Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Marilyn Shannon Rocks!

In my brief 29 years of experience, Fertility, Cycles and Nutrition by Marilyn Shannon is the best book I have come across on nutrition for the layperson. In the book, Shannon discusses the link between diet and fertility, AND encourages some basic dietary changes for women and men. I read this book as a newlywed, and I can honestly say that it changed my life. Her book had a huge impact on my diet, my female cycles, and our ability to conceive our children. My husband and I now teach Natural Family Planning classes, and I heartily recommend her book to our students and anyone else who will listen.

And if my own personal testimony isn't enough for you, Drs. Jorge Chavarro and Walter Willet of the Harvard School of Public Health have confirmed much of what Shannon originally argued 15 -20 years ago. In their new book, The Fertility Diet, Chavarro and Walter compile information from the Nurses Health Study, and make dietary suggestions very similar to what Shannon argued for in her own book many years ago.

In the ongoing Nurses Health Study, started in 1989, thousands of nurses kept records of their diet, exercise, and other life patterns. Chavarro and Walter studied the data from participating nurses who wished to become pregnant. The data showed several correlations between diet and ovulatory infertility. In the latest issue of Family Foundations Magazine (put out by the Couple to Couple League, the largest provider of NFP services in the US), Shannon very humbly summarizes this new book and highlights some of Chavarro and Walter's recommendations.

1. Avoid trans fats. The artery clogging fats found in many commercially prepared products and fast foods.
2. Use more unsaturated vegetable oils, such as olive oil and canola oil
3. Eat more vegetables protein, like beans and nuts, and less animal protein.
4. Choose whole grains and other sources of carbohydrates that have lower, slower effects on blood sugar and insulin rather than highly refined carbohydrates that quickly boost blood sugar and insulin.
5. Drink a glass of whole milk or have a small dish of ice cream or full-fat yogurt every day; temporarily trade in skim milk and low or no-fat dairy products like cottage cheese and frozen yogurt for their full-fat cousins.
6. Take a multivitamin that contains folic acid and other B vitamins.
7. Get plenty of iron from fruits, vegetables, beans, and supplements but not from red meat.
8. Beverages matter. Water is great; coffee, tea, and alcohol are okay in moderation; leave sugared sodas unopened.
9. Aim for a healthy weight.
10. If you aren't physically active, start a daily exercise plan.

I find many of these recommendations a matter of common sense, but others are really interesting, particularly the go ahead for full-fat dairy products. The low-fat craze is most evident in dairy products, but natural fat as found in milk is actually very healthy. Our family traded in skim milk for full fat dairy years ago (and believe me this was difficult for me as I actually like the taste of skim milk better!). Plus full fat dairy products are really great for kids and their developing brains.

Ultimately, why is this so important? First of all, many painful infertility treatments can be avoided through dietary and lifestyle changes. But in a broader sense, our fertility is just another sign of our overall health. If a women has irregular cycles that can be aided through dietary changes, well then think of all the other things that might not have been working so well in her body. So the recommendations of this study are really good for everyone, even those not currently trying to add another little one to their family.


John Farrell said...

Outstanding post. I've been a big fan of "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" by Harvard School of Public Health MD Walter Willett, which emphasizes much the same points as Shannon. It certainly has helped me stay in shape.

Spread the word!

Meredith said...

Great post, I too have always loved her book, very hepful when trying to conceive!

Right Said Red said...


Thanks for the comment.

I haven't read "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" by Willett, and I'm curious as to whether he thinks it ok to drink diet sodas. Shannon is strongly against diet soda (due to all the chemicals and the subsequent cravings those sodas produce), and she does criticize the authors of the Fertility Diet for giving a green light to diet soda. Do you happen to remember if Willett says yes to diet soda?

Just curius.


John Farrell said...

Hi Red,
I'll check my copy tonight (assuming my memory cells don't let me down), but my recollection is that Willett was down on all sodas even the sugar free.

John Farrell said...

BTW, My own preferred regular beverage is plain soda water, with a splash of cranberry or orange. I don't like diet sodas...

B-Mama said...

Wonderful references, Red! It makes complete sense that a logical, nutritional approach to diet is one that also encourages ripe fertility. Catholics around the world should have especial reasons to take good care of themselves--so as to raise as many children for the work of the Lord and His Church! :)

Overall, a sound fitness/nutritional regime is part of a healthy approach to life, period. I get so sick of all the fad diets offering temporary fixes for a greater problem--a sedentary, high-fat, low protein diet and lifestyle. Let's get sensible, America!!!!

texas mommy said...

Thanks, Red. I learned a lot from reading this book. My only disagreement with the list is striving for monounsaturated fats, especially the refined, processed kinds like canola and safflower oil. I recently switched to coconut oil, which is a solid at room temp because of its high saturated fat content.

When we went through all the life insuarance tests awhile ago, we found that Mr. Increidble had moderately high cholesterol. My first thought was to get rid of whole milk, red meat, etc, baisically everything the American Heart Association tells you to do. But when he met with his doctor he told him that his type of higher cholesterol was caused by refined, processed foods, NOT consumed animal cholesterol. I thought he was making this up so I wouldn't take away bacon, but I finally read something in the cookbook called Nourishing Traditions that explained it well (though the book is not written by a dr.). Saturated fats are short chain fatty acids that are more readily used by the body. Refined oils and fats like vegetable oil, are longer chains and, along with carbs are turned into triglycerides...the man-made kind of bad cholesterol. Cultures where tons of saturated animals fats are eaten (eskimos, parts of france, etc.) have much lower cholesterol than America where everything is labeled "low in saturated fat".

Also, baking with coconut oil makes eveerything taste a little better (my secret's out)!!

100 xs blessed said...

I also love Shannon's book. I also have Dr.Willett's book that was mentioned. On page 149-150, he states that the diet version of soda is "better than the sugared versions..."he goes on to say that no one knows the long term effects of consuming artificial sweetners..."why bother with the uncertainty when plain water or a water with a twist of lemon or a dash of juice are better options?" is how he ends his discussion of diet sodas...
hope this helps :)

Mary Alice said...

I have been trying to figure out ways to eat less meat, if anyone has any kid friendly bean recipes, I would appreciate it.

Tex, how do you substitute the coconut oil in your baking?

Anonymous said...

here's an easy way to get black beans in... When I make tacos, I make the lb or beef with the taco seasoning and then add 2 cans of black beans. I mix it all up and put 1/2 in the freezer for another time and my family ends up eating 1/2 the meat it would have.
Also, my kids love homemade baked beans and bacon with corn bread. Making it at home is work, but you can lower the sugar and bacon to a reasonable level.

JStark said...

You can eat allll the healthy food you want but infertility is STILL INFERTILITY. This is a crock. My dear hubby and I have been trying for 9.5 years and we are now in our 40s.

We are not trying anymore. This stuff is a crock.

About five years ago, some woman told us to eat "fresh cuts of meat." The nerve of these people because they do not even know the reason for our medical issue.

While this book is fine for others, this is a crock for folks our age. We have stopped trying and have figured out that God doesn't want us to have children. We are going to travel and do things people with kids get jealous of. Adoption is too expensive and they don't give loans for it.

We eat healthy anyhow. We still don't have children or labor pains.

JesusThroughMary said...

Jstark -

I don't think anybody here is making the claim that all infertility is caused by poor diet. However, the fact is that thousands of women who thought they were infertile simply needed to improve their diet and lifestyle choices. The point of the post is that, before you move on to more extreme measures, try the simple, obvious and inexpensive first. I can sense that you're bitter about not being able to conceive. I have no idea why that is (for instance, are you 41 or 49?), but the fact that you haven't does nothing to invalidate the findings of these studies that have been beneficial to thousands.

How much more does adoption cost than the cost of "attempting to make people with kids jealous"? And who is "they"? I know there are organizations that provide financial assistance to families seeking to adopt. http://affording.adoption.com/

Adoption may take a lot of time and effort (maybe more than you're willing to invest, and that's your call), but it's not fair to just write it off as impossible.

You may not benefit from this information, but many others have and will. It's unfair for you to generalize your situation, and then use it as a basis to trash Red on her own blog. It's illogical and it's uncharitable.

texas mommy said...

Jstark-My heart goes out to you. My parents tried for 10 years before they were blessed with me. They moved to a totally not kid-friendly house (I'm not sure the extent to which they ever considered adoption, but always had the impression that they did not feel called to it) and then--to the surprise of everyone--conceived after 10 years of marriage.

No one doubts that infertility is a very real cross to bear.

I struggled with anxiety over this as my mother's condition can be hereditary (and certainly not alterable via diet). Red's post was in line with much of what we have been talking about recently related to feeding our families healthy food.

Which brings me to the point that it is somewhat crazy that we are talking about this at all! After living in Italy, I realize how distorted our American culture's attitude to food is. We are the most "health-conscious" yet least healthy people. We feast on protein bars and engineered products that line the supermarket shelves. I

n Rome, while there are some grocery stores springing up, you get your produce, cheese, meat, etc from the individual farmers at the huge open air market. The most processed food is the fresh pasta made with eggs and pure semolina flour. They do fry food, but use lard or unrefined olive oil not the newfangled American inventions that serve the need of fast food chains to keep oil at a hot temperature for hours at a time.

As for coconut oil...you can substitute it 1 for 1 for vegetable oil, margarine, shortening, etc. Depending on the recipe, you may need to heat it slightly to incorporate it if it is too solid. You can use it in lieu of vegetable oil when sauteeing, too.

Juris Mater said...

Jstark, I can't imagine your heartache and will pray for you and your husband. One of a few blogs that I read regularly is Kristen Laurence at http://www.smalltreasuresinorangecounty.blogspot.com/. Her perspective on infertility and the blessing of children continue to uplift me in my vocation.

Juris Mater said...

Somebody needs to inform Marilyn Shannon and these idealistic nutritionists that telling a diet drink addict (like me) to switch to sparkling water with a splash of cranberry is like telling a crack addict to try snorting Pixy Stix instead. I probably would have bitten the dust a couple years ago from nutrasweet blood poisoning if I didn't keep getting pregnant... the health of babies in utero is the ONLY thing that would make me give up Diet Dr. Pepper. Sparkly splish-splash fruity water is a big joke.

JesusThroughMary said...

Actually, it's more like telling a crack addict to smoke Pop Rocks....

There is help available, though.


JesusThroughMary said...

Speaking of crack, I think it's a prominent ingredient in Diet Cherry Chocolate Dr. Pepper.

B-Mama said...

Juris Mater, I share your love and addition to Diet Dr. Pepper (the best diet drink and most close-tasting to the real thing!) I'm also so thankful for pregnancy to save me from my woeful habits!! Though have you seen they make a caffeine-free version? That's at least one evil down!

JStark said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bethany said...

Juris Mater and JesusthroughMary

all I have to say.

I'm right there with you, drowning in the shaming goodness of diet sodas.

Jstark said...

Regarding the diet soda stuff: I have been told that artifical sweetener causes MS. It is not good for you.

Just use common sense in your diet. I am a bit older than y'all and well, use common sense. Don't buy frozen foods and that yuccy meat in a box from the frozen section unless well your husband insists on it.

I am over that kid thing. It is no longer a heartache because that is something we feel that God chose. It is less the aggravation and no we are not going to be pushed to adopt. We read the Catechism and well, there is nothing in there that obliges us to do so. We have people for dinner though. Tee hee. I throw the stuff that makes our unit messy in the closet and tape it shut.

At least we are not up all night with kids. God gave us other stuff to deal with. Remember I am 44 what would you be like if you were my age. I am now seeking 2 grad degrees to share my gifts with others that is hospitality.

The Eucharist is the center of my life.

Mary Alice said...

I love the trick of using beans to double your ground beef recipes, I am going to try that. If I put the ground beef/bean combo with homemade taco seasoning and some cheddar into whole wheat quesadillas I think that would be a yummy way to gradually wean off of ground beef.

I had a friend whose mom used to make awesome tofu meatballs with spaghetti, I am going to seek out a recipe for that, too.

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