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December 9, 2018
Why has infertility become such an issue for so many couples? When we look at the research, there are direct links to toxins in our environment and to nutritional deficiencies. Listen in to today’s podcast as we discuss how food and nutrition matter when it comes to the fertility of both women and men.
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KARA: Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition. This is brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness. My name is Cara Carper. I have a master's degree in holistic health and I've also been a licensed nutritionist for 10 years and you've probably heard us many times on Dishing Up Nutrition say food matters. Today, we want to help you understand just how much food does matter when it comes to fertility and frankly how healthy you are prior to becoming pregnant really matters. We also understand that your nutritional status will determine how quickly you can become pregnant and it's definitely going to determine the health of your baby. So what you're eating day in and day out is going to influence your health. You know, food matters because it affects the fertility of women and men. People often think it's just the female that needs to focus on nutrition, but a few years ago, I remember when I was in my master's program and taking a course, one of my instructors mentioned a saying by Ann Wigmore, she was one of the first holistic health practitioners, and this is a quote by her, “The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” So, what you're doing every day, I always think of it. It's either safe or unsafe. There's really not an in between. Ann Wigmore was born in 1909. And even in the 1900’s she got it that food matters and it especially matters with fertility. So you heard another voice there and joining me today as co-host is Britni Vincent and she's a registered and licensed dietitian at Nutritional Weight & Wellness and she really knows a lot about hormones and she specializes in helping couples with fertility issues. So it's great to be here together.
BRITNI: Good morning. From working with clients with infertility and knowing people in my personal life, I know it's a very stressful and emotional time in their life and often they feel really alone in it and unfortunately it is a growing problem, at least seven and a half million women between the ages of 15 and 44 struggle with infertility and those rates continue to increase. So when I'm meeting with these couples often they have a lot of questions for me and one of the many questions that I often get is why has infertility becomes such an issue for so many couples? And that's a great question. And when we really look at the research, there are direct links who toxins in our environment and to nutritional deficiency. So again, food really, really does matter.
KARA: It really does, especially when it comes to fertility and there's an actual research study that indicates women with unexplained infertility show significant dietary deficiencies compared to fertile women who can become pregnant more easily, and that makes a lot of sense. It's a given fact that if a body's depleted of nutrients and generally poorly nourished, that the body will not support a pregnancy. So that study was done in 2017. It was reported in reproductive science and if anyone's like science geek and wants to look that up, it's titled May Underdiagnosed Nutrition Imbalances Be Responsible for a Portion of So Called Unexplained Infertility. So, Britni, we're kind of talking before the show about what are some of those nutritional deficiencies that might impact making it more difficult for someone to become pregnant. And Zinc is definitely one of them
BRITNI: It is. So, one Meta analysis found that zinc level in the seminal plasma of infertile males was significantly lower than that of normal males and zinc supplementation could significantly increase the sperm quality of infertile males. It's pretty significant. But what are some food sources?
KARA: I'm sure people want to know how can I get that from food? So some of the best food sources of zinc are going to include meat, red meat especially, eggs and seafood. And eating about four ounces, that would be an estimate portion for women, maybe five or six for men. Five or six ounces will provide zinc if you're eating especially red meat, eggs or seafood. Another thing is iron. That's very important for fertility. Although, you don't want to just go out and take an iron supplement unless you're deficient with a test. But if you are deficient or are having difficulties getting pregnant, it would be worth getting iron and ferritin tested. And the same foods that we just mentioned have iron as well.
BRITNI: And there was a study about women and iron and so one of the studies found that women who don't get sufficient amounts of iron may suffer from anovulation, which is just lack of ovulation and possibly poor egg health which can inhibit pregnancy at a rate of 60 percent or higher than those with sufficient iron sources. Wow, that's very significant.
KARA: That's really interesting. So, zinc, iron, another one is b vitamins. And they can be a little bit more difficult to get from food with a processed food diet. A lot of boxed, canned, frozen, and fast food type of things. So, all of these things are really important and just eating real food, getting adequate protein will definitely give B vitamins, iron, zinc.
BRITNI: So again, we say food really does matter and this may be a perfect time for both the man and the woman to recognize what they are eating or maybe what they're not eating and how it affects their fertility. And in fact up to 50 percent of the infertility and couples is actually traced back to males’ infertility issues. And like Kara mentioned earlier, we don't really talk about male infertility as much as female. We just kind of assume right away that something must be going with the female. So, when I sit down with these couples to find their solutions to their infertility, often they have eating and lifestyle habits that need to change, but we do know fertility is really complex and there might not be just one answer to their solution. It might be multiple things that they do to have a healthy pregnancy and sometimes we even have to explore the nutrition of their parents, these couples, because nutrition impacts our genes and how it is expressed in our overall health, but also our fertility.
KARA: So interesting. So it would be worth finding out, about your parents and both sets of grandparents if possible. Absolutely. No. However, today we really just want to focus on some commonly asked questions about food and nutrition in regards to fertility and how certain lifestyle and eating habits affect fertility. Here's the question you need to ask yourself. Is my current diet supporting fertility or is it damaging it? And if we look at traditional cultures, what we see is that all of them had sacred fertility foods that they were required to eat for several months to prepare for a pregnancy. I find that so interesting, so there's this book that we all love at the office. It's called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. It was written in 1945 by Weston A Price. He was a dentist who studied cultures that were not exposed to the modern world or western Diet and because of that they retain their cultural values. They had not been Westernized. Both the men and the women, I mean it was just part of their culture too. They followed a fertility diet several months before they even started trying to become pregnant.
BRITNI: Which I think is really important to think about.
KARA: I do too. The planning part of it. Right, and not just the planning about what color is the nursery going to be, which I know that's all fun. The food part might not be as fun, but it's important to put as much time and energy into your body as it is the baby stuff. And Britni, I don't know if you've read that book. I have not read it from start to finish, but there's some really interesting things in there. I know that Dr Weston Price went to 14 different countries, some in Europe. I mean he was with different native tribes. There were Eskimos, he was in a Swiss village, some Indian tribes in Canada, the aborigines in Australia. He was in New Zealand, Peru. And so what he found is that they had not been modernized and so we're going to talk a little bit more about what they were eating when we come back from break, but it is time for our first break and you're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. Today, Britni and I are discussing how food and nutrition can support fertility. We encourage you to stop drinking soda, both Diet and regular, juice, and skim milk. And instead you really want to be drinking half of your body weight in ounces of filtered or purified water everyday. So, for example, for 140 pound woman, she should be drinking 70 ounces of water or about nine glasses have filtered or purified water. Not tap water, though. So you might be thinking, well, what's wrong with tap water? Well, if you stay tuned and we'll come back with the answer after break.
BRITNI: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. So, before the break, Kara was talking about tap water. So, you're probably thinking what is wrong with my tap water? Well, a study conducted in 2009 discovered that toxins found in tap water were associated with thyroid disease, cancer, and a decrease in immune function. But there's more. Drinking tap water, increased risk of infertility by anywhere from 70 to 154 percent. Wow. So, if you're curious about this and you want to know more about the dangers of tap water, listen to our podcast from February 2018 titled Is My Tap Water Safe? The contaminants are in tap water increase the risk of infertility and other conditions as well.
So, before the break we were talking about a fertility diet. And how a lot of cultures have the fertility foods, so what exactly did a fertility diet look like? Well, they had a lot of these special foods that were very nutrient dense, so organ meats like liver, heart, or even brain, egg yolks, raw dairy or fish eggs. So, all of those foods, like I said, very nutrient dense and had the healthy fat as well. So often when a couple of sitting across from me with fertility issues, not one of these fertility foods is being eaten.
KARA: The egg yolks might surprise us, but I'm usually not super surprised if someone's not eating organ meats or fish eggs.
BRITNI: Not a favorite food for most people. And sadly I see a lot of women who've been on the low fat, low calorie, nutrient-depleted diets because they're on a weight loss diet. Usually their diet is high in carbs, highly processed, and they've been told those 100 calorie, fat free snack packs of cookies are healthy and cereal. But, the problem is all of these foods quickly turn into sugar or glucose in the body. These are not foods for fertility or for just general health for most people. They cause weight gain, they cause anxiety. And this constant consumption of these high carbohydrate processed foods increases our insulin, which over time causes insulin resistance.
KARA: Yeah, and we'll touch a little bit more insulin resistance later in the show. But I wanted to go back to one thing that you just said because I don't think a lot of people realize this, that those high carbohydrate foods, even if they're low calorie, like your example was perfect. The hundred calorie snack pack. That might be pretty low in calories, and usually people are eating those because they want to lose weight. However, all of the excess carbs that turn into sugar in the bloodstream, that actually gets stored as body fat. So, we have a lot of other shows that dive more into that. Shows that would be specifically on weight loss or metabolism. But that's definitely not the answer for weight loss. In our Weight & Wellness classes, we share Dr Weston A Price’s work and we point out that traditional cultures which had no fertility issues were eating at least 40 percent of their calories in healthy fat.
BRITNI: I think that probably surprises a lot of people. 40 percent of your calories from fat. I’m sure some alarm bells are going off in people's heads, because we've been told that's not healthy.
KARA: Exactly. We still have this fat phobia. It's been going on for about 60 years, but we're going to debunk some of those myths. I want to touch just a little bit more on Dr Price's work though. People might be wondering, well, what's in all those foods that would support fertility? Like when we talk about the organ meats, egg yolks might be a little bit more practical, but the diets of those healthy native groups, what they contained that supported fertility was at least 10 times more vitamin A and vitamin D than the westernized American diet. And so those vitamins A and D are really only found in animal fats and so things like butter actually would be another great one. Lard, a good healthy fat, not hydrogenated lard. Egg yolks, fish oils, and then again, like those organ meats, shellfish, fish eggs, and Dr. Price described that those fat soluble vitamins helped to basically absorb all of the other nutrients that were needed for fertility. So, let's say you're eating really healthy, you're having protein, you're getting vegetables with minerals and vitamins. If you're still somewhat eating low fat still it's going to be really hard to absorb all of the things that from the protein and the vegetables. And so that's really the basis of his work.
BRITNIT: We need the fat to increase the absorption of nutrients in our food.
KARA: Exactly. So that's why low fat diet does not support fertility. So, back to the 40 percent fat in the calories of these traditional cultures and most of the fat that they were eating, it was actually saturated fat. And they did eat butter, whole real heavy whipping cream, lard, tallow, which comes from beef. And they certainly were not eating refined vegetable oils, they were not eating soybean oil, corn oil, canola or cottonseed oil in their foods. They actually didn't have access to fast food, boxed food, processed food, or restaurant and bar food.
BRITNI: So if you think you want to switch to a fertility diet, the first thing I recommend, stop eating those processed foods, switch to a whole food diet, and eat about one tablespoon of good saturated fat at every meal and snack. Dr. Walter Willett from Harvard Medical School research what foods should be eaten to improve fertility and found high fat dairy foods to be one of the best. His research discovered that eating heavy cream cheese, full fat yogurt, butter resulted in better fertility compared to low fat dairy. Specifically Dr Walter Willett's Harvard study found that women who drank skim milk, ate low fat or Nonfat yogurt, had an 85 percent higher infertility rate than women who ate full fat dairy products.
KARA: Wow, that's very, very significant.
BRITNI: So, from a nutrition point of view, it's clear that for good fertility we need to be eating real, natural fat and those low fat foods can lead to infertility.
KARA: What do you think people are thinking right now as we say that?
BRITNI: They're a little scared to be eating a lot of saturated fat.
KARA: Yeah, I think so too. And we want to reassure you, and I mean we've been saying this for years, not to toot our own horn, but a few years ago the nutrition advisory board came out and kind of switched their stance on the intake of foods that contain cholesterol. So there used to be a limit, I think, of 300 milligrams, which was like a couple of eggs per week or something, but they found that that was really false research. It wasn't even based on research. So that myth has been debunked and there is no limit on the amount of cholesterol that you should be eating in foods everyday.
BRITNI: You could have three eggs every single day and that's completely healthy.
KARA: Cooked in butter. And I do that every day, actually.
BRITNI: Most of our clients do.
KARA: Exactly. It's time for our next break already. You're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. While researching for today's show, I was surprised to learn that commonly used medications can cause infertility. A recent research study found that even short term use of NSAIDs, which would be like aspirin, Ibuprofen, naproxen, that can prevent ovulation and cause infertility. The researcher who conducted the study suggested that these frequently used over the counter medicines decreased progesterone production. And that's a hormone that we need in order for the body to ovulate. So the next time you have a headache, what can you take instead that's going to be safe for you? Well, when we come back from break, Britni’s gonna share some healthy alternatives.
BRITNI: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. So many women and people in general believe that common over-the-counter medicines are completely harmless, but that is just not so. They can potentially decrease your fertility. So what could you take that is natural and still relieves those PMS cramps or headaches? I have found that magnesium glycinate worked wonders for any type of cramps, really. Whether that’s PMS cramps, stomach cramps, leg cramps, even headaches. I mentioned it also helps with sleep. It helps to relax you to fall asleep, helps put you into a deeper sleep. So, women who struggle with getting good sleep a week before their period have amazing results with just taking 400 milligrams of magnesium glycinate before bed. And another very effective cramp reliever is this supplement called Kaprex. It's safe, effective, and could be used for any sort of body discomfort. And both of these supplements are available at all seven Nutritional Weight & Wellness locations in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, but also available on our website. Then if you have any questions you can call 651-699-3438.
KARA: So, just to kind of recap what we were talking about when for a break, just basically foods to incorporate for fertility, foods to avoid, and we want to be eating full fat products and it's okay to be eating those saturated fats like butter, cream, things like that, egg yolks. And then we want to be avoiding all the things that you mentioned, Britni, like the processed foods and also like the vegetable oils. Another thing that I think is important to at least consider with fertility is caffeine. And so, when I was trying to get pregnant I didn't completely stop caffeine, but I did limit it. I know people have different opinions on when you're pregnant. I had a little bit of caffeine but I did reduce it. There was a study found that two cups of coffee a day reduced the muscle activity in the fallopian tubes to the point that it interfered with the transporting of the eggs from the ovaries to the uterus.
So just even making some of these small changes, making a lot of small changes can really result in big positive outcomes.
BRITNI: And like we've been saying, there are just so many factors when it comes to fertility. And I mentioned this earlier, but a lot of people are very surprised to learn that between 20 to 50 percent of infertility is actually a male problem. The lower the sperm count, the poorer their sperm quality, the longer it will take to get pregnant. Some of you might be thinking, well, what do you know about the causes of male infertility? Well, research has found that infertile men have lower levels of Omega 3 fatty acids in their sperm often have higher levels of Omega 6 coming from those refined oils. So, sources of Omega 3’s, because you're probably thinking fatty fish, really our best source. A lot of people don't love that. So you can always supplement with Omega-3’s. That would be a very safe thing to do. And we do often recommend that. I mean, it can be hard to get enough cold water, fatty fish, especially living in Minnesota. And again, people might not love salmon or sardines or herring or some of those fattier fish that contain more Omega 3’s.
KARA: So if you are thinking of supplementing and considering that we just recommend that you don't go to a big box store because just think, fish can be contaminated with mercury, lead, pcbs. So can fish oil supplements. So you want to get a good quality, preferably from a practitioner. We have some great ones at all of our stores, but even from like a naturopathic doctor or if you have a physician or a chiropractor or someone that sells it, that would be another good solution. And we also know that metabolic syndrome can be an issue or it is an issue in male fertility because insulin resistance throws off the hormone balance. So then men, what happens is they end up with too much estrogen and low testosterone. So to be honest, excess estrogen leads to infertility in men and women. So, how about if we just touch a little bit more on metabolic syndrome. I use that term and I said that metabolic syndrome is an issue in male infertility. If you're wondering what is metabolic syndrome? Well, it's everything that people are trying to avoid. It's a combination of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and typically, not everyone is going to be, well I guess people usually are obese or overweight with metabolic syndrome. I suppose it's possible to have the other conditions and not be overweight, but typically you're going to see that profile in someone that's struggling with weight that also has a lot of cardiovascular issues and blood sugar issues.
BRITNI: And again, that insulin resistance that's happening from eating all of those processed carbohydrates which causes low testosterone, which affects the sperm quality. So that insulin resistance really has a huge impact on our body, on our fertility. And at the beginning of the show, we mentioned several times that food matters and I think you're beginning to see that in relation to fertility, but now we're going to share some food habits that we recommend to increase fertility and to support just your overall health. So, eliminating inflammatory foods. So, what are inflammatory foods, you ask? Well, those are sugar, bad fats such as soybean oil, corn, oil, cotton seed oil, mean cotton isn't even a food. So why would we be creating oil out of it? And our owner, Dar, I always think of her as saying cotton seed is the worst oil out there. It doesn't get any worse. Canola oil, vegetable oil, all of those would be refined, bad fats. And then just processed foods in general. So fast food, cereals, cereal bars, chips, bagels, Jello, a lot of restaurant food. Basically all of this food, it comes from a factory. You're not finding any cereal bushes or pasta trees out there. It's very processed and not coming from the earth. So remember what the traditional cultures, they only ate real food. They didn't even have access to these processed food. So their diet was very nutrient rich. They had grass fed meat, wild caught fish, lots of vegetables and that good, natural fat and mostly saturated fat.
KARA: Exactly. And that might be a new take home message for listeners today, is that it's okay and it's actually preferable for fertility to be eating these full fat foods that are saturated in nature. So, we want to just assure you again that that is completely safe if you do have metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance, if you're struggling with weight, if you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, if you have diabetes, we're still saying yes, eat butter, the full fat. And there might be some mixed messages in the medical community, but I think it really depends on the provider that you're working with and how kind of up to speed they are on the research and the current information and guidelines that have come out. And so one eating habit, we'll just kind of go onto another eating habit that I find many clients with fertility issues have is skipping meals. And that can be for a variety of reasons. It could be because they're trying to lose weight. It could be because they're busy and they forget. Maybe they're not hungry, they forget to eat or there's a lot of reasons that people skip meals, but when you skip meals, you're not able to maintain stable blood sugar and we're already a society of high stress and if we skip meals, that actually puts more stress on our body. So, we really recommend eating every, probably three to four hours. And that keeps our blood sugar stable, which is less stressful on the body. And did you know that one of the most stressful things that people can do on a daily basis is to skip meals. So that causes low blood sugar and that can create a whole lot of hormone imbalances. I mean you have adrenaline and cortisol. You tend to be more likely to store fat. You have more cravings. And that might not even happen until later in the day that you realize, oh gosh, I haven't eaten and are now it's nighttime and I'm eating everything. But really any type of stress, including low blood sugar is not conducive to fertility. So I recommend if you want more information, consider taking our Weight & Wellness series of classes and you can learn to eat real food and balance several times per day to support fertility and your health. Now, if you have friends or family who have been unsuccessful in getting pregnant, please share this podcast with them because making simple changes in food choices and lifestyle habits can really make all the difference they need to experience a pregnancy. It can be a very emotional issue. Well, we're at our last break. You're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. If you're trying to conceive and you want to do everything possible to make that happen. Well first of all, I suggest you make an appointment with Britni. She's amazing and again, she's very knowledgeable in this area. We also have other Nutritional Weight & Wellness dietitians and nutritionists that are also great at other offices. And let's be honest, if you're eating low fat, you're indulging in sugary treats throughout the day and eating fast food, it will no doubt take, probably, what would you say, Britni? I mean maybe a package of three or a few consultations. It could take awhile. It's not a one appointment thing. So, you might need to have a few appointments at least to make the necessary changes. The good news is that Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we have helped many couples make the food and lifestyle changes they needed to be able to conceive and we would love to help you too. So give our office a call 651-699-3438. You can go to our website. You can set up an appointment today. We love working with people face to face, but if you live in New York, South Dakota, Montana, California, or for that matter, I mean even overseas, we're happy to do a phone appointment with you. So we want this to work for you and we can help you.
BRITNI: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. As we've mentioned earlier, infertility is a very complex problem. We understand that for most people it takes time to make changes in their food and their lifestyle habits. We believe in the saying, “Change your nutrition, change your fertility.” Are you puzzled over what to give your mother or your mother in law, your sister, your friend for Christmas? Well, we have the answer for you. Give them a Weight & Wellness gift certificate. They could spend it on a class or consultation.
So I think at this point it's also important to mention that the number one cause for infertility in women is actually something called PCOS, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and it affects one in 10 women of childbearing age. I don't know if people realize that. And a lot of times it goes undiagnosed, many women don't find out about it until they're actually trying to conceive.
KARA: And so PCOS, Britni, I know you tend to get a lot of clients with that because I always consider you, I refer people to Britni as the expert in hormones and even more specifically PCOS, but that's always tied to something called Insulin resistance, right?
BRITNI: It is most of the time. There's different kinds of PCOS, and it manifests differently in every woman, but the main cause of it and kind of the main type of PCOS is the insulin resistant kind. So, like we mentioned, those processed carbohydrates and eating low fat really just makes the symptoms worse and symptoms could be all over the board. Weight gain, acne, especially cystic acne, hair loss, anxiety and depression is common. So, there's many different symptoms.
KARA: And typically associated with the weight gain as well be up from insulin resistance. So, insulin resistance, that's a pretty complex thing. We're not going to dive into like the science really behind that because that could be a whole show in itself. But just to kind of let listeners know what insulin resistance is, typically when we eat food and carbohydrates, if we're eating a small to moderate amount of carbohydrates. I always give a number, let's just say 25 grams with a meal. That's a pretty moderate amount. And so that might be like one piece of toast or one banana. And so we eat that food, it raises our blood sugar in our pancreas secretes insulin, which is a very important hormone and the job of insulin is to get the blood sugar from being so high and get that blood sugar back down. It actually transfers it into our cells where we can utilize that for energy. Now that's if everything's working correctly. So what if somebody is eating two pieces of toast for breakfast, pasta for lunch, two cups of potato for dinner.
BRITNI: Well, yeah, that's a lot of carbs. Our body can't utilize all of those carbohydrates. The excess gets stored as fat, creates inflammation, and then eventually the insulin is not able to carry the glucose in the cell and make energy very efficiently anymore, and then insulin resistance happens.
KARA: So the pancreas starts like pumping out more insulin to try to do the job that it used to be able to do without a little bit of insulin and all of a sudden you have high blood sugars. People know that term, right? That's like prediabetes, but then you have high insulin in the blood stream that causes inflammation and a whole host of other issues, but if you have high blood sugars and high insulin for a period of time, it doesn't happen overnight. That kind of creates that insulin resistance where it's harder to burn fat. The carbohydrates that you're eating kind of have a pathway right into fat storage. So if you feel like that's you and you're like, Gosh, I feel like everything I eat just makes me gain weight or I can't lose weight. Likely you have some of that insulin resistance.
BRITNI: And at that point our body is also trying to compensate by wanting to eat more carbs and sugar.
KARA: So I guess you can listen to more shows on how to overcome that, but just reducing those starchy carbohydrates, eating vegetables, protein, and healthy fat over time can heal and reverse that insulin resistance.
BRITNI: We also have a lot of articles and podcasts on PCOS as well. So, if that's something that you want to learn more about. And another symptom that I didn't mention is missing periods. Kind of a big symptom.
KARA: Yes, thank you for saying that. Another thing that we haven't touched too much on in the beginning of the show, we started talking about how toxins, the toxins in our environment, all kinds of toxins can make it harder to become pregnant. It affects men and women both and it can create more estrogen dominance, too much estrogen in the body.
BRITNI: So there's xenoestrogens and they’re chemicals that mimic estrogen in our body and the estrogen dominance is really quite common in women and, as we mentioned, men have it too. And essentially estrogen dominance for women is too much estrogen in comparison to their progesterone. So that could lead to hormonal acne on their chin. It could lead to PMS, migraines, or headaches with their cycle. Hot flashes. I mean, there's many symptoms on that. But where would we find some of these Xeno estrogens?
KARA: Unfortunately they're everywhere. So, just a couple things. People really should be avoiding plastics of any kind. We need to be switching to stainless steel and glass containers. And I've made that change gradually. It doesn't have to be overnight.
We do need to wrap it up. We could have kept going. Our goal at Nutritional Weight & Wellness is to help each and every person experience better health through eating real food. It's a simple, yet powerful message. Eating real food is life changing. Thank you so much for listening and have a wonderful day.