The foods you eat on a regular basis can have a big impact on fertility. Online personal trainer Andrew Cate investigates a possible link between dairy fats and reproductive health in men.
Dairy products and fertility
There appears to be a downward trend in fertility throughout the world, and that may be due, at least in part, to nutrition. According to preliminary research presented to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the fat in dairy foods may be of particular concern. The study found that sperm shape was less likely to be "normal" as men's dairy intake increased. This connection was particularly strong when full-fat dairy products were consumed. Increased consumption of full fat dairy products was also associated with lower sperm motility and concentration. This connection still held true after accounting for other influencing factors, such as body weight, smoking history, alcohol intake and caffeine consumption. It was noted that because the study details were presented at a medical meeting and not yet published, the information is preliminary, and more research is needed.
In research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition the link between dairy fats and reduced sperm quality was examined in 701 young men. Researchers found that as saturated fat intake increased, sperm count and concentration decreased. Men who consumed the most saturated fat had a 38% reduction in sperm concentration and 41% lower sperm count compared with men with the lowest saturated intake. Full fat dairy products are high in saturated fats, and more than 30% of the saturated fat intake among men in this study was derived from dairy and cheese products. According to the researchers, environmental chemicals may bio-accumulate in dairy fat, and could disrupt the balance of hormones and reduce semen quality. No association between semen quality and the consumption of other types of fat was found.
Practical tips on how to reduce your fat intake from dairy foods
Some dairy foods are traditionally high in fat, yet there is a diverse range of low fat and reduced fat choices available. Following is a series of tips designed to help reduce your intake of dietary fat from dairy foods.
• If you have milk on cereal or in smoothies, choose skim milk. It contains virtually no fat whereas a cup of full cream milk contains approximately 10 grams of fat (and twice as many kilojoules). Skim milk has a similar protein and calcium content to full fat milk, and only a slightly higher glycemic index.
• The dairy food containing the highest amount of fat is butter, which you can replace in cooking with unsaturated oils like rice bran, olive, canola, sesame or sunflower oils. It is also wise to cut back on or eliminate the use of butter on bread. Avocado or hummus is a healthier alternative for sandwiches.
• Avoid cream with desserts or in sauces. When having pasta, choose tomato or vegetable based options instead of creamy sauces.
• Yogurt and ice cream both have a diverse range of low fat options. Just be wary of seemingly “healthier” options that replace much of the fat with sugar. For example, it's healthier to choose low fat natural yoghurt and sweeten it yourself by adding chopped fruit rather than choosing low fat flavoured yoghurt that is high in added sugar.
• Yellow cheese is rich in dairy fats. Instead, choose low fat white cheeses such as cottage or ricotta, or use small servings of strongly flavoured yellow cheese such as parmesan to add taste when required.
• When you first cut back on dairy fats, some of the foods will taste different, and possibly have a different texture. Give yourself a few weeks for your taste buds to adjust to a different and healthier way of eating. Just like cutting back on sugar or salt, it gets easier over time.
• In addition to cutting back on dairy fats, it may be beneficial to cut back on other sources of saturated fat in the diet, including fatty cuts of meats, processed meats, and the skin on poultry.