Eating right isn’t always easy—especially when you’re pregnant and looking at a whole new set of nutrition rules. But even if you’re just starting to think about conceiving, some dietary changes are in order.
Part of it is eating enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains—foods that are always good for you—but more critical are the foods you should be avoiding when you’re trying to get pregnant. Artificial ingredients, synthetic hormones, and potential contaminants could make conception less likely and may even be harmful to a potential fetus.
We should say: Don’t freak out if you’ve eaten any of these things recently—they are not likely cause much harm in moderation. But if you want to be safe, your best bet is to keep these foods to a minimum when you’re trying to get pregnant, and keep them mostly off the list once you get a positive test.
1. High-mercury fish
Mercury can damage the nervous system, which means that consuming mercury-rich seafood like swordfish and tuna while pregnant could directly harm the fetus, says Kendra Tolbert, R.D. (The FDA recently updated its guidelines about safe and unsafe choices; see them here.) Eating high-mercury fish before you’re pregnant could build up stores of mercury in your body, which could also affect the development of the baby’s nervous system. “The fetal nervous system is being formed before most women even know they are pregnant,” explains registered dietitian Suzanne Fisher. Mercury may also decrease fertility.
A few studies have also linked soda—both diet and regular—to lower fertility. “We think it’s a combination of the inflammation and metabolic changes caused by too much blood-sugar-spiking sweeteners and gut-bacteria-changing artificial sweeteners,” says Tolbert. Plus, many soft drinks come in containers that have BPA and other chemicals you might want to avoid.
3. Trans fats
Trans fats, which are found in foods like certain chips or microwave popcorns, baked goods made with shortening, and fried foods, can cause inflammation and insulin resistance, which lowers fertility, says Tolbert. And in excess they can damage your blood vessels, disrupting the flow of nutrients to the reproductive system. Men should also go easy on trans fats while the couple is trying to conceive because they decrease sperm count and quality.
4. High-glycemic-index foods
If you want to increase your fertility, avoid foods that make your blood sugar spike, especially if you’re not pairing them with foods that slow down that rise. “Blood sugar spikes can cause inflammation, alter our hormones, and impede ovulation,” says Tolbert. Try to choose slow-burning carbs, such as whole-wheat bread and pasta or brown rice, over refined ones when possible, and combine them with protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
5. Low-fat dairy
Low-fat milk, yogurt, and other dairy products may contain androgens, male hormones that get left in when fat is removed, says Tolbert. These foods and drinks may spur your body to produce androgens, which can interfere with your menstrual cycle.
6. Excess alcohol
The CDC recommends that women who could get pregnant avoid alcohol entirely (not exactly realistic), but if you’re going to drink, Tolbert suggests capping it at seven drinks per week. Alcohol, like mercury, can contribute to infertility, and it depletes your body of vitamin B, which improves your chances of pregnancy and supports a fetus’ growth.
7. Unpasteurized soft cheeses
Cheeses like Brie, Roquefort, Camembert, and Gorgonzola have a higher risk of containing listeria, which can increase your risk for miscarriage, says Fisher.
8. Deli meat
Processed meat like lunch meat and hot dogs, as well as smoked fish, are also vulnerable to listeria contamination. If you want to eat deli meat, Fisher recommends heating it up until it’s steaming to kill bacteria.
9. Raw animal products
Raw meat, seafood, and eggs might contain salmonella, coliform bacteria, or toxoplasmosis, which can infect a fetus if it passes through the placenta, says Fisher. Make sure to cook all animal products thoroughly, and skip sushi, carpaccios, and the like.
- Foods to avoid or limit
- Important lifestyle changes
- What about his diet?
- Foods you must avoid while trying to conceive
- The Prepregnancy Diet
- Key nutrients to eat when you’re trying to conceive
- More on Nutrition When You’re Trying to Get Pregnant
- What to eat when you’re trying to get pregnant
- Healthy eating tips if you’re trying to get pregnant
- Top 15 Tips for What to Eat to Help You Get Pregnant
- 1. Go Decaf
- 2. Be the DD
- 3. Love the Lycopene
- 4. Up that Vitamin D
- 5. Antioxidants to the Rescue
- 6. Fill Up on Full Fat Dairy
- 7. Fermented Foods FTW
- 8. Go Slow (Carbs)
- 9. Pulse Power
- 10. Pass the Choline
- 11. Fork over the Folate
- 12. Pass the Myo-Inositol
- 13. Up the Omega 3
- 14. Feasting on (Good) Fat
- 15. Eat like the Mediterranean’s Do
- Have you or someone you know struggled with infertility?
- Have you tried any of these foods to eat to help you get pregnant?
- What are some of the fertility foods you’ve heard about that help with baby making?
- Leave me a comment below with your thoughts!
- Fertility Diet: What to Eat to Conceive
- Fertility Foods to Eat During Menstruation
- Fertility Foods to Eat During Your Follicular Phase
- Fertility Foods to Eat During Ovulation
- Fertility Foods to Eat During Your Luteal Phase
- Eight power-packed fertility foods
- Diet and Reproductive Health – Is there a link?
- Is there a connection between diet patterns and reproductive health?
- Which specific foods and nutrients are associated with fertility?
- Walnuts and Reproductive Health
- Foods That Make You Fertile
- The Fertility Diet: What to Eat When Trying to Get Pregnant
- Fruits and Veggies
- Complex Carbs
- Whole Foods
- Vitamins to Increase Fertility
- Variety in a Fertility Diet
- Fertility Foods for Men
- 10 Foods to Eat to Increase Fertility
- Other Healthy Foods to Consider
- Eat Healthy with Laurel Fertility Care
Foods to avoid or limit
Try to avoid alcohol
The occasional bottle of beer or glass of wine probably won’t affect your chances of getting pregnant, but having two or more drinks a day might.
Alcohol can harm a developing baby, and since you may not know exactly when you ovulate or conceive, you may want to play it safe and cut out alcohol completely.
For nonalcoholic alternatives, see our list of some classic “virgin” drinks.
Minimize trans fats
Found in many processed and fast foods, trans fats are thought to be linked to infertility. Studies suggest that diets high in trans fats may be related to ovulation problems (and to lower sperm counts and semen quality in men).
There’s some evidence that very high consumption – more than 500 milligrams a day, or about five 8-ounce cups of coffee, depending on the strength of the brew – might interfere with fertility. But experts generally agree that low to moderate caffeine consumption (less than 200 milligrams a day, or about two 8-ounce cups of coffee) shouldn’t make it harder for you to get pregnant.
Because no one knows for sure how caffeine impacts fertility, some experts suggest lowering your caffeine intake even more or giving it up entirely, especially if you’re having difficulty conceiving or if you’re undergoing in vitro fertilization.
Read more about caffeine and fertility, including the amount in other beverages and tips for cutting back
Important lifestyle changes
Trying to conceive isn’t just about eating a good diet, it’s also about preparing for a healthy pregnancy and baby. Here are the essential steps to take:
Take a prenatal vitamin with folic acid
Even if you have a very balanced diet, it’s still important to take prenatal vitamins to reduce the risk of having a baby with neural-tube defects such as spina bifida. Most experts recommend that all women start taking folic acid at least a month before trying to get pregnant. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends all women of child-bearing age take a supplement with 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily.
If you have a family history of neural-tube birth defects or take medication for seizures, your healthcare provider may suggest that you boost your daily folic acid intake to 4,000 mcg, or 4 mg, starting at least a month before you conceive and continuing throughout your first trimester.
Taking a prenatal vitamin ensures that you’re getting enough folic acid and other essential nutrients to boost your chances of conceiving a healthy baby. Bonus: There’s some evidence that taking a prenatal vitamin before you conceive can help you avoid morning sickness once you’re pregnant.
A good over-the-counter prenatal vitamin should contain more than the minimum recommendation of folic acid, but if your provider wants you to take more, you may need to take a separate folic acid supplement.
Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin, so your body will flush out the excess if you consume too much. Be aware that getting too much folate may hide a vitamin B12 deficiency, which is sometimes a problem for vegetarians. Ask your doctor or midwife if you think you may be at risk.
Remember that a supplement is a safeguard, not a substitute for a sound diet. And since regular over-the-counter multivitamins may contain megadoses of vitamins and minerals that could be harmful to a developing baby, choose a pill formulated specifically for pregnant women.
If you have a vegetarian diet, you may also need vitamin D and B12 supplements, which studies say are beneficial for fertility, along with extra protein. Talk with your healthcare provider about the right prenatal supplement for you.
Avoid smoking and recreational drugs
If you use any recreational drugs or smoke, quit now. Studies have shown that women who smoke are significantly more likely to be infertile. Although the effects of drugs on fertility are difficult to study because they are illegal, it has been well documented that these substances can harm a developing fetus.
Maintain a healthy weight
It might be a good idea to shed some pounds, or gain a few if you’re underweight, while you’re trying to get pregnant, since you want to be as close as possible to your recommended weight when you conceive. Being overweight or underweight can make it harder to get pregnant. Also, obese women have more pregnancy and birth complications, and underweight women are more likely to have a low-birth-weight baby.
Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and calcium-rich foods such as yogurt, cheese, and milk every day. Not getting enough nutrients can affect your periods, making it difficult to predict when you ovulate. And you may not ovulate at all if you’re significantly underweight or obese.
In addition to following a smart eating plan with low-fat, high-fiber foods, get regular exercise. If you’re overweight, aim to lose one to two pounds a week, a safe rate of weight loss. Extreme weight loss from crash dieting can deplete your body’s nutritional stores, which isn’t a good way to start a pregnancy.
Pump up your iron intake
Fill your body’s iron reserves before you get pregnant, especially if your periods are heavy. According to Sam Thatcher, a reproductive endocrinologist and coauthor of Making a Baby: Everything You Need to Know to Get Pregnant, “Bleeding every month is a constant source of iron depletion.”
Make sure to get enough iron now – once you’re expecting, it’s difficult for your body to maintain its iron level because your developing baby uses up your stores of the mineral. (Pregnant women need about one third more iron than they needed before pregnancy.)
Too little iron at conception not only can affect your baby, it can also put you at risk for iron-deficiency anemia during pregnancy and after you give birth (especially if you lose a lot of blood during delivery). Anemia causes your red blood cells to fall below normal and saps your energy.
If you don’t eat much red meat, or if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, your healthcare provider may recommend that you take a prenatal vitamin containing extra iron. And to be on the safe side, ask your healthcare provider to test you for anemia at your preconception checkup.
What about his diet?
Your partner should also pay attention to his diet since certain vitamins and nutrients – such as zinc and vitamins C and E, omega-3 fatty acids, and folic acid – are important for making healthy sperm.
When it comes to fertility and diet, men don’t get a free pass. Lisa Mazzullo, an ob-gyn and clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, recommends that fathers-to-be take a daily multivitamin that contains zinc and selenium for at least three months before conception. They could also add nuts such as walnuts or almonds that contain these minerals to their diet. Studies suggest zinc and selenium aid in healthy sperm development.
Why start so early? The sperm your partner ejaculates today was actually created more than two months ago. It takes about 74 days for sperm to fully develop and benefit from the supplementation.
“Genetic preparation is going on during sperm development, so that’s pretty heavy stuff,” says Amy Ogle, a registered dietitian in San Diego, California, and coauthor of Before Your Pregnancy: A 90-Day Guide for Couples on How to Prepare for a Healthy Conception.
Foods you must avoid while trying to conceive
There’s nothing more special for a couple than conceiving a baby, not only does it bring with it a wave of happiness, but at the same time it calls for a lot of affection and care. Being a mother is a beautiful feeling, but it also calls for a lot of care both before and after pregnancy.
No wonder, pregnancy is one of the most crucial stages in the life of a woman. While a woman is trying to conceive, it is very essential that she takes care of herself and always keep a check on her lifestyle as well as dietary habits.
According to Dr Rita Bakshi, Senior Gynaecologist and IVF Expert, International Fertility Centre, “It becomes essential to go for a nutritious diet, which has a healthy balance of vitamins, minerals, iron and other essential nutrients to ensure the formation and development of the baby. Moreover, a healthy diet is important for consumption to avert irreversible problems like low birth weight, brain development or congenital heart problems.”
Untimely cravings are a crucial part of life, but it is important to not indulge in mindless food hogging. It is important to satiate these cravings while consuming comfort foods in small portions to protect adverse effects on the health of the baby. Also, it is very essential to cut down on several foods when trying to conceive.
It is often advised to go for omega-3 rich food for a healthy and safe pregnancy, but are the sources of these foods actually healthy? Well, due to degradation in the environmental conditions and the increase in the existing pollutants in the environment, the fishes too are contaminated which makes it highly unfit to consume. Mercury is a component found in oceans and lakes which gets converted into Methyl mercury in the human body. This is a Neurotoxin that can be really damaging and detrimental for the baby’s brain development. It is highly advised for women to avoid the high mercury fish one year prior to conceiving.
Low Fat Dairy
It is always advised to avoid consuming skimmed milk as the essential nutrients are usually lost while the milk is skimmed. Also, low-fat dairy products contain androgens, which can impede with the normal course of hormones leading to fluctuations in the menstrual cycle of the woman. Also, make sure that the expecting mother doesn’t consume any unpasteurized dairy products.
Trans fats are a big no for couples who are trying to conceive as these foods can disturb the flow of essential nutrients to the reproductive system. These foods can also upset the fertility levels of the person due to the insulin resistance these foods can cause.
The consumption of smoked seafood can result in the growth of bacteria in the human body that can substantially increase the hazard of chronic diseases in the baby, miscarriages or birth defects. It even contains high amounts of salt content, which can increase the blood pressure levels and lead to inflammation in the body of the baby and the mother.
Many studies have effectively proven the fact that caffeine should not be consumed for expecting mothers. Restricted quantities of caffeine are acceptable but people addicted to consuming coffee can have a tough time as caffeine can be very unhealthy. For mothers who are trying to conceive, it can develop problems and make it hard for them to get pregnant while increases chances of miscarriages and birth defects. Drinks like coffee and cola have a plentiful amount of caffeine in them thus, they must avoid it for the birth of a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
The Prepregnancy Diet
You don’t have to wait until you’re pregnant to start eating well for your baby. In fact, following a healthy diet before you conceive can boost your fertility and lower the risk of birth defects like spina bifida. Plus, shoring up what you eat now can help you transition to a smoother pregnancy once baby is on board. Use this nutrition guide to plan out your meals.
Key nutrients to eat when you’re trying to conceive
As a mom-to-be, you’ll need a mix of healthy foods that are packed with nutrients, including:
1. Folic Acid/Folate: This B vitamin (B9) is one of the most important nutrients you can take before (and during) your pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that women should take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid at least one month before getting pregnant. Not only is folic acid crucial for forming healthy cells, it can also help prevent birth defects like spina bifida and anencephaly. It can be hard to find it in whole foods — you can only eat so many salads, after all — so you should take a prenatal vitamin that has 400 to 600 mcg of folic acid. You can also find it in foods like:
- Leafy green vegetables. Spinach, broccoli, bok choy, Swiss chard and kale are all good options. Sauté them in olive oil and eat as a side dish or add them to soups, salads, casseroles and omelets.
- Fortified cereals. Look for breakfast cereals that contain 100 percent of the recommended daily value.
- Oranges and strawberries. These are so yummy, they’re easy to incorporate into your diet!
- Beans and nuts. Just try not to consume too many of these at once, since they can add to the digestive issues you may already be dealing with.
- Recipes to try:
More on Nutrition When You’re Trying to Get Pregnant
Prepping for Pregnancy The Do’s and Don’ts of Eating Fish When You’re Trying to Conceive Prepping for Pregnancy Decaffeinate Your Diet Prepping for Pregnancy Healthy Vegetarian Eating Prepping for Pregnancy Bone Up on Calcium Prepping for Pregnancy The Do’s and Don’ts of Eating Fish When You’re Trying to Conceive Prepping for Pregnancy Decaffeinate Your Diet Prepping for Pregnancy Healthy Vegetarian Eating Prepping for Pregnancy Bone Up on Calcium
Mediterranean Salad Sandwich
Arugula Salad With Mango and Cucumber
2. Calcium: Calcium keeps your reproductive system functioning smoothly and may even help you conceive faster. About 99 percent of your intake will go to shore up your teeth and bone health — but it’s important to stock up now, because you’ll need a stable supply for baby’s future teeth and bone health and development, too. If your stores are low when you’re pregnant, your body will take the calcium from your bones and give it to the developing fetus, which might raise your risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones) in the future. Try to get about 1,000 mg of calcium each day from sources like:
- Milk: The most popular source of calcium, one cup of 1 percent milk contains 305 milligrams (mg), or about one-third of your daily recommended intake. Bonus: It contains a splash of vitamin D, too. It’s also found in in soy milk, almond milk and calcium-fortified juice. Have a glass as a snack or use it as the base for a smoothie.
- Yogurt: One cup of plain yogurt contains about 415 mg per serving — about 40 percent of your daily recommended intake. Like milk, you can eat it plain or use it as the base for a smoothie.
- Cheese: A 1.5-oz serving of part-skim mozzarella contains 333 mg of calcium, the same-sized serving of cheddar contains 307 mg, and one cup of cottage cheese contains 138 mg.
- Kale and broccoli. Vegetables like these are good non-dairy sources of calcium.
- Recipes to try:
Any Day Breakfast Parfait
Banana Berry Smoothie
Mom’s Best Macaroni and Cheese
3. Iron: Women with adequate iron stores have less trouble getting pregnant than women with lower levels. Plus, this mineral — which helps shuttle oxygen throughout the body — will be super important once you’re delivering oxygen to baby, too. If you’re scheduled for a preconception checkup, ask your doctor about whether you should be screened for an iron deficiency since too little iron could increase your baby’s risk of being underweight or premature. Women need about 18 mg per day, from sources like:
- Fortified breakfast cereals: One serving of fortified breakfast cereal contains 100 percent of the daily recommended intake of iron.
- Lean meats: Beef, chicken and turkey all contain about 1 mg of iron per 3 oz serving.
- Spinach: A good source of iron, ½ cup of boiled, drained spinach contains 3 mg per serving — about 17 percent of your daily recommended intake.
- Recipes to try:
Baby Spinach and Edamame Salad With Parmesan Shavings
4. Fatty acids: This is one fat that you may need to include more of in your prepregnancy diet. That’s because omega-3 fatty acids may help regulate key ovulation-inducing hormones and increase blood flow to the reproductive organs. Now is also a good time to cut back on saturated fats, which are found in butter and red meat, and to try to avoid trans fat (found in processed foods like chips and cookies). Although many prenatal vitamins contain omega 3s, it may be best to get them from whole foods. You can find them in:
- Seafood: Fish that are high in fat, including salmon, anchovies, sardines and herring, are all good sources of omega 3s.
- Grass-fed beef: Beef from grass-fed cows contain higher levels of omega 3s than beef from grain-fed cows.
- Nuts and seeds: Walnuts, flaxseed and chia seeds contain omega 3s, as do plant oils like flaxseed, soybean and canola oils. Add them to your smoothie or sprinkle them on top of a salad for an extra crunch.
- Recipes to try:
Salmon Salad Nicoise
Chicken Burgers With Mango Relish
Lemon Tarragon Chicken Salad
5. Iodine: This mineral helps your body make thyroid hormones, which work to control your metabolism. If you’re trying to get pregnant, aim to get 150 mcg per day. It can be found naturally in some foods and is added to others. Sources include:
- Dairy products: Milk, yogurt and cheese all contain iodine.
- Iodized salt: In the United States, iodine is added to salt and labeled “iodized.” But not all foods that are high in salt (for example, canned soups) contain iodized salt.
- Recipes to try:
6. Fiber: Including more complex, slowly-digestible carbohydrates like fiber in your diet might help boost your fertility levels. Plus, if you’re planning to get pregnant, increasing your fiber intake by 10 grams day can lower your risk of developing gestational diabetes by 26 percent, according to the National Institutes of Health. Some good sources of fiber include:
- Whole grains: Wheat bread, bulgur, oats and quinoa all contain fiber.
- High-fiber cereals. Just one serving for breakfast can really pack a lot of fiber into your diet. Check the label on the box to find cereals that are high in fiber.
- Fruit and vegetables: Peas, corn and broccoli are high in fiber, as are pears, blueberries, raspberries and peaches. Eat the skins or peels for an extra dose.
- Beans and legumes: Lentils, black beans, kidney beans, lima beans, split peas and chickpeas are all good sources. Add them to stews or salads.
- Recipes to try:
Roasted Mediterranean Sea Bass With Red Pepper and White Beans
Steamed Sesame Vegetable Medley
Sunset Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup
7. Protein: A staple of everyone’s diet, protein will help supply your baby with important nutrients. But some proteins are better than others. If you’re trying to get pregnant, stick to 2 to 3 servings a day, one of which should be plant-based (think: nuts, seeds and legumes). Eating too many high-fat animal proteins may hamper your ability to get pregnant. Sources of high, lean proteins include:
- Fish: High-fat fish like salmon is not only high in protein, it also provides a dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Lean meats: Poultry (like chicken), lean beef and bison are all good options. Just try to limit your intake to 2 or 3 servings per day. Consuming more than 4 servings per day might interfere with your fertility levels.
- Black beans: One cup of black beans contain a whopping 15 grams of protein. Use them in a breakfast burrito or in homemade veggie burgers.
- Recipes to try:
Cornmeal-Pecan Crusted Chicken With Black Bean Salsa
Salmon Hash Patties
What to eat when you’re trying to get pregnant
It’s never too early to make over your diet. Here are some of the best foods to add to your plate.
Spinach: Experts recommend eating 4 to 5 servings of vegetables a day, with 2 of those servings coming from leafy greens. Spinach is a great choice: It’s low in calories but rich in calcium, vitamin C, folate and potassium. Try adding a handful of spinach leaves to your smoothie, along with vanilla yogurt and a ripe banana.
Oranges: Oranges also don’t have a lot of calories but are packed with vitamin C, calcium and potassium. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vitamin C from citrus fruits can also help your body better absorb iron. To work more into your diet, try drinking a glass of orange juice or topping your salads with a few slices.
Milk: Dairy products contain protein, potassium and calcium. Aim to have 3 servings a day, and try to choose products that are fortified with vitamins A and D. Use fortified milk to make oatmeal or as a base for smoothies.
Fortified cereals: Whether you’re opting for cooked cereals or the ready-to-eat kinds, try to choose products that are made from whole grains and fortified with iron and folic acid.
Chickpeas: Beans and peas are excellent sources of protein — and they also provide a dose of iron and zinc. Chickpease are loaded with protein, zinc, potassium and fiber. (Other good options include pinto beans, soybeans, white beans, lentils and kidney beans.) Use them to make hummus or bake them and sprinkle on a salad.
- Salmon: Rich in protein, fish like salmon contain healthy fats that help boost your and your baby’s health. It’s also a good source of polyunsaturated fatty acids and potassium. This Salmon With Basil Tomatoes recipe is a good one to try for dinner while you’re trying to get pregnant.
Healthy eating tips if you’re trying to get pregnant
By overhauling your diet now, it’ll be easier to stick to a healthy diet once you get pregnant. Follow these tips:
Eat more fruits and veggies. Vegetables provide a hefty dose of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron and magnesium, while fruits offer up vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium and fiber. Aim to eat 4 to 5 servings of veggies (at least two should come from leafy greens) and 3 to 4 servings of fresh fruit.
Limit your sugar intake. No one can swear off sugar entirely, but it’s smart to temper your sweet tooth whenever possible. Too much refined sugar — foods like cookies, donuts, candy, pastries — might interfere with your chances of getting pregnant.
Analyze your eating habits. If you follow a restricted diet — whether that’s due to personal beliefs or because you’re managing a chronic condition — ask your doctor if you need to shore up any nutritional gaps in your meals. (A dietician or nutritionist can also help.) If you suspect that you may have an eating disorder — like bulimia or anorexia nervosa, for example — talk to your practitioner about enlisting the help of a health professional and a support group.
Practice good (food) hygiene. Food poisoning is dangerous for anyone, but when you’re pregnant, it can lead to premature birth and other potential problems. And some foodborne illnesses can affect your baby’s health even before you conceive. For example, methylmercury, a metal found in some seafood including swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and shark, can harm a baby’s developing nervous system even before conception, says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). White albacore tuna can also contain high levels of methylmercury, so the FDA recommends limiting your consumption of albacore tuna to 6 oz. per week during pregnancy.
Don’t skip meals. Right now, you might prefer to sleep through breakfast or work through lunch, but we guarantee you that baby will think differently. Time to overhaul your schedule and start eating three square meals a day. That way, when baby’s on board, you’ll be able to supply him or her with a steady stream of nutrients throughout the day.
Cut back on caffeine. When you’re trying to conceive, you should drink no more than 200 mg a day, or about one 12-oz cup of coffee. Keeping it within this range may, in fact, boost your odds of getting pregnant.
Don’t smoke. Using tobacco can make it harder for you to get pregnant — and once you are pregnant, you may also be more likely to have a miscarriage. Plus, both smoking and breathing in secondhand smoke can also cause your baby to be born underweight and put him at risk of a host of birth defects and health problems.
Don’t drink alcohol. Alcohol can harm a developing baby, warns the CDC, and make it tougher to conceive in the first place. Best to stick with a mocktail.
Overwhelmed? Don’t be. You don’t have to eat a “perfect” diet — just tell yourself what you’ll tell your child some day: Do the best you can.
I share the top 15 tips for what to eat to help you get pregnant faster, and dive into the evidence on the best fertility foods.
If you missed it last week, I was discussing some of the myths and facts around fertility foods and answering the question can foods help you get pregnant. I also shared my personal struggle with infertility and my IVF journey to getting the baby I am a mere few months from meeting.
Today I wanted to dive more into some of the long-term evidence-based strategies when it comes to what to eat to help you get pregnant. To do that, I chatted with my colleagues Elizabeth Shaw and Sara Haas who have an amazing new cookbook called the Fertility Foods Cookbook that goes into incredible detail about everything you want to eat to meet baby. Between their fave fertility foods and my own research, I’ve compiled a list of the best foods to eat to get pregnant.
Top 15 Tips for What to Eat to Help You Get Pregnant
1. Go Decaf
Okay so this one might be hard for some of you to swallow, but research suggests that caffeine may interfere with the natural contractions that help carry a women’s egg to her womb. It also appears that drinking two or more caffeinated drinks (by either partner) may increase the risk of miscarriage. If you’re a heavy caffeine consumer, you might as well start to wean yourself off now by choosing half-caf or decaf more often.
2. Be the DD
Again, more bad news for us ladies that want babies. One study found that women who consumed more than 2 drinks a day reduced their chances of conception by 18%. Ugh, apparently you’re going to be ordering virgin mimosas for more than those precious 9 months.
3. Love the Lycopene
Lycopene is a specific antioxidant that early research suggests may help male sperm motility issues! Haas and Shaw recommend loading up on tomatoes like in this Veggie Shakshuka, but you can also grab some guava, watermelon and pink grapefruit.
4. Up that Vitamin D
Research suggests that those with sufficient vitamin D levels had higher rates of pregnancy compared with those whose levels were lagging (and a lot of North Americans are not getting enough). In addition to fortified dairy and alternatives, Haas and Shaw recommend trying UV-exposed mushrooms. Try subbing your meat for mushrooms in these vegan sloppy joes!
5. Antioxidants to the Rescue
One large systematic review found that antioxidants helped improve pregnancy outcome by enhancing sperm quality and general pregnancy rates. It’s specifically been found that the combination of Vitamin C, Vitamin E and CoQ10 are the ideal antioxidant “stack” to improve your fertility chances. Try nuts or avocado for vitamin E, lean beef or mackerel for CoQ10, and as Shaw and Haas recommend, berries for Vitamin C.
6. Fill Up on Full Fat Dairy
One impressive 8 year study found that women who ate two or more weekly servings of low-fat dairy increased their risk of ovulatory failure by 85%, while including full-fat dairy reduced infertility risk by 27%. Bring on the homo milk! You can read more about the skim vs whole milk debate here!
7. Fermented Foods FTW
Research consistently suggests that gut health is imperative to overall health, and the world of fertility is no exception. As Shaw and Haas told me, emerging research suggests that the health of the mother’s gut may play a role in the infant’s microbiome and health later on in their life. For that reason, it’s important to take care of it with probiotic rich fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchee and kombucha. We are totally obsessed with these kombucha floats!
8. Go Slow (Carbs)
Research has linked consuming high glycemic index foods (like pastries, white bread and sugary cereals) to higher rates of ovulatory infertility, while fibre-rich carbs like whole grains help reduce the risk. Get your carb fix with fobre-loaded foods like quinoa, barley, buckwheat and wheat bran. We are currently obsessed with this Pizza Quinoa Casserole.
9. Pulse Power
We love the plant-based trend for so many reasons, but especially because one study found that women who consumed 5% of their calories from vegetable protein (like pulses) reduced their risk of ovulatory infertility by 50%. Get your fix from beans, lentils, chickpeas and more in recipes like my protein avocado toast.
10. Pass the Choline
This unique B vitamin is important for supporting a healthy pregnancy and baby. Load up on choline-rich foods like eggs, dairy, pasta, meat and poultry. You should definitely try this Spring Vegetarian breakfast pizza.
11. Fork over the Folate
Folate is the foundation of all prenatal vitamins. That’s because it’s key to preventing neural tube defects in the first few months of the fetus’ development. Research has also shown that not getting enough folate can increase issues related to egg production issues by 40%. So while taking your daily supplement is KEY, you can boost your intake with foods like cooked green veg, pulses and seeds. I love this spinach strata for lazy Sunday brunch.
12. Pass the Myo-Inositol
One of the major fertility diagnoses is insulin-resistant PCOS and research has found that using myo-inositol may improve insulin sensitivity to regulate a patient’s cycle. In addition to speaking to your doctor about taking a supplement, you can also add foods that are rich in myo-inositol like grapefruit and navy beans.
13. Up the Omega 3
Again, another nutrient that is really important at any life cycle stage, but it may give you an extra leg up during your monthly baby dance sesh. has linked greater omega 3 levels to lower amounts of inflammatory fertility issues like endometriosis while it has also been shown to help improve sperm count and motility. We love fatty fish like salmon, arctic char and trout like in my recipe for Maple Arctic Char.
14. Feasting on (Good) Fat
Fats are back (and we’re happy about that), but research suggests that women who consume higher intake of saturated fats (largely found in animal protein) have fewer quality embryos to work with. In contrast, consuming polyunsaturated fats is linked to high quality embryos. Monounsaturated fats are linked to the best chance of a live birth. Aim to cut back on fatty cuts of meats and fried food and incorporate more olive oil, fatty fish, avocados, nuts and seeds into your day.
15. Eat like the Mediterranean’s Do
The Mediterranean diet consistently comes out on top for pregnancy success rates and for good reason. Research suggests that consuming a diet rich in fish, pulses, and veggies, and low is saturated fat and sugar (as advocated for by the Mediterranean diet) helps to increase the likelihood of pregnancy by 40%. So if you basically just follow the specific diet recommendations above (with the exception of maybe the alcohol thing), you’ll be eating the Mediterranean way and hopefully on your way to meeting baby.
I hope you now have a better understanding about what the research says about what to eat to help you get pregnant. Aren’t you glad you’re not limited to pineapple core, pomegranate juice and brazil nuts every day? Now I want to hear from you:
Have you or someone you know struggled with infertility?
Have you tried any of these foods to eat to help you get pregnant?
What are some of the fertility foods you’ve heard about that help with baby making?
Leave me a comment below with your thoughts!
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian, an avid food writer and blogger, a cookbook author and the founder of Abbey’s Kitchen Inc.
Fertility Diet: What to Eat to Conceive
From baby carrots to pineapple, we ask the experts to weigh in on foods that boost fertility—during each of your four menstrual cycle phases.
You’re already loading up on organic fruits and veggies, staying away from processed foods and making sure you get enough whole grains, lean protein and dairy into your diet, as well as taking a prenatal vitamin for insurance. But can eating certain foods during different phases of your cycle enhance your fertility? Some experts say yes!
“Different phases of the cycle require a woman’s body to produce different hormones and go through separate processes,” says Jill Blakeway, M.S., L.A.c., clinic director at The YinOva Center in New York and co-author of Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility. “So if a woman wants to maximize her chances of conceiving, it is possible to eat foods that are advantageous to each phase.
But since many pre-conception eating recommendations are nothing more than wild Internet rumors, we asked the experts to weigh in on what to actually eat during each of the reproductive phases.
Fertility Foods to Eat During Menstruation
When your period starts to flow, you may feel crampy, bloated, fatigued and moody. You may also be depleting your iron stores. In fact, the average woman loses 30-40 milliliters of blood over the course of three to seven days. “Iron is attached to the red blood cells, so the way you lose it is by bleeding,” says Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D., a Boston-area nutrition consultant and author of Expect the Best: Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During and After Pregnancy (Wiley 2009).
Menstruation is a good time to remember to focus on foods rich in iron, which the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 names as a nutrient of real concern among women in their childbearing years. Just don’t view your period as an excuse to load up on double cheeseburgers. “It’s understandable for women who have a failed cycle to indulge—just don’t linger in that place,” says Hillary M. Wright, MEd, RD, LDN, director of nutrition counseling for the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health at Boston IVF and author of The PCOS Diet Plan: A Natural Approach to Health for Women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. “Have an episode, then try to regroup and get back to setting the stage for a successful pregnancy.”
Boost fertility by eating:
Meat, beans, fish, leafy green vegetables and seeds. Most of these foods are rich in iron, protein or both, which is especially important if you have endometriosis or bleed heavily. And some (like fish, seeds and leafy greens) have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help mitigate cramps by encouraging healthy blood flow. Another tip: eat plenty of bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, kiwi, citrus and other food sources that are high in vitamin C. “Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron from beans, whole grains and fortified cereals,” says Ward.
Steer clear of:
Cold foods (if your periods are clotted and painful) and alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods, which can make bleeding even heavier.
Steak fajitas with black beans, bell peppers, onions and tomato salsa.
Fertility Foods to Eat During Your Follicular Phase
During the follicular phase, your body is working hard to develop a dominant follicle and estrogen levels are on the rise. Unfortunately, women who are struggling with fibroids and endometriosis often have too much estrogen (a condition called estrogen dominance). “Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower contain a phytonutrient called di-indolylmethane (DIM), which can help women metabolize estrogen better,” says Blakeway. In fact, DIM binds to environmental estrogens like pesticides and hormones in meat and dairy products, helping rid the body of excess estrogen. Just don’t forget to have some olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds with those leafy greens. These foods are loaded with vitamin E, which is found in the fluid of the follicle that’s housing your egg.
Foods that support follicle development like nuts, seeds, green vegetables, legumes, eggs and fish.
Alcohol—it affects hormonal balance. It’s also dehydrating and the loss of water in the body may make cervical mucus too thick, says Blakeway.
Chicken and broccoli stir fry with cashews and brown rice.
Fertility Foods to Eat During Ovulation
As you near ovulation, the body needs plenty of B vitamins and other nutrients to support the release of the egg and promote implantation. “Zinc can help with cell division and progesterone production and vitamin C is found in high quantities in the follicle after the egg is released and may play a role in progesterone production as well,” says Blakeway.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are also crucial during this phase. The best source: omega-3s from fish and fish oil supplements. These EFAs are best known for promoting blood flow to the uterus and supporting the opening of the follicle to release the egg, but guess what? They also open up the tiny blood vessels in your nether regions, which can ensure you’re primed and ready for action. “Fish oil thins out your blood and increases circulation to your body parts,” says Wright. Plus, fish oil boosts the testosterone in your body—yes, women have this hormone too—so you may become aroused more quickly. And who among us couldn’t use a little of that when entering the O-zone?
leafy greens, whole grains, eggs, legumes, meat, fish (or fish oil supplements) and water—lots and lots of water. Water plays a key role in transporting hormone and developing follicles. It also helps thin out cervical mucus, which may make it a little easier for your partner’s swimmers to get to their goal.
Acidic foods like coffee, alcohol, meat and processed foods, which may make your cervical mucus hostile to sperm. Baby carrots are often touted for maximizing your body’s baby making juices because they’re alkaline (the opposite of acidic). But according to Blakeway, any alkaline foods will do, particularly green vegetables, sprouts and wheatgrass.
Cajun salmon and brown rice with a side of spinach sautéed in garlic and olive oil—and a bowl of strawberries and a dark chocolate truffle for dessert. “Chocolate is an aphrodisiac because it can mimic feelings of falling in love,” says Ward.
Fertility Foods to Eat During Your Luteal Phase
Now is the time to load up on nutrients that encourage cell growth. Beta-carotene, which is commonly found in leafy greens as well as yellow and orange foods (e.g., carrots, cantaloupe and sweet potatoes), helps keep your hormones in check and prevents early miscarriage. In fact, the corpus luteum, which helps produce the progesterone necessary to sustain a pregnancy, is loaded with the powerful nutrient.
One food that gets a lot of attention during this phase is pineapple. In addition to beta-carotene, pineapple contains a substance called bromelain, which has been shown to mildly support implantation through its anti-inflammatory properties. “There’s not a lot of research out there for the benefits of eating pineapple during the time of conception, but if you want to hedge your bets, you may benefit,” says Wright. “After all, pineapple is a healthy food with no downside.” Experts discourage taking bromelain as a supplement though because the dose may be too high, and anything that dramatically moves blood during this time could be counter-productive.
Warming foods like soups and stews. The luteal phase is all about creating higher temperatures to help hold a pregnancy.
Cold or raw foods, especially ice cream and frozen yogurt. The luteal phase is a time when you want to promote growth and expansion; cold constricts.
A hot and spicy bowl of chili made with lean ground beef and a slice of crusty bread. For dessert: pineapple sorbet.
Think you may be pregnant already? Check out our early signs of pregnancy.
Struggling with fertility can be one of the most heart-wrenching and frustrating endeavors. Getting pregnant is not as easy as the movies make it out to be. The causes of infertility abound and often leave health care practitioners and patients with many questions. There is still so much that is unknown when it comes to reproductive health, but research is on the rise and food is taking center stage as a means to promote positive fertility outcomes. Dietitians and co-authors of Fertility Foods Cookbook Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT and Sara Haas, RDN, LDN shared 8 foods to consider adding to a fertility-focused diet to either boost chances of getting pregnant or having a healthful pregnancy.
Eight power-packed fertility foods
Very few research studies have investigated the effects of specific foods on fertility, but the broader food groups–such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, and whole grains–have been studied. Below is a list of eight nutrient-dense foods to put on your plate.
Strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries are rich in in color, flavor, antioxidants, and fiber. Antioxidants are key to helping combat free radicals that may disrupt reproductive health.
2. Whole fat dairy
Whole milk, whole-fat yogurt, and cheese have mounting research behind them highlighting that one to two servings of whole milk dairy can support conception. Eight ounces or one cup of creamy yogurt topped with berries sounds like a perfect afternoon snack!
While studies in this area are somewhat inconclusive, what we do know is that research does support the addition of heart healthy omega-3 rich fish into your diet at least twice a week. Salmon is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and lean proteins.
4. Fermented foods
Yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and pickles are fermented foods packed with healthy bacteria (often referred to as probiotics). Probiotics boost your immunity and improve overall gut health. Look for refrigerated sauerkraut or pickles that only contain salt and the vegetable as ingredients, the canned varieties have been heat processed, subsequently killing off the healthy bacteria.
Fertility health does expand beyond women, and sperm health can be boosted with a daily dose of 75-grams which is approximately ¾ cup. Add walnuts to yogurt, encrust your salmon with crushed walnuts, or sprinkle onto salads for some added crunch.
Packed with protein, Vitamin D, healthy fats, and choline, eggs are a super star in the nutrition game. Choline has received a lot of coverage lately highlighting its benefits throughout pregnancy. Most women fall short of the recommended amount of 450 mg each day. Whether eggs are scrambled, boiled, or baked they can make for a tasty addition to any meal.
7. Whole grains
Research indicates that both males and females can benefit from a diet rich in whole grains, from sperm health to conception. Quinoa, barley, oats, millet, amaranth, or faro can jazz up a breakfast or add some dimension to a salad.
Legumes, like black beans, lentils, and kidney beans are an excellent source of fiber, protein, and prebiotics. Prebiotics are the food for probiotics, which make for a healthy and happy gutFertility Foods Cookbook
Are you ready to overhaul your pantry with fertility-focused foods? Look no further than the Fertility Foods Cookbook! Shaw and Haas know first hand how important nutrition is for reproductive health and show you just how simple it can be to take control of the one area of your life that may seem so out of control during this time, your nutrition. Fertility Foods Cookbook is packed with colorful photos, simple recipes, and overflowing with fertility research.
Tags: fertility, nutrition, Reproductive health
Wendy Jo Peterson, MS, RDN is a nationally recognized culinary nutritionist and author. Her books include Born To Eat: Whole, Healthy Foods From Baby’s First Bite, Mediterranean Diet Cookbook For Dummies, and Adrenal Fatigue For Dummies. When Wendy Jo isn’t in the kitchen you can find her traveling, hiking, and exploring Europe with her family. Wendy Jo is a military spouse currently living in Europe.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 10 women will experience infertility. Maintaining a healthy diet is important at every point in a woman’s life but especially important when trying to conceive a baby. Here are 10 foods that naturally increase fertility in women.
Please remember that infertility can be a symptom of serious health issues, like endometriosis, PCOS and hormone imbalance. Until these underlying issues are addressed, infertility may continue.
If you are in the United States and would like additional information, talk to the Kaldas Center.
Seaweed is packed with nutrients that help enrich the liver, kidneys, bladder, and adrenals which are organs vital to fertility health.
Salmon is full of Omega-3 Fatty Acids which are proven to regulate blood flow to the reproductive organs.
Figs have been believed to increase fertility since the time of Ancient Greeks, and now we have scientific evidence. Figs contain a lot of iron, which are important for healthy eggs and ovulation.
Oysters have been known to increase libido, but oysters can also be a great source for fertility because they are packed with zinc, which increases the production of good-quality eggs.
Any kind of berries are good at protecting eggs from damage and aging because they are full of antioxidants. Strawberries have been linked to naturally increasing a woman’s libido.
Beans are a lean protein and are full of iron, which helps to increase fertility and libido. Low iron levels can result in anovulation, which is when ovulation does not produce a healthy egg.
7. Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens such as spinach, romaine, arugula, and broccoli are high in folate, a B vitamin that has been shown to improve ovulation. Leafy greens also naturally increase a woman’s libido.
8. Maca Root
Maca root increases fertility in men and women by increasing energy, boosting the immune system, and providing vital minerals and nutrients. Maca Root is packed with iron and iodine.
Research shows yams have an ovulation stimulating substance that can help boost fertility.
10. Vegetables and Fruits
Eating up to three servings a day of fresh fruits and vegetables is important for any diet, but especially important when trying to conceive.
Foods to Avoid
Soy contains a compound very similar to estrogen which can cause estrogen levels to be too high and can negatively affect fertility.
No need to go cold turkey, but it’s a good idea to limit your alcohol intake to one or two servings of alcohol while trying to conceive.
Consuming refined sugar, such as high fructose corn syrup, can cause blood sugar spikes which can negatively affect the reproductive system as well as the rest of the body.
4. Saturated fats
Eliminating saturated fats from the diet is important for general health; however, it’s extremely important to avoid eating saturated fats when trying to conceive because they cause oestrogen or too high of estrogen levels, which can cause infertility.
It’s important to identify any food sensitivities. Any unidentified sensitivities can negatively impact fertility, as well as cause headaches, heartburn, gas, bloating and weight gain.
Blood tests, such as those provided by Nutritional Healing, observe white blood cells in the presence of common foods. If the blood cells enlarge, burst or shrink when combined with a food, this indicates a sensitivity.
“Based on the response, the test classifies foods and herbs into four categories: severe, moderate, mild reaction and acceptable foods,” said Kimberly Stoeger, M.S. Clinical Nutritionist for Nutritional Healing, LLC.
Download a Printable PDF of Fertility Foods
Is there a connection between diet patterns and reproductive health?
As a dietitian, I find it’s helpful to recommend an overall dietary pattern. While many studies have focused on individual foods or nutrients when it comes to reproductive health, fewer look at dietary patterns. Some research shows encouraging results for the Mediterranean Diet, which emphasizes high intakes of vegetables, fruit, fish, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil.2,3 A clinical trial showed pregnant women who followed a Mediterranean-style diet including a daily portion of nuts (50% walnuts, 25% almonds, and 25% hazelnuts), and extra virgin olive oil, had a 35% lower risk for gestational diabetes and on average, gained 2.75 pounds less, compared to women who received standard prenatal care.4 The women in this study were multi-ethnic, inner-city pregnant women with metabolic risk factors, including obesity and chronic hypertension. They received dietary advice to help improve their compliance. However, the investigators ultimately relied on self-reported feedback about what the participants ate and there could have been human error in the reporting.
Another study explored the connection between diet and infertility due to ovulatory disorders. Researchers followed more than 17,500 women over eight years as they tried to become pregnant or became pregnant and analyzed their diet, physical activity, BMI, and various lifestyle factors.5 Following a diet characterized by lower intake of trans fat and saturated fat, greater intake of monounsaturated fat, a lower intake of animal protein with greater vegetable protein intake, a higher intake of high-fiber and low-glycemic carbohydrates, full-fat dairy products over low-fat dairy, higher nonheme iron intake, and higher frequency of multivitamin use was associated with a lower risk of ovulatory disorder infertility. Women that followed this type of diet were more likely to consume coffee and alcohol and be physically active. They were also less likely to be smokers, have long menstrual cycles, and be recent users of hormonal contraception. It’s important to note this study just showed an association and not cause and effect.
While there are minor differences in dietary patterns for males and females, it seems that the best overall dietary pattern to support reproductive health is similar to one for overall health – one that emphasizes plant foods like vegetables and fruit, whole grains, legumes and nuts, as well as seafood, unsaturated fats and dairy while reducing highly refined sugary foods and red or processed meats.
Which specific foods and nutrients are associated with fertility?
Regarding the intake of specific foods or nutrients, some research is inconclusive, while some appears to be stronger.
In females, high intake of folic acid is not only important to prevent neural tube defects once a woman becomes pregnant, it may also increase a woman’s chance of conceiving and carrying a pregnancy to term. It is recommended that women trying to conceive take a daily prenatal multivitamin containing at least 400 micrograms of folic acid, and up to 800 micrograms.6 Folate is important for men, too, as it could play a role in sperm health.7 In addition to supplements, folate can be found in foods, such as dark leafy greens, legumes, walnuts, avocado, and eggs. According to a review paper published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, it was once thought that because soy is a source of phytoestrogens in the diet, it may affect fertility negatively. However, the limited research done in humans has shown no negative impact of soy on reproductive health, and some studies that evaluated soy intake among couples undergoing fertility treatment have shown encouraging results.8 Soy is a good source of plant-based protein, and can be found in minimally processed forms such as edamame, tofu, tempeh, and soy milk.
While there are has been research on the effects of caffeine and alcohol on fertility and pregnancy outcomes, there is established guidance from the USDA. For women who are pregnant or trying to conceive, it is best to consult a health care provider for advice concerning caffeine consumption.9 Some people are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others. No safe levels of alcohol during pregnancy have been established, and women who are trying to become pregnant should avoid alcohol.10
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), especially omega-3 fatty acids, have been investigated for their potential role in sperm health as well as incidence of pregnancy.11,12,13,14 Seafood is the main source of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. Plant-based foods such as walnuts, flaxseed, and canola oil supply the omega-3 fatty acid ALA. Walnuts are actually the only tree nut that is an excellent source of this essential fatty acid (2.5g/oz). When it comes to seafood, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consume at least 8 and up to 12 ounces of a variety of seafood per week, from choices lower in mercury.10 Species higher in mercury include shark, swordfish, King mackerel and tilefish. Choose low mercury species like salmon, shrimp, light tuna, pollock, scallops and sardines.
Walnuts and Reproductive Health
Because the membranes of sperm are made up largely of PUFAs, they are highly susceptible to lipid peroxidation, or oxidative stress that can damage the membranes. Studies have shown PUFAs may play a role in sperm health. In a study on young healthy men, 75 grams of walnuts per day (a source of PUFAs) added to a Western-style diet positively shifted sperm quality (vitality, motility, and shape). The improved semen quality was associated with increases in blood serum omega-6 fatty acids and the plant source of omega-3, ALA, both of which are types of PUFAs.13 In a follow up study done in mice to determine the possible mechanism for sperm improvement when walnuts are included in the diet, it was found it could be due to a decrease in oxidative stress, which can damage sperm. Eating PUFA-rich foods, such as walnuts, may also help replace those fatty acids damaged in the sperm membrane, but more research is still needed.14
Foods That Make You Fertile
The Fertility Diet: What to Eat When Trying to Get Pregnant
If you’re trying to get pregnant, is your diet packed with foods that increase fertility? According to a study of diet and fertility from Harvard Medical School, unlike other factors that you cannot control—such as age and genetics—eating certain foods and avoiding others is something you can do yourself to help improve your ovulatory function. “Eating as if you’re already pregnant can actually help prime your body for conception,” says Sarah Krieger, R.D., a nutritionist based in St. Petersburg, Florida. Here’s how to deliciously dine your way to a happy, healthy pregnancy by following a conception diet.
Fruits and Veggies
For a fertility diet to improve egg quality, load your plate with fruit and veggies. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health of nearly 19,000 women found a higher incidence of ovulatory disorder in women who consumed more trans fats, carbs, and animal proteins. The antidote? Make sure half your plate at every meal is composed of fresh fruits and vegetables. “Watermelon and asparagus, in addition to other raw fruits and vegetables, give the body a rich supply of glutathione, which is important for egg quality,” says Alisa Vitti, integrative nutritionist and author of WomanCode: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source. “Kale is another a powerhouse vegetable because it contains elements necessary for estrogen metabolism.”
- RELATED: 10+ Ways to Boost Your Fertility
Vitti suggests juicing kale and other greens if you’re not a fan of raw veggies. “I love recommending patients make fresh, mostly-vegetable juices with a few fruits like goji berries, which contain phytochemicals that are beneficial for fertility,” she says. To combat nutrient loss, roast vegetables in high heat for short time with no water or microwave them with a small amount of water.
Indulge in healthy, plant-based fats in moderation. Nuts, avocados, olive oil, and grapeseed oil can reduce the inflammation in the body, which helps promote regular ovulation and general fertility. Some good fats may even assist women who truly struggle with infertility. “Studies have shown that consuming a certain quantity of monounsaturated fats in the form of avocados during the IVF cycle increased the success rate by three and a half times, as opposed to women who don’t eat good plant-based fats during that period,” Vitti says.
Avoid all trans fats and eat more healthy unsaturated fats. Trans fats (found primarily in foods such as commercial baked and snack foods, animal products, french fries and some margarines) increase insulin resistance. Insulin helps move glucose from the bloodstream to the cells; resistance means it’s harder to move glucose into the cells. The pancreas keeps pumping out more insulin anyway, and the result is more insulin in your bloodstream. High insulin levels cause a lot of metabolic disturbances that affect ovulation, so they should be avoided in a conception diet.
Eat more complex (“slow”) carbs and limit highly processed ones. Your body digests bad carbs (like cookies, cakes, white bread and white rice) quickly, and turns them into blood sugar. To drive down the blood-sugar spike, the pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream –and studies have found that high insulin levels appear to inhibit ovulation.
Good carbs (those containing fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains) are digested slowly and have a more gradual effect on blood sugar and insulin. Barely refined grains are superb sources of fertility-friendly B vitamins, vitamin E, and fiber. “Some of my favorites are buckwheat, which contains d-chiro-inositol, a compound that improves ovulation,” Krieger says.
Compose a quarter of your plate with more complex carbs, like brown rice. For some women, particularly those with hormonal disorders like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), cutting back on gluten may be advised. “Gluten has been shown to create an inflammatory response in the body, which heightens C-reactive protein and sends signals that it’s not an ideal time to conceive,” Vitti says. “It makes implantation more difficult and is also known to inhibit ovulation.”
It may also pay to break out of your rice and pasta rut and sample more diverse grains like amaranth, millet, and quinoa. They’ll help keep you fuller longer and maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
- RELATED: 8 Surprising Facts About Fertility
Get less protein from red meat and more fish. Chicken, turkey, pork, and beef trimmed of fat are great sources of protein, zinc, iron—all important building blocks for a healthy pregnancy. Steering clear of blubbery bits helps ensure you don’t pack on excess weight, which disrupts estrogen levels and may also help you avoid organochlorine pollutants. These are chemicals that lurk in animal fats and are linked to conception delays, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health. The exceptions to the skinny rule? Coldwater fish like salmon, canned light tuna, and sardines. They’re an excellent source of DHA and omega-3 fatty acids; they also help develop the baby’s nervous system and cut your risk of premature birth. You can eat them a couple of times a week in a fertility diet without worrying about mercury levels, Krieger says, but it’s best to avoid other varieties, such as shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel. Eggs, too, are another potent protein source. “They get a bad rap from cholesterol, but the yolk has excellent stores of protein and choline, a vitamin that helps develop brain function in babies,” she says.
When picking foods that increase fertility, opt for plant protein. What’s more, plant protein (from beans, nuts, seeds and tofu) comes with healthy fats and is relatively low in calories and can be helpful for weight loss. One study showed that the risk of ovulatory disorders is cut in half when 5 percent of your total calorie intake is derived from plant proteins. The Harvard Public Health study also found that infertility was 39 percent more likely in women with the highest intake of animal protein. Beans are super sources, as are nuts, seeds, and other legumes, such as lentils and chickpeas.
Consume one or two servings a day of whole milk or other full-fat dairy foods, such as yogurt, and less non- and low-fat dairy. “We found that the more low-fat dairy products in a woman’s diet, the more trouble she had getting pregnant,” says Walter Willett, M.D., a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the study’s authors. That’s because a high intake of low-fat dairy has been shown to raise the risk of ovulatory infertility, compared to high-fat dairy. Before you bust out the Chunky Monkey, however, look at ways you can swap one serving per day sensibly, perhaps by adding whole milk instead of skim to your tea.
If you’re having continued trouble conceiving, you may want to consider limiting dairy from your fertility diet plan altogether. “We’re being exposed to dairy in mass quantities that’s more hormonally driven, meaning the production of cow dairy has become very chemically manipulated,” Vitti says. “These excess hormones may disrupt the conversation that the brain is trying to have with the endocrine system, particularly your ovaries.” Just make sure you consult your doctor about the best ways to supplement your calcium intake if you temporarily ditch dairy.
- RELATED: Controlling Weight During Pregnancy
It’s also a good idea to boost your intake of yogurt, ideally homemade or Greek-style, which is one of the top fertility foods for getting pregnant. Why? The probiotic microbes may be instrumental in boosting your future kid’s health. A study conducted on mice at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that females who ate yogurt versus junk food diets gave birth to larger litters. It also boosted semen quality in their male counterparts.
Cut down sugar levels, and stick to less-processed sweeteners. Concentrated doses of the sweet stuff can throw your blood sugar totally out of whack, creating issues with insulin and your general hormonal balance. Lay off the candies and desserts for your fertility diet plan, and don’t forget about sneakier sugar bombs like fruit juice, energy drinks, and sweet teas. Sugared sodas, in particular, have been associated with ovulatory infertility. That doesn’t mean you should use artificially sweetened products in their place. “Artificial sweeteners are stressors on your system; they create a cortisol response, which inhibits ovulation,” Vitti says.
If you’re craving sugary stuff (and who can blame you?), choose less-processed sweeteners with lower glycemic loads, such as agave syrup, honey, maple syrup, and stevia, a natural zero-calorie sweetener.
Choose whole foods over processed options. To witness the power of whole foods in action, look to our sisters in the Mediterranean. Their diet, which is rich in whole grains and vegetables, and has less processed meat, may protect against ovulatory dysfunction. A Spanish study of more than 2,000 women showed that only 17 percent of women who follow a strict Mediterranean diet had fertility issues, compared with 26 percent of women who ate fattier meats and more processed foods.
Drink coffee, tea and alcohol in moderation, and avoid sugary drinks entirely. According to the Harvard study, one to two drinks of alcohol or several cups of coffee or tea a day had little effect on ovulation problems – but it could lead to dehydration. “Our morning cup of coffee is the worst thing we can do from the dehydration standpoint,” says Angela Chaudhari, M.D., a gynecologic surgeon and assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. In fact, both caffeine and alcohol are diuretics and can prevent your mucus membranes from staying moist, affecting the consistency of your cervical fluid. Limit caffeine intake from coffee, energy drinks, and teas to under 200 milligrams a day and restrict alcohol to two to three glasses spaced out over a week. You may want to up your intake of decaf teas. Some studies have shown that herbal tea may be a good fertility food for getting pregnant.
- RELATED: Get Pregnant: 7 Natural Fertility Boosters
Avoid forms of processed soy, particularly powders and energy bars. One of the foods to avoid when trying to get pregnant, soy may have a negative effect on fertility. Some experts believe that large quantities of soy protein isolate in these products contain estrogen-mimicking properties that can disrupt your hormonal balance. “You get a huge dose of phytoestrogens that you would never normally be able to consume in one serving,” Vitti says. “Men, in particular, should avoid them, as they may influence their testosterone levels.” Whole soy products like edamame and tempeh are fine in moderation, as are fermented versions of soy such as miso paste or natto. “When we’re eating soy in its most natural form like in other cultures like Japan and China, it’s very healthy for the body,” says Krieger.
Vitamins to Increase Fertility
Take a daily multivitamin that contains at least 400 micrograms of folic acid and 40 to 80 milligrams of iron. Women in the Harvard study who took daily multivitamins containing 400 micrograms of folic acid were 40 percent less likely to experience ovulatory infertility over the eight years than women who didn’t.
Variety in a Fertility Diet
Mix up your plate. Regardless of how virtuous your fertility diet plan seems, too much of anything is never good for the body. “Even if you’re eating homegrown tomatoes every day of your life, you might be getting too much of something in your soil,” Krieger says. Now’s the time to kick food jags—looking at you, mac ‘n’ cheese addicts—and round out your conception diet with a variety of foods from different parts of the country, even the world. “The more variety you have, the more likely you’re able to complete the nutrient gaps you may be lacking,” Krieger says
Fertility Foods for Men
Know the best fertility foods for men. It’s easy to forget that your man brings a full 50 percent to the baby-making table. So if his diet would shame even Hamburglar, it’s time for a revamp. “I’m not saying treat your man like a child, but if you cook and eat at home together, help make veggies a focus on his plate,” Krieger says. Vitti advises guys to eat asparagus, sunflower seeds, and other foods rich in zinc to prevent testosterone from being converted to estrogen. Your man may also need to pass on the cheese plate for better male fertility: High dairy intake has been linked to poor sperm motility and concentration. You can also encourage him to take daily vitamins. Pre-natal vitamins on the market come in his and her packs with the vitamins for men including Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, Zinc, and Lycopene.
Also, selenium is fantastic for sperm motility, and the number-one source is Brazil nuts. “Have a nice big bowl that your guy can crack open—you just don’t need to tell him that’s what it’s for!” Krieger says. Another superfood is oysters. On top of their aphrodisiac properties, the bivalves are rich in zinc, vitamin B12, and protein.
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- By Holly Eagleson
10 Foods to Eat to Increase Fertility
Whether you’re trying to get pregnant or you’re counting down the days until delivery, the foods you eat will no doubt contribute to your odds of success. If you and your partner are curious about what your diet should consist of, here are 10 foods to eat that can improve fertility and boost your general health:
1. Beans and Lentils
Everyone knows that beans and lentils are high in fiber, but they’re also high in protein, which can highly improve ovulation. Studies show that women who receive their protein from plant-based sources, rather than animal products will have more success in tracking their monthly cycles. Plus, both legumes are an excellent source of folic acid, a vital component that aids with conception and helps develop healthy embryos.
2. Sunflower Seeds
Men have to make their reproductive health a top priority, and eating sunflower seeds is the perfect way to maintain proper sperm levels without making any huge dietary changes. Roasted sunflower seed kernels, unsalted, are rich in vitamin E, an essential nutrient increases sperm count and sperm motility. In addition, sunflower seeds offer substantial amounts zinc, folic acid, and selenium, all of which are potent fertility nutrients with stellar benefits.
Antioxidant-rich foods offer a whole different set of benefits for those struggling with infertility, and berries are among the most nutritious and delicious foods you can eat! Raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries all contain natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, two components that greatly improve fertility for both sexes. They’re also high in vitamin C and folic acid, which provides healthy fetal growth after conception.
Although they may be high in calories, avocados offer ample doses of vitamin K and potassium. Vitamin K assists your body with processing nutrients from other foods and supplements, whereas potassium helps regulate blood pressure. Something else to consider is that avocados are comprised of monounsaturated fats (healthy fats) that offer tons of dietary fiber and folic acid, which are crucial during the early stages of pregnancy.
Quinoa is an amazing whole grain because it’s not only carb-free, but it’s also a perfect source for protein, zinc, and folic acid. Altogether, these components offer a robust prenatal protection plan, while maintaining healthy fetal growth once pregnancy takes place. Not to mention, quinoa gives you all of the essential amino acids that meat products offer without any potentially harmful additives.
6. Greek Yogurts and Cheeses
When trying to boost your fertility, fatty foods are actually a good thing to eat, so you don’t have to feel bad about snacking on Greek yogurt and different kinds of cheese when you’re plopped on the sofa. With these two foods, calcium, probiotics, and vitamin D are the major takeaways, all of which improve ovulation health and bolster your immune system. Also, you’ll receive an ample amount of protein from each food, reinforcing your odds of a successful pregnancy through more precise ovulation cycles
To pile on more of those healthy fats, salmon offers loads of protein and valuable omega-3s that improve fetal development throughout pregnancy. Men can also benefit from eating salmon for its high levels vitamin D and selenium, two components that raise semen levels and enhance its overall health. Keep in mind, it’s best to purchase wild-caught salmon to decrease the presence of mercury, which can be harmful to a pregnancy if too much is consumed. To be safe, limit your salmon intake to one or twice a week.
Despite the potent aroma, asparagus is a powerhouse food with incredible benefits for those trying to get pregnant. Studies show that eating one cup of boiled asparagus will provide you with over 60% of your daily recommended value of folic acid, fulfill your daily vitamin K value, and strengthen your reproductive health with more than 20% of vitamins A, C, and B. Substantial amounts of zinc and selenium are also enjoyed, so men should start eating this veggie whenever possible.
Walnuts are pure brain food, meaning they’re packed with omega-3s and omega-6s that help your body maintain healthy brain functions and regulate hormones. Research also shows that men who eat walnuts on a regular basis will experience improved semen health, resulting in a better motility, quantity, and morphology.
10. Egg Yolks
Most people ditch the yolk in order to cut back on calories, but eating it can actually fuel your body with vitamin B and essential omega-3s. Folic acid is actually a B-complex vitamin that helps create red blood cells during pregnancy, which provides the ultimate conditions for an embryo to take hold. The omega-3s will also increase embryo health and assist in maintaining its development after conception.
Other Healthy Foods to Consider
Aside from those listed above, there are tons of other health foods to increase your fertility levels. For instance, eating a balanced diet of healthy fats, complex carbs, moderate dairy products, and protein will provide you with well-rounded nutritional plan if specific foods fall outside of your taste preferences. To learn more about general categories of fertility boosting foods, for some additional insight.
Eat Healthy with Laurel Fertility Care
Fertility treatments aren’t just about medications and procedures, and Laurel Fertility Care offers a holistic approach that includes many natural options before jumping into advanced strategies.
Our team of experts understand how vital nutrition is when it comes to achieving a healthy pregnancy, and we support a variety of techniques to ensure that your future child is off to a healthy start in life.
Your health is our top priority, so contact us today and see what dietary changes you can make throughout your journey.