By Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
Eating a colourful variety of foods can be a simple way to receive a full range of vitamins and minerals your body requires to thrive. Eat the rainbow simply means that the colour of your food can reveal a lot about its nutritional worth and eating a rainbow of colours is a fantastic method to get as many vitamins and minerals as possible. Eating a nutrient dense diet full of colour is thought to protect us against a variety of illnesses, and there is increasing evidence that it can also help in relation to fertility…so eat a rainbow to give your health and fertility a boost!
This week as part of our ‘Eat a Rainbow’ series we are going to examine more closely the nutritional benefits of including and enjoying a variety of red and pink fruit and vegetables as part of your diet to help support health and fertility.
What are some key examples of pink and red fruit and vegetables?
Key examples of Red and pink fruit and vegetables include: Beetroot, Radish, Tomatoes, Red Peppers, Red Onions and Pomegranates, Cherries, Cranberries, Strawberries, Pink Grapefruit, Watermelon, Raspberries, Red Grapes, Red Apples, Red currants and Loganberries.
What are the main nutrients to be found in pink and red fruit and vegetables?
Key nutrients found in Red and pink fruit and vegetables: Lycopene, Anthocyanins, Calcium, Vitamin D , Flavonoids, Resveratrol, Vitamin C, Folate.
What are the benefits to be gained nutrient wise from consuming the red and pink rainbow coloured fruit and vegetables and HOW do they help to support health and fertility?
Red and pink fruit and vegetables contain Anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid which are responsible for providing the colours in the skins of fruits and vegetables. In terms of general health, dietary intake of anthocyanins may enhance heart health also help prevent high blood pressure. In studies they have also been found to be useful re killing cancer cells in certain cancers, but more research is needed and ongoing in this area. They are powerful antioxidants and when it comes to male fertility this is important for sperm health – to keep sperm healthy, strong and to help to prevent damage due to oxidative stress occurring to the DNA. They have also been linked to reducing inflammation which is important when it comes to male fertility as inflammation of the reproductive organs can lead to sperm damage.
Red and pink vegetables and fruit usually contain some amount of lycopene (tomatoes are an excellent source) which has protective benefits to the body. Lycopene is a naturally occurring carotenoid. Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants, and provide red, pink, yellow and orange colour to fruit and vegetables. They have an important role in that they protect the cells of the body from damage caused by free radicals. In relation to fertility, there have been some studies conducted into the beneficial effects of lycopene on male fertility. Research has been carried out to examine the effect of the antioxidants in lycopene in helping to protect developing sperm from free radical damage and possible DNA damage. In some studies, it was discovered that lycopene is associated with improving the overall appearance and quality of men’s sperm. So, eat more red and pink fruit and vegetables – and cooked tomatoes are especially rich in lycopene! 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.
Red and pink fruit and vegetables contain Folate (vitamin B9). This is a very important vitamin, for many reasons. It is involved with DNA methylation (a process related to gene expression), supports red blood cell formation and is important in regulating homocysteine levels in the blood. Vitamin B9 is an essential nutrient that supports neural tube development during pregnancy Not having enough vitamin B9 can also affect energy levels and mood.
Folate is a group of chemically complicated substances that supply the body with chemically simple methyl groups. The body needs folates but can’t make them from scratch and therefore must obtain them from food or dietary supplements. Folate is vital at every life stage, from early development in the womb, through birth and all the way through adulthood. But for many people lifestyle factors, certain medications or common gene mutations deplete their folate stores.
The folate vitamin group is most active when converted into an active form known as Methyl-folate. Unlike folic acid, Methyl-Folate, when consumed, does not have to be converted into active folate—being already the body’s most active folate form, it can be immediately used by our folate enzyme systems. One of the most common human gene mutations is in the enzyme MTHFR (Methylene Tetrahydrofolate Reductase), whose function is to produce Methyl-folate. It is important for people who carry this gene mutation to ensure that they are taking adequate amounts of Methyl- folate into their bodies.
It is recommended that all women who could get pregnant should take a daily supplement of folic acid. You should take a 400 microgram supplement of folic acid every day ideally for at least 3 months before you hope to become pregnant (some people may need more depending on circumstances- this would be discussed with your G.P or Nutritional Therapist, and every day afterwards, up until you’re 12 weeks pregnant and then beyond too, as folate is important in both maternal health as well as infant health if breast feeding ( try to take a supplement containing methyl folate if possible)
Red and pink fruit and vegetables are an excellent source of the antioxidant vitamin C . This vitamin is important in immune system support, for producing collagen, help fight free radicals and aid in the reduction of inflammation. In studies, Vitamin C has been found to enhance sperm count, motility and quality. It also has been found to help to prevent sperm from clumping (agglutination) and also in the protection of the DNA in sperm from free radical damage.
Easy Tomato and Red Pepper Soup
Line a baking tray with your swishy/overripe tomatoes. Slice finely one large red pepper, 1 large onion, crush 1 clove of garlic and sprinkle over the tomatoes with a handful of fresh herbs such as basil and/or oregano. Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the top and sprinkle with a chopped fresh chilli or chilli flakes (optional). Place into a preheated oven of 180 degrees C for around 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make up ½ pint of vegetable stock and when the tomato/pepper mix is removed from the oven, allow to cool a little and then add the stock a little at a time as required and liquidise/blend (add a little seasoning to taste). Enjoy! This is great for freezing too.
Raspberry smoothie (makes 2 smoothies)
• 300g Raspberries
• 200g tub Natural live yoghurt or Greek yoghurt
• 1 cup of chilled milk of your choice
• A handful of chia seeds (these are high in fibre, omega 3 fatty acids, protein, vitamins and minerals)
Combine the raspberries, yoghurt, chia seeds and milk in a blender and process until smooth. Pour over ice if you prefer and serve in decorative glasses. Place some raspberries and mint leaves on top. Enjoy!
Tomato soup made using fresh tomatoes
8 large ripe tomatoes
2/3 tablespoons olive oil
1 stick of celery
1 clove of garlic (crushed)
1 litre of vegetable stock (add more if necessary for desired thickness)
Fresh herbs such as fresh rosemary and thyme (optional)
1. Slice the tomatoes, onion, celery, and potatoes into cubes. Grate one carrot.
2. Warm a large pot and add in olive oil. Add in the onions and garlic and cook till soft.
3. Then, add in potatoes, tomatoes, celery and carrot (and herbs if required). Cook for a couple of minutes.
4. Add in vegetable stock and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes or until potatoes are soft.
And for a little extra reading :
Mendiola, J, et al. “A Low Intake of Antioxidant Nutrients is Associated with Poor Semen Quality of Patients Attending Fertility Clincs.” Fertility and Sterility (2010). 93(4): 1128-33.
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.
Improving Male Fertility (2013). Research Suggests a Nutrient-Dense Diet May Play an Integral Role. Today’s Dietitian Vol. 15 No. 6 P. 40.
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