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THINKING OF STARTING A FAMILY? READ THESE HEALTH TIPS FIRST

By Sally Shi-po POON (Registered Dietitian)

Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant after one year (or longer) of regular unprotected sex. It is said to affect 1 in every 6 couples. While couples cannot control all of the factors causing infertility, they can control their eating habits and lifestyle as these can have significant impacts on the ability to get pregnant. The following are important steps to help you get ready for the healthiest pregnancy possible.

 

1. Maintain a healthy weight

In women, being underweight, being overweight or exercising too much may lead to infertility, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In men, obesity is also associated with infertility due to lowered sperm count and motility, according to the National Infertility Association. Therefore, couples should maintain an optimal body weight as well as waist circumference to increase the chance of getting pregnant.

Healthy Weight Ranges

Boyd Mass Index (BMI): 18.5-24.9 (Caucasian); 18.5-22.9 (Asian)
Waist Circumference: <94cm for men and <80cm for women (Caucasian); <90cm for men and <80cm for women (Asian)

Sadly, there is no magic solution to sustainable weight loss. To lose weight successfully, you need to make healthier food choices, eat a balanced diet with portion control, and be physically active. Furthermore, adherence to healthy diets favouring whole grains, fruits, vegetables, poultry, and seafood are associated with better fertility in women and better semen quality in men, according to a review published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2017.

Avoid going on a fad diet where you eat a very restrictive diet for a short period of time and often lose weight quickly. Most people on this style of diet get fed-up very soon, start over-eating, make poor food choices and regain the weight they lost. Fad diets can also deplete your body of the nutrients it needs for healthy pregnancy. Consult a dietitian who can help you lose weight in a way that suits your lifestyle.

 

2. Get plenty of iron from plants

A diet rich in plant-based iron may reduce the risk of infertility, according to results from The Nurses’ Health Study II. Plant foods that are rich in iron include lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, tofu, black sesame, cashew nuts, spinach, fortified cereals, and whole grains. To absorb the most iron from the foods, avoid drinking coffee, tea or milk with meals and add vitamin C from guava, orange, kiwi, lemon, or bell peppers to your meals to enhance iron absorption.

 

3. Go low GI

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of female infertility. PCOS affects between 6% and 12% of women overall, which appears to be more common among overweight women. Women with PCOS often don’t have menstrual periods, or they only have periods on occasion. Because the eggs are not released, most women with PCOS have trouble getting pregnant. Research shows that weight loss of 5% is associated with improvement in amenorrhoea (absence of menstruation) for overweight women with PCOS.

Healthy eating tips for women with PCOS:

  • choose high-fibre, low-glycaemia index (GI) carbohydrates – at least half of all the grains eaten should be whole grains such as whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, and brown rice;
  • limit added sugars and refined grains such as sugary beverages, cakes, white bread and white rice;
  • choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as avocados, olive oil, flaxseeds, walnuts, salmon, and sardines; and
  • limit saturated and trans fats such as butter, lard, stick margarine, shortening, and partially hydrogenated oil.

 

4. Stop drinking and smoking

Alcohol and smoking can damage the eggs and sperm, and reduce the fertility of both males and females. Therefore, if you and your partner are serious about trying to start a family, you should consider avoiding alcoholic drinks and quitting smoking to increase the chance of pregnancy.

 

5. Increase your folic acid intake

Folic acid won’t boost your fertility, but taking folic acid regularly before becoming pregnant and during pregnancy helps prevent neural tube defects (malformations of the spine, skull, and brain) in babies. Therefore, all women who could become pregnant should take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily from supplements. In addition, choose foods that are rich in folic acid, including asparagus, Brussels sprouts, spinach, mustard greens, oranges, peanuts, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, liver, whole grains, and fortified breakfast cereals.

 

For more information about eating for fertility, consult a dietitian for personalized advice and diet plan.

 

Sally’s Nutrition Blog @ Hong Kong Tatler: https://hk.asiatatler.com/life/thinking-of-starting-a-family-health-tips

5 DIETITIAN-APPROVED FOODS TO FIGHT INFLAMMATION

By Sally Shi-po POON (Registered Dietitian)

Inflammation can be a long-term physiologic response to environmental toxins, infection, poor nutrition, stress, and aging. Chronic inflammation causes damage to body cells and eventually lead to diseases such as cancers, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have found that some nutrients from natural foods are safe and effective to help combat inflammation in the body. Here are 5 anti-inflammatory foods that I suggest:

1. Salmon
Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. A study found women who ate more omega-3 had lower levels of inflammatory markers in the blood reflecting lower levels of inflammation, which might explain in part the effects of these fatty acids in preventing cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two servings a week, each serving is 3.5 ounces cooked. Other fatty fish like albacore tuna, herring, lake trout, mackerel, and sardines are also high in omega-3 fatty acids.

2. Beans
Beans are rich in dietary fibre, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds, which help lower the levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), one of the key markers of inflammation in the blood. Studies have found that a high fibre diet helps to reduce CRP levels. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains also contain plenty of dietary fibre and antioxidants, which can fight inflammation.

3. Walnuts
Walnuts are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fibre, and phytonutrients that can protect against inflammation and promote healthy aging. Although nuts and seeds have anti-inflammatory benefits, they are high in calories so be mindful of portion sizes. Whilst the number of nuts per serving varies by type, a typical serving is 1 ounce (about 1/4 cup) or a small handful. One ounce of English Walnuts equals 14 halves.

4. Extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is the fresh juice that is squeezed directly from the olive fruit, it is credited as being one of the healthful components of the Mediterranean diet. Extra virgin olive oil is not refined or extracted using chemicals or heat, leaving it high in natural antioxidants, such as oleocanthal, which have significant anti-inflammatory properties. Although olive oil has lots of health benefits and tastes good in salad or pasta, it is energy dense so eating too much can cause weight gain. The healthy eating guideline recommends using 4 to 6 teaspoons of oil in your cooking or salad dressing a day.

5. Turmeric
Turmeric is very popular in grocery stores lately due to its promising anti-inflammatory benefit. Curcumin is the key active compound in turmeric but its absorption is poor. Consuming curcumin with some black pepper and healthy oils can enhance its absorption. It goes well with grains, beans, vegetables and white meats; and can enhance the flavour of soups and stews.

Extra tips on anti-inflammatory eating:
Foods that contribute to inflammation are the same ones generally considered bad for our health, including deep-fried foods, sugar-sweetened drinks, refined carbohydrates (such as white bread and pastries), red meat and processed meats. In general, an anti-inflammatory diet means your plate is dominated by a variety of colourful fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts and healthy oils.

Sally’s Nutrition Blog @ Hong Kong Tatler: https://hk.asiatatler.com/life/5-dietitian-approved-foods-to-fight-inflammation

5 DIETITIAN-APPROVED FESTIVAL FOODS FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON

By Sally Shi-po POON (Registered Dietitian)

Eating healthily during the holiday season must be one of the most difficult challenges for many people as we’re often surrounded by lots of delicious food and drink. Although there is no reason to feel guilty about enjoying yourself on those special days of the year, it’s worth remembering that people gain about 0.4 to 0.9 kg during the festive period due to over-eating. But don’t despair — this year can be different! Here are my recommended festival foods and healthy eating tips to help you get in shape this season:

1. Turkey
Turkey is the culinary star of Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is a good source of lean protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins. Enjoy turkey baked or roasted – place turkey on a rack while cooking so fat will drain off and use a paper towel to soak up fat. Best to remove the skin before you cook as most of the fat is found in the skin and the vegetables tend to absorb the fat easily. When making gravy, try to use vegetable broth or remove the fat if using meat juices.

2. Cranberries
Cranberries are an excellent source of proanthocyanidins which helps maintain a healthy urinary tract. Cranberries are harvested and sold fresh in the fall, but they’re processed and sold year-round frozen, dried, canned, or as juice. Try turkey with cranberry stuffing or cranberry sauce. Alternatively, add cranberries to Christmas pudding or mince pies; or use unsweetened cranberry juice for making mulled wine or mocktails.

3. Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts are a rich source of vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, folate, and fibre. They are classified as cruciferous vegetables, which may help protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease. Brussels sprouts can be roasted, sautéed or steamed. Boiling Brussels sprouts will lead to significant loss of vitamin C so is less preferred. Use olive or canola oil instead of butter or grease from meats, try using oil spray or brush to control the amount of oil added, and roast on a non-stick tray or foil.

4. Pumpkin
Pumpkin is the most popular food for Halloween and pumpkin pie is an American tradition for Thanksgiving. This colorful starchy vegetable is rich in carbohydrates, vitamin A, potassium, and fiber. To make a healthy version of pumpkin pie, choose low-fat milk or soymilk, and real pumpkin or unflavored canned pumpkin. Avoid serving with whipped cream or ice cream on top. The seeds of pumpkin are a good source of protein, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. Enjoy a small handful of roasted pumpkin seeds as a healthy snack over chocolates and crisps.

5. Pies (no, really)
Christmas pudding and mince pies are packed with fruits so they are rich in fibre and antioxidants. Serve Christmas pudding with low-fat custard or crème fraiche, and try lighter version of mince pies made with filo pastry. Don’t forget to control the portion too – always share the dessert with your friend to cut the calories.

 

Bonus tips to control your weight during the holiday season:

Get moving
Being active can help you burn off the extra treats you couldn’t resist. Why not dance the night away at the parties and go for a brisk walk after a meal.

Drink in moderation
Don’t forget drinks have calories too! Try alternate your alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic beverages such as sparkling water, diet sodas or diluted unsweetened juice. Offer to drive so you can stay away from alcohol and always put a jar of water on the table at mealtimes.

Ultimately, the most important thing is to enjoy the holiday and have a wonderful time with your loved ones. Remember weight maintenance is a success, and following my tips above will help you have a good time without overindulging.

 

Sally’s Nutrition Blog @ Hong Kong Tatler: https://hk.asiatatler.com/life/5-dietitian-approved-festival-foods-for-the-holiday-season#page-5