It is extremely important, since nutrition has a direct impact on the potency of your sperm. Research shows that poor eating habits and heavy drinking, for instance, can lower the quality and quantity of sperm, making conception more difficult. And since infertility is nearly as much a man's issue as a woman's, 32 per cent of infertility problems can be traced to men (HFEA 2007: 6), a healthy diet now will boost your chances of conceiving a child. You can rekindle your love affair with fast food after your wife's pregnancy is confirmed.
Generally, it should be every bit as balanced, varied, and nutritious as a mum-to-be's diet. Specifically, as a future dad it should help if you:
• Ensure your diet includes zinc, folates (such as green leafy vegetables) and other foods rich in antioxidants, such as vitamin C. All of these help your body to make normal functioning sperm and to kill off abnormal sperm (Ebisch et al 2007). Low levels of zinc have been associated with male infertility (Chia et al 2000), and studies have shown that treatment with combined zinc sulphate and folates can improve sperm count for both fertile and infertile men (Wong et al 2002). But don't overdo it, high concentrations of zinc have also been associated with poor sperm motility (Sorensen et al 1999; Fuse et al 1999). Aim for at least 12 to 15 mg in your diet per day. Great sources of zinc include extra-lean minced beef (a 85g / 3oz serving has 4.5 mg), baked beans (a 170g / 6oz serving has 3.55mg), and dark chicken meat (2.38mg per 85g / 3oz).
Foods rich in folates include green vegetables, such as broccoli and sprouts, but it can also be found in other foods such as black eyed beans, papaya, and jacket potatoes (see our article on folic acid for mums-to-be for more ideas).
An 227g / 8oz glass of orange juice contains 124 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C. Aim for at least 60 mg daily, more (at least 100 mg) if you smoke because smoking makes you less able to absorb it (EGVM 2002: 2-3). (And if you do smoke, quit. See our lifestyle article for reasons why.)
• Keep drinking coffee, if you like it. Two Brazilian studies published in 2005 confirmed earlier suspicions that caffeine could improve sperm motility (the sperm's ability to move). In one study of fertile men who were about to have a vasectomy, men who regularly drank six or more cups of coffee a day had significantly higher sperm motility than men who didn't have the coffee habit (Sobreiro et al 2005). The second study looked at infertile men and found a similar effect of regular coffee drinking associated with improved sperm motility and antioxidant levels (Pasqualotto et al 2005). Improvements in sperm motility seem to get higher as coffee intake increases but there is no evidence, as yet, that increasing your caffeine intake will definitely improve your chances of conception.
• Cut back on alcohol. While an occasional drink is generally considered safe, experts agree that drinking excessively will impair the quality of your sperm (NCCWCH 2004: 27). Heavy consumption of wine, beer or spirits affects your hormone levels resulting in decreased testosterone levels, and it also affects the ability of your testes to mature the sperm properly leading to lower sperm counts and increased numbers of abnormal sperm in semen (Emanuele and Emanuele 1998). There is no evidence that moderate drinking (within the range advised by the Department of Health of three to four units of alcohol per day for men), has any impact on male fertility (NCCWCH 2004: 27; Jensen et al 1998). Visit www.drinkaware.co.uk for more information on working out your daily alcohol intake.
Besides food, there are a host of lifestyle factors and workplace risks that can affect your fertility. Fortunately, most of these can be avoided.
The bottom line is, if you commit yourself to a few months of clean living and healthy eating (that means plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats) and a safe (though admittedly tamer) lifestyle, you'll be in top shape to father a child.
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