Fertility Nutrition: What to Look for in a Healthy Snack
It’s a typical day. I have my lunch ready to go, packed perfectly with leftovers from the night before, or with a colorful salad I loaded up with whole grains this morning. I also have my nuts and fruit for a snack. It’s a perfect lunch-boxed plan, made ahead of time and with enough options to get me through the day, feeling energized and productive at work.
And then I walk out the door without it.
I'm "Starving" and Desperate – What Do I Do?
Plan ahead, be prepared… It’s what I always say, both to myself and my patients every day. As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I work with men and women as they go through fertility treatments, and my personal contribution to the process is to give them tools they need to live a life of wellness. How best to do that? Plan ahead, be prepared. I live by this mantra. So now, here’s what else I’ll say: “Plan ahead, be prepared” doesn’t exactly work if you leave your hard work behind.
This forgotten food stash (as well as locking myself out of the house) happens to me more often than I would like to admit. To my credit, I usually have a great lunch covered, it’s my snack I am falling short on. So, getting caught later than expected at work or running 296 errands on a Saturday leaves me grumbling with hunger and ready to grab anything that looks half-edible. I still always try to have a stash of healthy snacks in my purse (nuts, dried chickpeas, raisins), and yet, there are still those moments where I find myself unprepared and hangry.
We’ve all been there… our snack bag is empty, we have a long day of work, travel, or errand-running ahead, and if you’re like my patients, are juggling all of this while trying to take medications “with food” in a timely manner. What do we do? Reach for our phone and map out the nearest gas station or convenience store. What? It’s either gas station food or we turn into the hangry woman yelling with road rage when someone forgets to turn off their turn signal (“are you turning or not, SIR?!?!”).
It’s time to take a deep breath and pause for a moment. This is not the time to beat ourselves up and stress over our situation. This is the exact opposite of what we need to happen, especially when undergoing fertility treatments. Instead, we can make an empowered choice to pick up something that will get us through to the next meal and our next inevitable breakdown power move.
“But I have been good all day! I don’t want to mess things up now! I. am. always. prepared,” [catches a whiff of old hot dogs rotating on a hot metal roller.] “Ugh… I hate gas station food,” I silently yell at myself.
These self-defeating thoughts can run through my head in a moment like this. Some may be thrilled to “have no choice” but to stop and grab some hot fries, chips, a candy bar.
I am not. I am a Nutritionist. I am prepared. I’ve got my sh*t together… you know, just not today.
And then I remember what I always tell my patients…
1) These things happen
Your choice in the moment is not going to make or break you. What does make or break you? Your attitude. Take that deep breath and find comfort in the big picture. Your continued active, healthy lifestyle (exercising regularly, making smarter food choices, and finding ways to release stress) adds up over time, and that’s what makes the most impact on wellness, including your fertility.
2) Stop, breath, and think
You walk into a convenient store, ravenous, and ready to grab whatever plastic-packaged thing grabs your attention first. Stop. Calm your hanger anxiety (hangxiety?). And think. What’s my best option here? There are better options than a candy bar or sour cream and onion chips; maybe it’s a bag of dried chickpeas (a good source of folate and protein), an individual pack of trail mix or mixed nuts, (rich in heart-healthy, fertile-friendly fats). Other better quality snacks include low-fat popcorn, apples, bananas, or cheese sticks (did you know that 1-2 servings a day of full fat dairy is actually beneficial for fertility, not to mention a great source of calcium for us all?).
3) When all else fails, grab a snack bar and a water
Water should always be your go-to grab (especially when taking fertility meds). No matter what else you decide on in the store, hydrate-hydrate-hydrate with H2O. And when it comes to bars… I know what you are thinking, “But there are soooo many choices!” Listen, I get it. From chocolatey to nutty, gooey to crunchy, energy/snack/protein bars take up an entire aisle these days. Many are geared towards performance athletes or serve as a meal replacement, both of which tend to be extremely high in calories. Those are not what we need. So, when it comes to grabbing a snack bar, here are some tips to tuck in the back of your mind…
What to Look for in a Protein/Snack Bar
Know your ingredients – Go for the bar with the least amount/simplest ingredients. Choose “whole” foods. Why? It’s as simple as the ingredients - the more in control you are of the ingredients you consume, the better you’ll feel about your choice after the fact. What should you avoid? Artificial colors and artificial flavors, which usually signify a heavily processed food, a high-calorie/low-nutrient food that can lead to spikes in blood sugar, and hydrogenated fats and oils, which create trans fats (and we all want to avoid these).
Less is more, Sugar – look for a bar that has 6g or less of added sugar. The more added sugar, the more quickly the food will digest, causing a spike in blood sugar (are you seeing a trend here?).
But not when it comes to fiber – Look for at least 3 grams of fiber. This is one of the added benefits of choosing whole grains – not to mention antioxidants and B vitamins. Fiber helps with satiety, meaning it keeps you fuller longer. It also helps with glucose and insulin control (slows the absorption of glucose into your bloodstream), and it can help keep your heart healthy by pulling cholesterol out of your body. That’s a win-win-win…-win.
Power up with protein – Aim to pick a bar with at least 3 grams of protein. Higher protein can help with satiety, and along with any healthy fats, will help balance the carbohydrates in the bar for improved blood sugar levels.
Whole grains are winners – What also helps balance out bar is including whole grains. Pair your whole grains with heart-healthy fats (think nuts, avocado, nut butters) and/or protein to achieve the desired balance. Why is it desired? This balance of ingredients helps to stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as provide long-lasting energy.
What Does a Nutritionist Grab at a Gas Station?
So here we are. Standing in the aisle at the gas station, staring at 687 pre-packaged options to curb your hunger pangs. In these moments, I find myself grabbing a Kind bar for a sweet and salty crunch or a Lara bar to sneak some fruit or veggies in. These fit the bill of a healthy snack when you’re in a bind. Why? They have very few, clean ingredients (Lara Bar touting only 3 ingredients in some cases!), the sugar count is low and occurs naturally from the fruits/veggies in the bar, and they both have a balance of protein to whole grains to heart-healthy fats. So in addition to helping my blood sugar normalize and the hunger-pangs subside, the healthy choice has made my self-defeating thoughts melt away, I feel empowered, smart, and satisfied, resuming my normal activities without “losing my hangry-cool” on anyone. That’s really a win for everyone…
Post-hunger-panic, I’m happy again. I’m back to being that kick a**, in-control Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, because I made the best decision I could in a moment of being unprepared. Yes, I preach ‘Plan ahead, be prepared,’ but sometimes we’re not. Not even me. But that’s when we make a choice to bounce back and move on with our days, refueled and pumped that tomorrow’s lunch (er, today’s that I forgot in my fridge at home) is already made. See? It’s all about being prepared.
Remember that each small step in wellness gets you closer to your goals, whatever they are. Maybe you’re in the middle of an IVF cycle, or you need to lower your blood pressure, or you just want to lead a healthier lifestyle; committing to a life of wellness will always help you reach your goals. Plan ahead, be prepared… you know, as best you can.
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About Jill Hickey
Jill is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has provided medical nutrition therapy in a variety of settings: while a Certified Nutrition Support Clinician in the hospital setting, she provided nutrition support to patients in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the University of Chicago Medical Center; the Surgical Intensive Care Unit and Burn Unit at Bridgeport Hospital and has assessed and counseled patients, young and old, with various medical conditions.