Eating a healthy diet is essential for both women and men – especially when you are trying to conceive. It is not only the woman who needs to keep her body in peak condition to conceive and nourish a developing baby; the man, too, needs to stay nutrition-conscious, in order to keep sperm production at optimum levels.
The human body needs the right fuels. It is crucial to eat foods that contain the right nutritional balance of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, proteins and carbohydrates so the body can grow and function effectively. When you become pregnant, you carry and sustain new life inside your body. It is therefore vital to eat well and carefully, to ensure all the organs of your body are maintained in peak condition. This does not mean becoming obsessive or faddy about what you eat, you simply need to adopt common sense and an understanding of the basics of nutritional health.
Eating healthily is all about moderation and common sense. A healthy diet consists of a eating a balance of fresh vegetables and fruit, slow-release carbohydrates such as whole grains and pulses, and proteins such as chicken or fish, at every meal – together with lots of fibre and water. Eaten together, they are digested more slowly, and release a steady flow of energy that keeps the body feeling satisfied for longer. This is never more important than when you are trying to get pregnant.
Refined foods generally contain fewer natural nutrients. They are often supplemented with extra vitamins and minerals simply because the process of refining them has taken most of the goodness out.
Look after your digestive health
We all know that eating the right foods is important for general wellbeing; but not everyone realizes how important it is to look after the digestive system in particular. The digestive system is the gateway to health. It needs to be maintained in an excellent condition because it metabolizes and delivers nutrients to every organ of the body.
Keeping the digestive fluids in a healthy state ensures that the foods we eat can be easily broken down and the body can absorb the nutrients needed to maintain good health. We therefore need to avoid foods and drinks that could inflame or irritate the digestive system, such as iced or chilled drinks straight from the fridge, or foods that are very stimulating, such as alcohol, chilli or curry, because they can cause extreme damage to digestive fluids.
DON’T BE TOO STRICT
Food is a pleasure to be enjoyed. As long as the majority of our meals (say 80 per cent) consist of commonly recognized healthy foods, the occasional indulgent treat won’t do much harm – even if you are pregnant.
Healthy eating for pregnancy
I normally advise patients to buy fresh food, particularly fruits and vegetables. The fresher the food, the greater the concentration of nutrients it will retain. When foods are stored for too long, some nutrients begin to oxidize and lose their nutritional value. It is usually preferable to buy organic products where possible and to buy them only in small quantities rather than stocking up too far in advance. However, above all, choose the freshest produce, even when there is a choice between organic and non-organic.
When a woman is trying to become pregnant, her diet should include the following:
Every tissue in the body contains a high level of protein of some kind. Protein forms skin and muscle, helps in the production of amino acids and repairs cells. We need approximately 70–100 grams per day. A woman who is pregnant or trying to become pregnant may need more (about 140–200 grams) as there are extra heavy demands put on her body to provide for the development of the uterus and placenta (and in due course, the developing baby). Women who exercise a great deal or who undertake heavy physical work will definitely need to increase their protein intake.
• Poultry, meat and fish are important sources of protein. Game (such as partridge, venison and rabbit) will contain an even higher percentage of protein because it contains less fat.
• Dairy products, eggs.
• Pulses such as black-eyed beans, chickpeas, broad beans, baked beans and red, white or black beans.
• Nuts. These should be eaten in small amounts as they also contain a lot of fat.
Calcium is necessary for the healthy formation of bones, nails and teeth and the correct functioning of nerves and muscles, including the heart muscle. Calcium also helps to prevent blood clots and provides vital nutrients for the development of a growing baby.
Calcium is present in a very wide range of foods. Overall, shellfish, grains and dairy products have the highest levels of calcium.
• Dairy products such as yogurt, milk and cheese.
• Calcium-fortified foods such as soy milk, bread and cereals.
• Dark green leafy vegetables.
• Eggs, seeds, nuts and pulses.
• Meat and fish, but only in moderate amounts (apart from chicken or fish stock, which has usually been made from calcium-rich bones). Canned fish that includes soft bones (such as sardines and salmon) are also a good source.
Iron helps defend the body against infections or inflammation and is needed for the metabolism of B vitamins. It helps to increase blood volume and prevent anaemia. Women are more prone to anaemia than men because of the monthly loss of blood associated with menstrual periods or fibroids. Iron is also an essential component of haemoglobin in the blood (in combination with sodium, potassium and water), which transports oxygen from the lungs to the organs of the body.
• Beef, pork, liver and poultry. The iron found in meat is most easily absorbed by the human body.
• Vegetables, particularly dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach.
• Whole grains, such as wholegrain bread and pasta, brown rice, porridge and breakfast cereals.
• Fish and seafood.
• Dried beans and pulses.
• Dried fruits, including dried apricots and raisins, and nuts.
Vitamin C is known to enhance immunity from infection and is an important element in the production of haemoglobin. It also acts as a detoxifier and protects tissues from damage. It helps to build a healthy immune system and is a vital component of body and bone development. However, vitamin C is a fragile substance that is easily destroyed by heat during cooking and prolonged storage. Therefore, I would recommend buying fruits and vegetables in small quantities and eating them as fresh as possible.
• Fresh green vegetables, particularly leafy greens, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
• Sweet peppers and sweet potatoes are also good sources.
• Most fruits are rich in vitamin C, particularly kiwi fruits and citrus fruits, such as lemons, limes and oranges.
START THE DAY WITH A CITRUS BOOST
Try starting each morning by drinking a cup of warm or hot water with a slice of fresh lemon and a little honey. The lemon will help to refresh your digestive system and give you a boost of vitamin C at the same time.
Folic acid is a B vitamin which is often lacking in the diet. Folates (the natural form of folic acid) are needed for cell growth and blood production. The growing foetus will draw folates from the mother’s blood so supplementation is usually important when you are trying to get pregnant, and during the pregnancy.
Folic acid plays a key role in reducing the risk of neural tube defects – serious birth defects of the brain and spine, such as spina bifida. All women trying for a baby should take a daily supplement of folic acid, from the time you stop using contraception until at least the 12th week of pregnancy, to help prevent birth defects.
• Green leafy vegetables, beans, peas, raw spinach and asparagus.
• Whole grains, such as brown rice, enriched breads, pasta and lentils.
• Fruits such as oranges, grapefruit and pineapple.
• Fortified bread and breakfast cereals.
Fat is essential in the diet because it transports the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K around the body. There are two main types of fat found in food: unsaturated fats (these are the ‘good’ fats) and saturated fats (these are the ‘bad’ fats). They both contain the same amount of calories but we should cut down on foods that are high in saturated fat because they contribute towards a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other health problems.
Unsaturated fats can be divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which include omega-3 fatty acids. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and play an important role in keeping us healthy and reducing cholesterol levels. They are a vital source of essential fatty acids (EFAs) used in the formation of hormones, brain and nerve tissue. Good fats are rich in fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A, D, E, K and pro-vitamins (which can be converted into vitamins in the body.)
Monounsaturated fats are found in high concentrations in peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts and pecans, olives and avocados. Other sources include olive oil and seeds such as pumpkin and sesame.
Polyunsaturated fats are found mostly in green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish. Natural, unprocessed foods are always the healthiest choice.
Omega-3 fats are polyunsaturated fats and are essential for maintaining the healthy production of hormones and helping to regulate many important physiological functions including blood clotting, blood pressure and the healthy functioning of the nervous system.
Omega-3 fats are found in oily fish. The best sources are cold-water fish such as tuna, sardines, anchovies, herring and salmon. There are also vegetable sources (for example, flax oil), but they are much less efficient and need to be eaten in far larger quantities.
The body requires more omega-3 fatty acids when it is under stress, suffering from disease or when the weather is cold or the climate lacks sunshine. A good-quality supplement from a reputable manufacturer can be very effective and can be beneficial for those on a vegetarian diet.
• Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, pilchards, sardines, trout and fresh tuna.
• Flax oil or omega-3 enriched oils.
• Avocados, nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, peanuts and pistachios).
• Olive oil and other oils including rapeseed oil, corn oil and sunflower oil.
• Lean meats.
• Green leafy vegetables.
• Skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and low-fat cheeses.
Saturated fats are the ‘bad’ fats and should be eaten only in small quantities. They are found in butter, hard cheeses, whole milk, fatty meats and meat products such as sausages, cream, ice cream, mayonnaise, lard, dripping, suet, ghee, coconut oil and palm oil. Saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature. Choose lean, unprocessed meats and opt for grilling, baking or steaming, whatever you are cooking, rather than frying or roasting.
BEWARE OF TRANS-FATS
One group of fats should be avoided completely if possible. These are called trans-fats. There are both trans-unsaturated and trans-saturated foods on the market. They are artificial, hydrogenated fats that are often used in processed foods to prolong their shelf life – this includes ‘comfort’ foods such as biscuits, pies, cakes, chocolate, crackers, fried foods, takeaways and pastries. Transfats have little or no nutritional benefit. If you can’t avoid them completely, eat them only in very small amounts and very occasionally.
Water is an essential nutrient. There is much talk about the importance of drinking 2 or 3 litres of water a day, but I believe it is unwise to generalize. Everyone has different needs, which depend on their personal constitution, lifestyle and their body’s requirements. One useful way to monitor and adjust whether you are drinking enough water is by checking the colour and concentration of your urine. If your urine is very yellow or dark you need to drink more water as urine should be pale, clear and odourless.
During a TCM consultation, we often ask our patients whether or not they feel thirsty. Some patients feel thirsty but do not feel like a drink (this indicates yin deficiency but without too much body Heat); others feel thirsty and drink a lot and also like cold drinks (which suggests Heat or Fire in the body). Everyone’s diagnosis is different. However, it is true that most of us don’t drink enough during a normal day, so a good rule of thumb is to drink slightly more than you think you need.
Take care Excessive water intake can cause sodium levels in the blood stream to fall, and in extreme cases even lead to death. The ‘right’ level of water intake varies from person to person, which is why I tend not to specify a particular quantity. In general I recommend that people drink the amount of water that they feel like consuming – or just slightly more. For example, if you tend to feel like drinking four glasses of water a day, perhaps drink five glasses – but not more than that.
Water is present in all foods, especially fruit and vegetables. However, a glass of fresh water is the best source. Whether you prefer tap water, bottled water, still, sparkling, warm or cool is up to you. However, it is best to avoid very hot or very cold water, as this will shock your stomach and your digestive system.
Vitamin and mineral supplements
Vitamins and minerals are a vital part of your daily diet, essential for body and organ health. If your daily diet is well balanced and consists of a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, chicken, fish, eggs and seeds, you will probably be receiving sufficient vitamins and minerals. It is unlikely that you could ever consume more nutrients than your body can handle through eating natural foods, except by eating a large quantity of iron-rich offal, such as liver.
However, many of the foods we eat are heavily processed or have been stored for a long time, which means their mineral and vitamin content will have been reduced. This is why I recommend introducing just a small quantity of essential supplements to support the body in case the food we eat has lost its nutrients during cooking or storage.
Vitamin and mineral supplements should always be treated with caution and respect. Always read the labels and never exceed the recommended dosage. This is because supplements contain high doses in concentrated form, which could be dangerous or may overload the body’s organs if taken in excessive or inappropriate amounts.
Measurements and abbreviations:
• μg or mcg = micrograms
• mg = milligrams
• g = grams
• There are 1,000 micrograms in 1 milligram
• There are 1,000 milligrams in 1 gram
SUPPLEMENTS FOR WOMEN
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of folic acid is between 400 and 800 mcg (micrograms). If you decide to take your folic acid in a multi-vitamin supplement, make sure it contains 400 mcg folic acid and does not contain vitamin A as too much could harm your baby and cause birth defects.
If you have been pregnant before and suffered a neural tube defect or if you have diabetes, it is advisable to ask your healthcare professional for further advice. Doctors may send you for further tests or recommend that you take an increased level of folic acid: up to 5,000 mcg per day. You will need a prescription for this higher dose.
You may be prescribed a larger dose if:
• You have previously had a baby with spina bifida
• You have coeliac disease
• You have diabetes
• You are taking medicine for epilepsy
It is important to take medical advice, rather than to self-diagnose.
Vitamin D works with calcium and is essential for the creation of strong, healthy bones and protection against DNA damage.
The RDA for vitamin D is 5 mcg. The best source is sunlight, because the body naturally converts sunlight into vitamin D. Very few foods contain vitamin D, apart from oily fish, fortified margarines and some breakfast cereals, but supplements are available.
Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) is one of the antioxidant vitamins. It is vital for iron absorption, amino acid metabolism, healthy skin and eyes and boosting the immune system. The RDA for vitamin C is 40–80 mg. It cannot be stored in the body, so it needs to be replenished daily.
Iron is carried in the red blood cells where it helps carry oxygen and is also essential to keep the immune system healthy. Low iron levels have been linked to tiredness and can contribute to a failure to ovulate. Women need about 15 mg of iron per day. Vitamin C is needed to help absorb iron so try to combine them in a meal or supplement.
Calcium is the most important mineral for building healthy bones and teeth in the mother and the developing foetus. It also helps blood to clot and muscles to contract. It regulates nerve function and blood pressure and the secretion of hormones. We need about 700 mg of calcium per day. Vitamin D is needed to help absorb calcium so try to combine them in a meal or supplement.
Vegetarian, Vegan and Special Diets
Eating a variety of foods within a balanced diet should provide enough nutrients for you and your baby when trying for a pregnancy. However, those who prefer a vegetarian diet may find it hard to get enough iron and vitamin
B12 from natural sources. If you are vegan, you may need to discuss your nutritional needs with your healthcare team who may give you a blood test or more specific supplement support.
SUPPLEMENTS FOR MEN
Selenium is a trace mineral that is essential for good health, having a multitude of functions. It contributes to enzyme function, bone development and helps to transmit nerve impulses. It is found in every cell in the body and shows in the skin, hair and nails. Selenium aids male infertility and is required for prostaglandin production and good hormone balance. This includes the production of healthy sperm in men, as well as trouble-free menstruation and menopause in women. The RDA is 55 mcg.
Brazil nuts are a good source of selenium, so a couple of Brazil nuts every day is beneficial for all, particularly for men. Walnuts, scallops, oysters, free-range eggs and organic vegetables are also good sources of selenium. If taking a supplement, do not exceed the recommended dose, as selenium is toxic in higher quantities.
Vitamin A is important in sperm formation and helps to prevent DNA damage in sperm. An antioxidant vitamin needed for healthy eyes and skin, it promotes a healthy immune system and is essential for the growth and development of cells. Deficiency in vitamin A affects vision and is also linked to infertility in men. The RDA is 800 mcg. Take care if taking a supplement, however, as an overload of vitamin A causes nausea, vomiting, dizziness, intense headaches, aching joints and tiredness. Foods rich in vitamin A are liver and fish liver oils.
Beta-carotene is a natural source of vitamin A found in vegetables. It gives yellow and orange vegetables their colour. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in the body. There should be no need to take a supplement of beta-carotene if you are eating a balanced diet.
Vitamin C is necessary for iron absorption, amino acid metabolism, healthy skin and eyes, boosting the immune system and helping to prevent DNA damage in male sperm. The RDA for vitamin C is 80 mg. If you find your iron levels are low, it may help to drink orange juice with an iron-rich meal to increase absorption, or combine iron and vitamin C in a supplement. Vitamin C cannot be stored in the body, so it needs to be replenished daily. See page 193 for a list of dietary sources.
This antioxidant fights inflammation, helps support cell membranes and prevents deterioration of body fats, particularly the essential fatty acids and other unsaturated fats which, by their nature, are easily damaged. Foods rich in vitamin E include leafy green vegetables, seed oils, cereals, eggs, avocados, sweet potatoes, nuts and seeds, cod liver oil and animal foods. Men need 12 mg per day.
Zinc is needed for the formation of healthy bones and teeth, nails, hair and skin. It has antioxidant activity that keeps your immune system strong. Zinc is needed by a developing foetus for formation of the skeleton, growth of the nervous system and brain function.
In men, the prostate gland has one of the highest concentrations of zinc in the body. It is responsible for the production of seminal fluid, in which the sperm swim and are nourished, and is involved in the production of the male hormone testosterone, and has a role in maintaining a healthy libido. Zinc deficiency is associated with a low sperm count and reduced motility.
Men need about 10 mg of zinc per day. Good dietary sources include meat, eggs, green vegetables and seafood, especially oysters (which can contain as much as 50 mg of zinc per 100 g), scallops, prawns, lobster, cockles, mussels and crab.
Watch your weight
Being either underweight or overweight is equally unhelpful when you are trying to conceive. But what is your ideal weight? The chart on page 200 will give you a broad idea of whether your weight falls within the healthy range.
Another way is to calculate your body mass index (BMI). Your BMI will tell you whether your weight is healthy, based on an assessment of your height in relation to your weight.
BEAT SUGAR CRAVINGS
Eating protein is the best way to stave off sugar cravings, as it helps slow the release of sugar in the blood stream and prevents those mid-morning energy dips. Try including some form of protein in your breakfast, such as eggs, bacon, nuts and seeds, smoked salmon or mackerel. Vegetarians should add nuts and seeds to their daily diet, particularly at breakfast time for that early protein boost.
Foods to enjoy, restrict and avoid
A balanced diet includes certain foods that should be eaten often, some just occasionally and a few that should be avoided completely.
FOODS TO ENJOY
In general, the foods that can be eaten with few restrictions are:
• Fruit Apples (one a day), bananas and pears (no more than three small portions a week), kiwis, oranges, grapefruits, plums, nectarines, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, apricots, grapes, raspberries, blackberries and watermelon.
• Vegetables Spinach, beans, peas, lentils, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, watercress, garlic, onions, leeks, tomatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, pumpkin and any green vegetables.
• Protein I recommend including at least one of the following in each meal: lean meat, organic or free-range chicken, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.
• Fibre Whole grains, such as wheat, barley, cereals, rice (particularly brown rice), oats and rye; and root vegetables.
FOODS TO BE CAUTIOUS ABOUT
The foods that we should eat less often and in small quantities are:
• Red meat Red meat and processed meats like sausages.
• Dairy products Cheese, full-fat milk, cream and butter.
• Refined foods Any foods that contain added sugar should be kept to a minimum and eaten only occasionally. These include white bread, white pasta and rice, biscuits, chocolate and sweets. White flour causes constipation, which hinders the expulsion of toxins from the body and can reduce fertility. By switching to wholegrain bread and other foods you improve the digestive system function and can therefore improve your fertility.
• Caffeine intake has been linked to decreased fertility levels, so I would recommend avoiding it completely if possible. If you find that difficult, reduce your consumption of caffeinated drinks to no more than two to three cups a week.
FOODS TO AVOID
Some things should be avoided completely because they offer no nutritional benefit and can be harmful to both the parents’ health and that of the developing baby.
• Smoking is not a food as such, but it has been associated with infertility and the early onset of menopause in women, as well as sperm problems in men. It also reduces the success of fertility treatments.
• Chilled drinks with added ice or drinks taken straight from the fridge can irritate your digestive system.
• Alcohol Couples who come to see me often ask whether they are allowed a glass of wine with dinner. It is not realistic to expect couples who have been trying to become pregnant for a long time to keep their life on hold and not drink at all.
However, let’s understand why some authorities say no to alcohol altogether. Alcohol is a teratogen (a substance known to be harmful to the development of the developing foetus). When a woman’s menstrual cycle starts, one or more follicles in her ovaries start to develop. It usually takes 11 to 21 days from the beginning of the cycle for those follicles to mature and release an egg, which could go on to be fertilized. Alcohol could harm the developing foetus from this point on. If fertilization has taken place, alcohol will pass from your blood through the placenta and to your baby, increasing the risk of birth defects and low birth weight.
So, if you do choose to drink, you can protect your possible unborn baby by drinking no more than two small glasses of good-quality wine per week with a meal, or opt for lower alcohol wines and drink plenty of water. Because of the risk to the developing foetus, you should avoid drinking alcohol completely if you know you are pregnant or you are attending assisted fertility treatment.
Each category affects particular organs of the body.
• Bitter foods affect the Heart and Small Intestine. These are cooling foods, sometimes described as ‘bitter and drying’. They are used to clear away Heat and dry Damp. They include lettuce, asparagus, cucumber and coffee.
• Sour foods affect the Liver and Gall Bladder. These are astringent foods that are used to prevent, absorb or block conditions such as diarrhoea, coughs or perspiration. Citrus fruits such as lemon are classified as sour, as are some sweet fruits such as pears. Tomatoes, olives, mangos, grapes and vinegar also fall into this category.
• Salty foods affect the Kidney and Urinary Bladder. Salty foods are considered to soften hardness and lubricate the Intestines to make things descend. Salt, seaweed, some offal and shellfish fall into this category.
• Sweet foods affect the Stomach and Spleen. Sweet foods are highly nutritious.
• They include fruits, grains and many kinds of meat. They are foods that are used to counter-balance the toxic effects of other foods. They nourish, moisten and harmonize. Sweet foods are generally used to treat deficiencies.
• Pungent foods affect the Lung and Large Intestine. The foods in this category are described as ‘dispersing and flowing’. They help to promote the flow of qi and also clear toxins from the body. They include herbs and some spices, as well as onions and garlic.
THE YIN AND YANG OF FOOD
As with everything in Chinese medicine, food categories also affect the yin–yang balance. Foods can be divided into: Hot, Cold, Warm and Cool, commonly known as the ‘four natures’.
Every food is viewed as having yin, yang or neutral properties. Yang foods are warming, stimulating and dry, whereas yin foods are cooling, calming and wet, which may sometimes convert to Damp. Different foods may be added to or eliminated in your diet, depending on your TCM type.
Cool–Cold = Yin These foods are used to clear Heat and eliminate toxins.
Warm–Hot = Yang These foods are used to expel Cold and restore yang.
There are also various neutral foods that share the characteristics of both.
Warming yang foods are eaten more often during the cold months of the year; cooling yin foods during the heat of the summer. The warming or cooling effects derive from the nature of the food and the herbs or spices they are cooked with, rather than the temperature at which they are served.
Generally speaking the sweeter the food, the more yin energy it holds. Fruits and vegetables tend to be yin. This reflects in cooking methods too: yin methods are light, fast and keep the nutrients intact, such as steaming, sautéing and stir-frying.
Yang foods tend more towards the salty and savoury. Meat and animal products such as offal are all yang (though fish and eggs are neutral.) Yang-style cooking methods include stewing, casseroling, baking and roasting.
Fruit and vegetables: tofu, celery, melon, grapefruit, watermelon, strawberries, watercress, yellow beans, sprouts, pineapple, pomegranates, cucumber, mushrooms, mangos, pak choi, coriander, lemons, tomatoes, carrots, asparagus, lettuce, cauliflower
Protein-rich foods: cod, lemon sole, sea bass, rabbit, crab, oysters
Drinks: gin, tonic water, white wine
Fruit and vegetables: bananas, pears, mint, green beans and green bean products,
Fruit and vegetables: avocados, chickpeas, apples, peaches, papayas, grapes,
plums, cabbage, spinach, onions
Protein-rich foods: chicken, pork, duck, eggs, seeds, nuts, octopus, squid, cuttlefish, clams, eels, lobster, trout, mackerel, dover sole, turbot, lentils
Carbohydrates: brown and white rice, sweet potatoes, oats, bread, coconut, dates, honey.
Fruit and vegetables: garlic, fennel, chives, basil, rosemary, rocket
Protein-rich foods: red beans, black beans, beef, pigeon, pheasant, goose, venison, bacon, ham, liver, kidney, anchovies, tuna, mussels, monkfish, mullet, sardines, prawns
Carbohydrates: roasted nuts, almonds, walnuts, roasted seeds, chips
Spices: black pepper, white pepper, ginger
Drinks: red wine, coffee
Protein-rich foods: lamb, oxtail
Herbs and spices: ginger, sage, thyme, star anise, cloves, aniseed, cinnamon bark
Drinks: spirits such as whisky, brandy, port
THE HEALING POWER OF TEA
Tea-drinking is a well-established part of Chinese culture and the therapeutic properties of teas are well respected. All true teas come from the plant Camellia sinesis. However, there are many different ways of preparing the tea leaves and each part of the leaf is classified according to its quality and brewing qualities.
Green tea The leaves are wilted and crushed. Green tea is not oxidized. It is considered to be extremely health-giving. However, it should not be drunk in large quantities and not all the time. Green tea is very yin; it is a cooling tea. If too much is drunk it can cause yang deficiency. Green tea is often mixed with other flavours, such as jasmine. Puerh tea is a matured green tea that has been cured over a longer period of time and is highly sought after.
Black tea The leaves are wilted, sometimes crushed and fully oxidized. Most people in the West are familiar with black tea. It is classified in TCM as warming. Black tea can vary hugely in quality; I usually recommend that patients buy the best-quality tea they can afford and drink it in small quantities. Some of the supermarket teas are slightly yang and should be drunk sparingly, though they are good for a yang-deficient type. A high-quality black Darjeeling tea such as Earl Grey is neutral and can be drunk more frequently. Black tea is sometimes known as red tea in China, owing to the colour of the liquid once it is brewed (not to be confused with red bush (rooibus) tea).
Oolong tea Wu Long or oolong tea falls somewhere between green tea and black tea. It undergoes a natural drying and fermenting process and is high in polyphenols, which are present in antioxidants. It is particularly good for the digestion and is said to reduce high blood pressure.
Rooibos (Red bush) Rooibos comes from South Africa. It is a neutral tea made from the oxidized leaves of the plant Aspalanthus linearis. It can be drunk at any time, especially if taken without milk. It is caffeine free.
White tea White tea is rarer than the other teas. It is made from the buds of the white peony plant and is the least oxidized of all the teas. It is good for yin types and those who have lost Heat.
Others Herb teas, fruit teas and flower teas each have their own properties and are caffeine free. Some are warming, some are cooling. It is best not to drink any tea to the exclusion of all others. Variety is important. I usually recommend that a tea bag should be reused so that the dilution is weak and a single bag lasts a whole day.
Eating for your TCM type
Depending on which TCM categories you fall into, you might like to try eating more or less of the following foods. It is important to eat a wide variety of foods. My recommendation to achieve a balanced diet is buy only the foods from the Foods to eat lists below. Save the Foods to avoid as treats for special occasions, perhaps when you are dining out.
Blood stasis in a woman’s reproductive system is a common result of qi stagnation, prolonged Cold exposure, Damp-Phlegm or Damp-Heat. Eating the proper foods can help prevent the condition getting worse, but it is only a partial solution.
Foods to eat: For those who have been diagnosed as having Blood stasis, iron-rich and high-fibre foods can help. A small glass of red wine can be drunk, but remember not to exceed more than two to three glasses per week.
Herbs and spices: garlic, nutmeg, chives, parsley
Vegetables, fruit and nuts: aubergine, leafy greens, leeks, onions, beetroot, seaweeds, spinach, figs, apricots, cherries, blackberries, dates, grapes, lychees, peaches, strawberries, chestnuts
Carbohydrates: wholegrain breads and cereals, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, barley, potatoes, root vegetables
Protein-rich foods: bone marrow, lean beef, chicken, eggs, liver, mussels, octopus, squid, sardines, black beans
Others: brown sugar, vinegar
Foods to avoid: When there is a pattern of combined Heat, or yin or Blood deficiency, it is important to avoid pungent and Hot foods such as ginger, cinnamon and alcohol.
LIVER QI STAGNATION
It is important to ensure that qi moves smoothly and freely around the body, particularly if life and work are stressful and emotions are running high. These are feelings that may prevent the body from adapting quickly enough and qi stagnation can result. If this is your type, eat small amounts of easily digestible foods, and increase your levels of movement and relaxation.
Foods to eat: The following foods may help to get qi moving again.
Herbs and spices: basil, cardamom, rosemary, chives, garlic, coriander, dill seed, mint, peppermint tea (just one tea bag per day)
Vegetables, fruit and nuts: aubergine, broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts, celery, fennel, garlic, leeks, lettuce, onions, radishes, spinach, grapefruit, peaches, plums, lemons, oranges, citrus peel such as orange or tangerine (which can be used
as a flavouring in cooking)
Carbohydrates: barley, basmati rice, other rices, rye
Protein-rich foods: chicken, eggs, crab, prawns
Foods to avoid: If qi stagnation is combined with Heat, avoid horseradish, pepper and prawns.
Phlegm-Damp is often directly related to dietary habits. It can result from unhealthy eating with a preference for rich, sweet foods and too much meat or alcohol.
Foods to eat: Eat drying, bitter-Warm foods.
Herbs and spices: coriander, peppermint, thyme, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, garlic, cardamom, nutmeg
Vegetables, fruit and nuts: apples, broad beans, citrus peel such as lemon, orange or tangerine, grapefruit, olives, leeks, onions, peppers, squash, plums, grapes, radishes, watercress, almonds, walnuts
Carbohydrates: barley, corn, oats, rice, whole grains, rye, millet
Protein-rich foods: mackerel, sardines, prawns, small amounts of chicken and turkey
Others: lemon and ginger tea (just one tea bag per day), Earl Grey or rooibos (red bush) tea
Foods to avoid: If you have too much Damp in the body, avoid fatty, oily or greasy foods and mucus-producing foods such as dairy products. Cut back on sweet foods sugar in all forms, especially chocolate. Also avoid wheat and yeast-based foods
such as bread and cakes, and fatty meats like pork.
Accumulations of Damp and Heat are also related to the diet, so the recommendations are similar to those for Phlegm-Damp. Damp-Heat can result from a poor diet of greasy and sweet foods, too much meat and too much alcohol.
Foods to eat: Increase levels of bitter-cool foods.
Herbs and spices: cardamom, basil, mint
Vegetables, fruit and nuts: aubergine, bean sprouts, broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, celery, cucumber, lettuce, onions, seaweed, water chestnuts, watercress, dandelion leaves, apples, bananas, grapefruit, grapes, lemons, pears, tomatoes
Carbohydrates: corn, rice, rye, barley
Protein-rich foods: anchovies, black soya beans, mackerel, sardines, snails, tofu, mung beans, kidney beans, small amounts of chicken and turkey
Others: horseradish, salt, elderflower, green tea, jasmine tea (just one tea bag or one small teaspoonful of loose tea per day)
Foods to avoid: The recommendations are the same as for Phlegm-Damp above.
DRINKING HERBAL TEAS
If you use herbal tea bags, such as lemon and ginger or apple and cinnamon, make one tea bag (or no more than two) last the whole day. A fresh bag steeped in boiling water for several minutes can be too strong for your system. Instead it is good idea to dip the tea bag into the hot water, then take it out quickly and keep it to reuse again later that day, which will avoid overload.
Too much Heat in the body is yang in nature, which harms and dries out yin, Blood and body fluids, as well as disrupting peace of mind. Choose cooling, moistening foods to clear Heat and replenish body fluids. People with excess Heat like drinking mint tea – but keep it weak and try to use fresh mint rather than a tea bag.
Foods to eat: Be sure to eat plenty of raw vegetables and salads.
Herbs and spices: mint, peppermint
Vegetables, fruit and nuts: asparagus, carrots, cucumber, celery, lettuce, bananas, lemons, pears, apples, kiwi fruits, pineapple, mangos, tomatoes, watermelon
Carbohydrates: Most types of carbohydrate are good for this type, but avoid toasting and frying.
Protein-rich foods: tofu
Others: elderflower, green tea (use only one tea bag per day), jasmine tea, peppermint tea
Foods to avoid: Try to cut out coffee and alcohol altogether, particularly spirits, and spicy foods such as chilli and curry.
COLD IN THE UTERUS
Cold is yin in character and results from external exposure to cold or excessive consumption of cold, raw foods.
Foods to eat: Eat plenty of warming foods such as meat and pungent spices. Try to have soups and herbal teas.
Herbs and spices: black pepper, star anise, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, ginger, mustard, nutmeg, basil, dill, chives, thyme
Vegetables, fruit and nuts: fennel, onions, dates, cherries, lychees, roasted nuts such as cashews and almonds
Carbohydrates: root vegetables such as parsnips, brown rice, whole grains, toast
Protein-rich foods: beef, chicken, lamb, game, prawns, trout, mussels
Others: capers, red wine, whisky
Foods to avoid: Cooling foods such as raw foods and salads. Never eat or drink food straight from the fridge.
Qi deficiency generally results from exhaustion, lack of sleep, chronic illness, negative emotions, such as worry, or poor eating habits. Those with qi deficiency should eat warming, easy-to-digest foods that help promote qi, rebalance the Spleen, build energy and stimulate the metabolism. Note that microwave cooking may reduce the value of the qi in food, so adopt other cooking methods where possible.
Foods to eat: Iron- and protein-rich foods such as meat and pulses are key blood nourishing foods.
Herbs and spices: cardamom, cloves, garlic, ginger, turmeric, sage
Vegetables, fruit and nuts: sweet potatoes, wild mushrooms, figs, dates, cherries, apples, almonds, coconut, cabbage, squash, papayas, aubergine
Carbohydrates: rice, oats, millet
Protein-rich foods: chicken, lean meat, eggs, oily fi sh such as mackerel and sardines, chickpeas
Foods to avoid: Hot, bitter and acidic foods such as spices or alcohol should be avoided. Try also to avoid sugar and dairy products like full-fat milk, cheese and butter.
Choose moistening and nourishing foods to supplement the Blood. Protein-rich foods
are beneficial and whole grains have a particularly nourishing effect.
Foods to eat: Iron-rich and high-fibre foods can help with Blood deficiency.
Herbs and spices: sage, chives
Vegetables, fruit and nuts: dark leafy greens, spinach, seaweeds, broccoli, dates, figs,
blackberries, beetroot, cherries, strawberries, almonds, cashew nuts, coconut
Carbohydrates: rice, oats, root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and yams
Protein-rich foods: squid, octopus, liver, sardines, herring, mackerel, black beans,
lentils, eggs, lean red meat, game
Foods to avoid: Avoid pungent and Hot foods that dry fluids and Blood, like curry
spices, ginger, chilli and alcohol, especially when there is a pattern of combined Heat.
KIDNEY YIN DEFICIENCY
Yin foods are moist, cooling foods that have a soothing effect on the body.
Foods to eat: Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Leafy green vegetables are especially beneficial.
Herbs and spices: fresh basil, chives, coriander, parsley; small amounts of garlic or ginger
Vegetables, fruit and nuts: asparagus, avocados, peas, cabbage, seaweeds, spinach, spring onions, carrots, pumpkin, apples, lemons, tomatoes, bananas, oranges, mangos, raspberries, pineapple, pomegranates, almonds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts
Carbohydrates: millet, wheat, rice, spelt, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams
Protein-rich foods: bone marrow, chicken, crab, duck, eggs, sardines, mussels, kidneys, lobster, liver, mussels, oysters, pork, goose, rabbit, snails, tofu, lentils, mung beans, kidney beans
Others: honey, skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, miso, olive oil
Foods to avoid: Avoid warming foods such as cloves, cinnamon, thyme, chilli, curry
spices and pepper. Eat red meat only occasionally.
KIDNEY YANG DEFICIENCY
Yang foods warm and invigorate the body. Nutritional therapy involves boosting the Spleen qi and Kidney yang.
Foods to eat: Include warming foods in your diet, such as spices, lean meats and easily digestible grains.
Herbs and spices: aniseed, basil, cumin, black pepper, chives, cinnamon bark, cloves, ginger, rocket, mustard, rosemary, sage, star anise, thyme, white pepper, garlic, parsley, nutmeg, oregano, juniper berries, cardamom
Vegetables, fruit and nuts: fennel, onions, leeks, parsnips, turnips, apples, apricots, plums, roasted almonds, roasted seeds, walnuts
Carbohydrates: buckwheat, brown rice, potatoes, oats, spelt, quinoa
Protein-rich foods: black beans and other pulses, beef, beef broth, venison, chicken, lamb, oxtail, game, anchovies, liver, kidneys, tuna, mussels, monkfish, mullet, sardines, prawns, salmon, trout, bacon, ham
Others: coffee, whisky, brandy, red wine in limited amounts
Foods to avoid: Avoid cold drinks and foods eaten straight from the fridge. Some fruits, such as watermelon, bananas, cranberries and pears, slow down the movement of fluids in the body so try to avoid these.
10 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR CHANCES OF CONCEIVING
If you and your partner take an honest look at your lifestyle and are prepared to make some positive changes, you can dramatically increase your chances of conceiving.
1. Watch what you eat every day To maximize your chances of getting pregnant, it’s important to eat a healthy, balanced diet.
2. Watch your weight If you are overweight or very underweight, you are less likely to be able to conceive easily. If you or your partner are obese, consult your doctor for advice on the best and safest way to lose weight gradually.
3. Be active Regular, moderate exercise of around 30 minutes a day will help to improve your fitness and keep you at a good weight. It will also boost your endorphin levels, the body’s own ‘happy hormones’.
4. Drink wisely Women who are trying to conceive are advised to avoid alcohol completely. Men should drink no more than two or three small glasses of wine per week.
5. Don’t smoke Smoking has been associated with infertility and early menopause in women, as well as sperm problems in men. It also reduces the success of fertility treatments.
6. Keep cool For optimum sperm production, the testicles should be a couple of degrees cooler than the rest of the body. Men should avoid tight underwear and jeans, cycling and excessively hot baths and saunas. We also recommend showering the testicles with cool water for a few seconds each day.
7. Take care at work Occupations that involve sitting for long periods or exposure to environmental chemicals may affect general health in women and may additionally affect sperm quality in men.
8. Manage stress We all have different stress thresholds and there is now growing evidence that being stressed can affect your chances of conceiving. The body interprets physiological stressors, such as lack of sleep and intensive athletic training, in the same way as psychological stress caused by excessive anxiety, bereavement or divorce, for example. The stress can sometimes upset your mental health and can disturb your normal bodily functions. So try to identify and reduce the things that cause you stress.
9. Take folic acid All women trying for a baby should take a supplement of folic acid every day.
10. Check the side effects of drugs Certain prescription drugs can reduce the chances of conception, so make sure your doctor is aware that you’re trying for a baby.