If you are considering becoming pregnant in the next few years, you may wish to start preparing for it ASAP! Studies have shown that changing your diet can yield improvements in sperm and egg production within 90 days, so the sooner you add nutrient-dense foods to your diet, the quicker your body will ready to conceive.
Let’s take a look at the dos and don’ts of a fertility diet to find out what you need to incorporate, and what you need to ditch!
A Quick Note on “Fertility Foods”
One thing to note before beginning your fertility diet is that there is no magic cure-all superfood you can eat to boost your chances of conception overnight. Diet is only one facet of having a healthy body, and there are many other things to consider and speak to your healthcare practitioner about before beginning your journey.
Also bear in mind that these foods must be combined with other healthy habits, such as a good sleeping schedule and regular exercise. They cannot be used to counter an overall bad diet either. Superfoods help bolster your reproductive health in the sense where they provide you with many helpful nutrients and assist you in maintaining a healthy weight (as being either overweight or underweight can contribute to infertility.) Please talk to your doctor if you are thinking about becoming pregnant to be sure you have all of the information you need.
What to Eat
Organic, Whole Fat Dairy
Research shows that women struggling with conception may benefit from a serving of full-fat dairy a day. Aside from being good for reproductive health, the calcium and protein in dairy (such as milk, cheese, and yogurt) is great for your bones and health overall. Avoid non-organic sources, as the added hormones can raise estrogen levels.
While we’re talking dairy, mature cheeses such as Parmesan, manchego, and mature cheddar are a great way to incorporate more polyamines in your diet. Polyamines are proteins found in plant and animal products that play a big part in reproductive health, more specifically, the polyamine putrescine. Putrescine improves both sperm and egg health, and is especially beneficial for women older than 35.
When it comes to fertility-friendly nutrients without packing on calories, you can’t get much better than oysters. Zinc deficiency can disrupt your menstrual cycle and slow down your egg production—not good if you’re planning a pregnancy. A serving size of six raw oysters contains 188% of your daily-suggested zinc intake, along with 408% of your daily-recommended vitamin B-12; talk about a superfood!
Antioxidants found in raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries protect your body from cell damage and cell aging, which in turn helps out the cells in your reproductive system. Berries are also a good source of fiber, which flushes out excess estrogen that can impede your chances of getting pregnant.
Pomegranates are another source of antioxidants, and can be especially helpful with male reproductive health. One study found that men who took a tablet with pomegranate fruit extract had increased sperm motility by 60% after only three months of treatment.
Tomatoes, especially when cooked down in a sauce or soup, contain high levels of lycopene. This powerful antioxidant has been studied for its role in improving male fertility; one study even found that it increased pregnancy rates and improved overall semen health.
Orange and Grapefruit
We mentioned putrescine when we talked about mature cheeses, but if cheese is not your cup of tea, you can get a big dose from citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits instead. On top of improving your own reproductive health, putrescine can lower chromosomal defects in ovulated eggs by 50%. Eating (or drinking!) these yummy fruits is also one of the best ways to get your recommended intake of vitamin C
Chock full of omega-3s and omega-6s, these nutty wonders are high in antioxidants and healthy fats. One study also showed that men who ate about half a cup of walnuts a day showed improvements in sperm vitality, motility, and morphology over men who did not eat tree nuts. They’re also full of fiber, which can remove excess estrogen by binding it to the intestines to be removed later as a waste product.
If you are looking to cut down on animal-based protein, lentils and beans are good way to start. Studies have shown that when five percent of total calories eaten come from vegetable protein rather than animal, the risk of ovulatory infertility falls by over 50%. Lentils are also a great place to get more folate, or folic acid, as well as the polyamine spermidine, which helps with egg fertilization.
Lean animal proteins
While it is important to incorporate more plant-based protein into your fertility diet, it is still worth mentioning that animal protein plays a big part as well. They’re easier to absorb and have a more complete amino acid profile, all while containing lots of iron. You can get these nutrients from lean beef, chicken, and turkey, but intake should still be fewer than 3 servings a day.
Another great source of lean protein is eggs—they’re inexpensive, versatile, and full of vital nutrients like omega-3s and B vitamins. They also include choline, which has been linked to reducing the risk of birth defects.
Choline can also be found in beef liver, along with iron, vitamin B12, zinc, and the coenzyme Q10. While it is not usually the first choice at the butcher shop, it’s tough to find a food that is packed with more of what you and your future baby will need to stay healthy during pregnancy.
There’s a good chance you’ve seen salmon on almost every list related to improving your diet, and for good reason! It is one of the best places to get your daily-recommended value of vitamin D; three ounces of smoked salmon gets you 97% of what you need in a day! It is also full of omega-3s, healthy fatty acids, and selenium, a vitamin essential for healthy semen. Be sure to invest in wild-caught salmon rather than farm-raised to avoid mercury contamination, antibiotics, and toxic food dyes.
What goes better with salmon than asparagus? Cooked asparagus is low-calorie, filling, and a great source of vitamins. In a one cup serving, you’ll get your full daily value of vitamin K, 60% of your daily value of folate, and over 20% of other nutrients such as vitamin A and vitamin C.
Pineapples contain bromelain, a natural enzyme that may have an anti-inflammatory effect. Inflammatory foods can impede your fertility, and chronic inflammation may actually encourage your body to suppress ovulation. It is also another great source vitamin C, providing 46% of your daily-recommended value in just one cup. Mix it in a blender with oranges and berries for the ultimate fertility smoothie!
Let’s not forget this humble, simple bark when it comes to spicing up your fertility health. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common cause of infertility, and is associated with insulin resistance. Cinnamon has been found to reduce glucose levels, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol in patients with diabetes, leading scientist to wonder how it can help with reproductive health as well. One study found that women with PCOS who took a cinnamon supplement for six months showed improved ovulation and menstrual regularity than those who took a placebo.
Fat is not just another “bad word” that starts with “f”… Monounsaturated fat found in avocados and olive oil contain omega-3s which regulate your hormones, increase cervical mucus, and promote ovulation. Eating foods high in these healthy fats can also delay the onset of menopause, and widen your fertility window.
You can take folic acid as a dietary supplement (400 micrograms is suggested), or find it naturally in dark leafy green vegetables and fortified grains. It is needed to prevent neural tube defects in fetuses, and considering the neural tube is formed only three to four weeks after conception, many women do not know they are pregnant until the ship has already sailed. While it won’t make you more fertile, it is still considered an important nutrient in the fertility diet.
Certain natural supplements, such as bee pollen and royal jelly, have been shown to have a positive effect on your chances of conception. One study on women with endometriosis found that taking bee propolis twice a day increased their chances of conception by 40%! Royal jelly is also full of amino acids, vitamins, iron, and calcium—a great way to naturally get the nutrients you need.
What to Avoid
Surprisingly, moderate alcohol consumption does not have a strong effect on your fertility. However, the key word to note here is moderate, as in three to five drinks a week. A glass of wine will not rock any boats, but when consumed in excess on a regular basis, it can affect the time needed to get pregnant. Binge drinking is not advisable for any aspect of your health in general, so take it easy and keep it light.
If you’re a coffee addict, one of the best things you can do to increase your fertility is to pare down gradually. Most doctors agree that a maximum of two cups of coffee a day is a safe number when trying to get pregnant, as one study showed that women consuming more than 500mg of caffeine daily took more than 9 months longer to conceive than women who didn’t. Caffeine intake is also linked to an increased chance of miscarriage, so the less consumed, the better.
Not all fats are created equal! While monounsaturated fats are necessary to a healthy reproductive system, trans fats have a negative impact on insulin sensitivity, leading to an increased risk of ovulatory infertility. You can find trans fats in hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are used in margarine, fried foods, and processed foods, so stick with your trusty air-fryer during your fertility diet.
Unfermented Soy Products
While fermented soy is considered generally safe to eat (such as miso and tempeh), unfermented soy products contain phytoestrogens that can interfere with hormone levels and impede conception. Several animal studies have linked soy with reduced fertility in female rats and lower sperm quality in male rats, however, it should be noted that additional testing on humans is needed.
Lots of Carbs
Eating tons of cake and cookies is a common cliché for those already pregnant, but consuming a lot of carbohydrates while trying to conceive can harm more than it helps. Lower-carb diets help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce insulin levels while helping to regulate your menses. In one large observational study, it was found that women who ate more carbs had a 78% risk of ovulatory infertility than women who ate a lower-carb diet. A lower-carb diet is also recommended for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and can also reduce testosterone, improving fertility. Note that carbs are not the enemy, but as with all diets, there are good and bad sources of the nutrients you need, and moderation is ideal.
Refined Carbs in General
Apart from the amount of carbs you eat, its important to consider the type as well. Refined carbs are found in sugary drinks like soda, and processed grains such as those found in white bread, white rice, and pasta. This type of carbohydrate is absorbed quickly and can spike your blood sugar and insulin levels. Foods with a high glycemic index (such as refined carbs) are associated with a higher risk of ovulatory infertility, and are not recommended while trying to conceive.