Carbs, Proteins and Fat

Nutrition & Hydration
Key Points

  • Carbs, proteins and fats are all required for a healthy body.
  • Prefer complex and unrefined carbs.
  • Prefer vegetable protein or lean animal protein.
  • Prefer monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Carbs, Proteins and Fats

Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats supply 100% of the energy we get from food. All three provide energy. However, some provide more energy than others, and more slowly/quicker than others.

When we eat, the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are digested and broken down:
  • Carbohydrates are broken down into sugar.
  • Proteins are broken down into amino acids.
  • Fats are broken down into fatty acids and glycerol.

The body uses these to grow, maintain bodily functions, and be active. Carbs will provide energy much quicker than proteins and fats. Let’s look at each of these components of food and see how you can make healthy choices that help you whilst trying to conceive.

Carbs & Fertility

Carbs can be simple or complex.
Simple carbs (like sugar, fruit, dairy, honey), are small molecules and absorbed quickly by the body.
Complex carbs (like wheat bread, potato, beans) are long strings of simple carbs, and are absorbed slowly.
When we eat more carbs than we need, these are converted into fat. Complex carbs are less likely to be converted into fat, than simple carbs.

Carbs may also be refined or unrefined.
Refined means they have been highly processed, stripped from most of the nutrients but still containing the same number of calories, which increases the risk of obesity and diabetes.
Unrefined carbs (like whole grains, spinach, beans, nuts) are naturally occurring carbs.

Processed foods are often filled with simple refined carbs (for example sugar) that are absorbed quickly and raise the sugar level in the blood, and therefore insulin levels. This represents a high glycaemic index.

The glycaemic index of a carbohydrate represents how quickly its consumption increases blood sugar levels. Eating unprocessed complex carbs that are lower on the glycaemic scale, help control insulin levels, regulate blood sugar, improve fertility, prevent gestational diabetes, and you will feel satisfied for longer. So, instead of avoiding all carbs, it’s all a matter choosing carefully which carbs to eat. Beans, peas, lentils, whole grains and most vegetables are a good choice.

Protein & Fertility

Proteins are complex molecules and take longer to break down. For this reason, they are a slower and longer lasting source of energy. The body will break down proteins into aminoacids. These will be used to maintain and replace tissues, to function and grow.

We can lower a meal’s glycaemic value by adding lean animal protein (white meats) or vegetable protein. Animal protein, when in high intakes, is linked with greater risk of infertility, so as an alternative, navy beans and spinach are excellent sources of vegetable protein and are high in iron.

Fats & Fertility

Fats are complex molecules, used to grow, produce energy, synthetize hormones and other substances. Fats are the slowest source of energy. Some fats (essential fatty acids) need to be consumed through diet. These are present in certain vegetable oils and certain fish.

Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids are also important to reduce the risk of accumulation of bad fats in arteries. These can be found in lake trout and certain deep-sea fish. Omega-6 is also present in many processed foods, so a lot of people take enough omega-6 but not enough omega-3.

There are 3 types of fat:

  • monosaturated,
  • polyunsaturated,
  • and saturated.

Saturated fats derived from animals tend to be solid (like butter).

Monosaturated or polyunsaturated fats originate from plants and tend to be liquid (like olive oil).

Trans fats are a special type of fat. These are man-made and are present in most processed foods. Trans-fats make it harder for the body to respond to insulin, and the body reacts by secreting more insulin (this is known as insulin resistance). Here are some interesting facts about trans fats intake and fertility:

  • Increasing trans fats intake by 4 grams per day makes the woman’s risk of infertility higher, in extreme cases leads to stopping ovulation.
  • Trans fats lead to weight gain which can shorten the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, therefore there is less time for the embryo to implant in the uterus lining.
  • Obesity also alters the follicular fluid composition of the egg, which makes it less viable. A 5-10% decrease in body mass index when overweight results in accentuated insulin sensitivity, which then improves the levels of several reproductive hormones, and an increase of blood flow to the womb, which can help egg release from the ovaries and implantation once fertilized. A body mass index of 20 to 24 is ideal for women trying to conceive.

To improve fertility, avoid trans fats and limit the amount of saturated fats. Focus on monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, particularly omega-3 fats. Walnuts, olives, almonds, avocados, and wild salmon are a great source of fat.
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