March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
When it comes to conceiving a baby, diet and lifestyle are just as important for men as for women.
One-third of the cases of infertility are related to the male partner, with some of the most common causes of sperm-related infertility including low sperm count, slow moving sperm, abnormal shape and size of sperm and problems with semen.
Diet and lifestyle choices can affect the health of a man's sperm, so use the following information to guide you in making healthy choices.
Eating for Fertility
- Get Your Fruits and Vegetables
Color your plate with at least 2½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit: leafy greens, purple and yellow vegetables, apples, oranges, kiwi, blueberries and melon.
- Choose Whole Grains
Eat at least half of all grains as whole grains each day, such as a bowl of oatmeal in the morning, whole-grain bread at lunch and brown rice with dinner.
- Eat Low-Fat Dairy
Dairy products are full of calcium, vitamin D, potassium and protein — all nutrients that keep your body functioning well. Choose at least 3 servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy, such as 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1 ounce of cheese each day.
- Cut Down on Meat
Eat less red meat and choose leaner protein sources: fish, turkey, chicken breast or pork chops. Eat vegetable proteins including beans, nuts, seeds and tofu.
- Be Smart about Fats
Limit saturated fats from meats, full-fat dairy products and fried foods. Replace with healthy fats. Snack on an ounce of walnuts or almonds each day, drizzle extra-virgin olive oil on roasted vegetables and salads or add avocado to your sandwich.
Other Healthy Lifestyle Choices for Conception
- Don't Drink Too Much Alcohol
Over-consuming alcohol is linked with poor production of normal, healthy sperm. If you drink alcohol, follow these guidelines for men: no more than two drinks a day (one drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1½ ounces of spirits).
- Avoid Cigarettes and Marijuana
Tobacco use is linked with low sperm counts and slow moving sperm; smoking marijuana over a prolonged period of time can result in low sperm counts and poorly developed sperm.
- Keep a Healthy Weight
Research has shown that overweight and obesity can lead to fertility problems by creating hormonal disturbances. Eat right and balance calorie intake with exercise. By eating fewer processed foods and more whole foods — such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins — there's less room for mindless eating and empty calorie consumption. On the flip side, being underweight has negative effects on sperm, such as decreased count and poor function.
- Exercise in Moderation
Aim to exercise five days a week for 30 minutes. Too much exercise has been shown to decrease testosterone, which can indirectly lower sperm counts. Avoid steroid use; it can affect fertility by causing testicular shrinkage.