Processed vs Unprocessed Foods

Nutrition & Hydration
Key Points

  • A diet rich in unprocessed foods is better for fertility.
  • Limit the amount of processed foods ingested.
When it comes to fertility, a diet rich in unprocessed foods and moderate exercise can have a significant impact on ovulatory and hormonal disorders, as well as on male factor infertility.

This is because it helps regulate insulin levels. When overly produced, insulin leads to hormonal changes in the ovaries and liver, such as reduced sex hormone-binding globulin and increased androgens, like testosterone.

What are Unprocessed Foods?

Unprocessed foods are foods that we eat in their natural form, that haven’t been altered in any way. Examples include:

  • fresh fruit
  • vegetables
  • nuts
  • eggs
  • fish and meat (that haven’t been preserved by smoking, curing, salting)
These foods can be minimally processed for eating – cut, dried or cooked – but nothing much is added or removed from them. These foods provide maximum nutritional value and are good for your body.

What are Processed Foods?

Processed foods have been altered in some way, by having other ingredients added to them, like preservatives, sugar or oil. Examples of processed foods include:

  • breakfast cereal
  • cheese
  • tinned vegetables
  • bread
  • crisps
  • cake
  • biscuits
  • sausage rolls
  • bacon
  • salami
  • microwave ready meals

Not all processed foods are unhealthy, but some processed foods may contain high levels of salt, sugar and fat, and must be avoided.
Examples of good processed foods are milk, for example, which needs to be processed to remove harmful bacteria; and seeds that need to be pressed to make oil.

Processed vs Unprocessed Foods

A balanced diet rich in unprocessed foods is better for your health but if you are including some processed foods in your diet, read the nutrition labels to pay attention to the level of salt, sugar and fat. Some packages have a color-coded label, in which case, you can choose products that have more greens and ambers and less reds in the label.

Impact on Fertility

Processed foods have been stripped of most of their nutrients and have been added other ingredients to enhance colour, flavour, shelf-life. When you are eating these foods, your body will need to use extra energy to digest them and will only take very low nutritional value to create more energy which can be used for your bodily functions. For this reason, we must limit the amount of processed foods in our diet.

Research has also found that a diet rich in unprocessed foods like whole grains and vegetables, and less processed meat, protects against infertility. These whole foods give you maximum nutrients, fibre, enzymes and antioxidants and taste without added artificial preservatives, flavours, colours or trans fats. Make sure your plate is colourful and at least half of it is high fibre, antioxidant fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
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