm quality as well. A Standard American Diet (or traditional Western diet) with its emphasis on refined carbohydrates and poor quality proteins create not only a host of vital nutrient imbalances and deficiencies but an acidic environment in the body. We have discussed fertility and an alkaline diet for women but did you know that proper nutrition and a few key superfoods can greatly increase sperm count and motility and even improve the quality of sperm?
Before we get to the foods that increase the quality of sperm let’s look at one food (or, in this case, food-like substance) men should be avoiding like the plague. Soy. Research has revealed that the estrogen-like compounds in soy can dramatically lower sperm counts. This research comes at a time when sperm count of American men is reaching all time lows. Soy is in everything these days. Texturized soy protein is in almost every meat substance including meats used by fast-food chains. Soy isolates are in everything from the cereal we eat in the morning to to the snack crackers we eat while watching TV. It is also a main protein component in those body-building protein shakes men seem to think help them build muscle. (Note the dripping sarcasm.) Soy is present in just about every packaged food in the US and Canada and only in slightly fewer in the EU. Avoid soy. I will, of course, go into great detail in the near future, but for now, just understand that aside from a little fermented soy as in soy sauce with your sushi, read labels and if it says soy…..eat something else.
Notice I am not begging you to stop smoking or drinking. These are deal breakers that I about which I shouldn’t have to nag. Is a cigarette and a 6 pack more important than a baby?
So what can you eat? Here are a list of my 5 favorites:
- Dark green leafy vegetables, avocados and whole grains. Broccoli, kale, spinach, cabbage, swiss chard, cauliflower (not dark green but in the cruciferous family), and many others. Many of these are high in Vitamin A which wakes up sluggish sperm. One serving of cauliflower provides 25% of the RDA for choline, responsible for improving overall quality of sperm and the genes responsible for many birth defects. Dark green, leafy and cruciferous vegetables along with avocados and whole grains are high in folic acid, both are imperative for healthy fertility in both men and women. Folate deficiencies in men are shown to be one cause of high levels of chromosomal abnormalities in sperm. Spinach is high in potassium which improves concentration of sperm. Whole grains are also high in chromium which help increase the overall count. Arugula has been shown to increase libido.
- Strawberries, lemons and limes, red pepper, tomatoes, and kiwis. These foods (and more) are packed with Vitamin C which not only increase sperm count but quality by protecting them from free radical damage. Dark green leafy vegetables also have quite a bit of the vitamin. Kiwi fruit is also high in zinc, which helps protect sperm from chromosomal and bacterial damage.
- Nuts and seeds. Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc. Brazil nuts are high in selenium, which helps maximize sperm count and protect them from abnormal formations as well as stimulate motility. Walnuts,and chia seeds, indeed most nuts, are high in the Omega-3 Fatty Acid DHA responsible for every aspect of sperm production. Salmon is also high in Omega-3 but should only be eaten wild and line caught to avoid a negative Omega-6, Omega-9 ratio to the Omega-3 as is present in farmed salmon. Hemp seed and flax seeds are also high in Omega-3 but also in Vitamin B12, responsible for raising sperm count and increasing quality. Almonds and hazelnuts are high in Vitamin E.
- Asparagus. This is in a class by itself because of its use since medieval times to rev up libido in both men and women. It is also high in Vitamin C.
- Maca and spirulina. The most nutrient dense food on the planet is spirulina. This tiny aquatic plant,eaten for centuries by South and Central American cultures, is packed with protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, an essential fatty acid GLA, iron, and many vital antioxidants imperative for health and fertility. Maca is a root like vegetable grown in the Andes of Peru and Ecuador. It has a profound effect on regulating sex hormones and functions of reproduction in both women and men. It has a dramatic boosting effect on quality, count, and motility of sperm. It increases libido in both men and women. (It works…. enough said.) In women, it raises progesterone levels helping decrease the risk of miscarriage.