In today’s toxic world, the best offense is a good defense. If every couple planning for pregnancy ate as if they were both pregnant – when the child-to-be is tucked away nicely in two sets of chromosomes; 23 from Mom and 23 from Dad – the fertilized egg would certainly be healthier and scrappier. The zygote, embryo, placenta and fetus grow from the egg and sperm cells. This gives Dads-to-be the same physiological commitment in reproduction.
We hear about the importance for women of child-bearing age to get enough folate and be diligent about their preconception diet but men’s nutritional status and contribution to pregnancy often goes unnoticed.
What’s folate’s role in pregnancy, anyway?
Folate and B12, in a process known as neural protein synthesis build the neural tube – one tiny cell at a time. Zinc protects the developing cells and transcribes the DNA code. If there are shortages of folate or its accessory nutrients (folate is the nutrient trumpeted loudest by the World Health Organizations) it retards DNA growth. This is where we have the evidence and heartache of infertility, miscarriage, and birth defects
What other nutrients should we be aware of and what should we eat?
Nutrients do not work in isolation or without collaboration. Once we understand where the nutrients in foods go to nourish and protect the cell (sperm and ovum are cells), we make smarter, intentional food choices.
First, it’s important to understand some basic biology. There are three major constituents of the cell; the membrane, mitochondria, and nucleus. Omega-3 fatty acids from marine sources and the monounsaturated fats in olive oil and avocados make a fluid, flexible, cell membrane that absorbs nutrients readily, allows waste products to exit freely, and helps the cell move about the body cooperatively – good for all body systems; neurological, vascular, metabolic, and reproductive.
The mitochondria, the energy and communication center of the cell rely on all nutrients; especially B-vitamins and trace elements abundant in the following foods:
1. Fresh protein from healthy animals and their by-products
Healthy animals are grass-fed, eating their indigenous diets and not penned up, force-fed grains and eating bakery waste still wrapped in cellophane. (Yes it’s true!) Grass-fed animals have a higher nutrient content, more B12 and zinc (there is more zinc in grass than in corn) which is critical to building the neural tube. Grass-fed animals also have a higher omega-3 fatty acid content because there is ALA (alpha linolenic acid) in the grass and also more fat soluble vitamins; A,D,E, and K.
There is beta carotene in the grass, four times the vitamin E, and since the animal is out in the sun, there is more Vitamin D in the meat and the animal’s by-products. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are critical to tissue formation which is of major importance during organogenesis. One of the next body systems to form after the neural tube from the endoderm is the primitive gut. It is so important to the developing fetus, infant and child that the small intestines and the lining (villi) be properly formed to absorb nutrients. Another benefit of these fat soluble vitamins – other nutrients piggy-back with them into the cell membrane.
Lentils, black, pinto, garbanzo, kidney, borlotti, and navy beans, peanuts
3. Whole grains – germ and bran in-tact
Hulled barley, couscous, quinoa, brown rice, steel-cut oats, bulgur wheat, buckwheat, brown rice
4. Seeds and Nuts
Walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame seeds
5. An abundance of brightly colored fresh fruit and vegetables
12 servings a day of fruits and vegetables (plenty of leafy greens) from a variety of botanical families provides a constellation of antioxidants and phytonutrients that scaffold the cell’s ability to replicate healthfully.
All of these foods contain nutrients that are critical to the nourishment and protection of the cell. They promote glycemic stability and are paramount to early cell division and genetic expression which begins during the formation of sperm and ovum.
So Moms AND Dads, if your child-to-be is but a twinkle in your eye, it makes sense to live healthier, eat healthier, and seek out a qualified preconception nutritionist to make sure your nutrient status will create and sustain a healthy new life.
Jan Katzen-Luchenta AMI CFP is a nutritionist working for a developmental pediatrician in Phoenix, Arizona. She specializes in preconception, prenatal, and children’s nutrition.
Copyright 2011 Jan Katzen-Luchenta AMI CFP.
The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of Healthy Child Healthy World.