Why there's no such thing as a 'magical' fertility diet and what experts recommend eating when trying to get pregnant
- There is no specific fertility
dietthat will cause pregnancy, but following a well-balanced, nutritious diet can increase you and your partner's chances of getting pregnant.
- For women, consuming plant-based protein, full-fat dairy, and monounsaturated fats is associated with a lower chance of infertility.
- For men, those who eat the most processed meat have lower sperm counts and are encourages to swap processed meat for fish and other lean protein.
- This article was medically reviewed by Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, nutrition and wellness expert with a private practice based in New York City.
For many people, trying to conceive can be nerve-wracking. But you can boost your chances even before you begin trying to get pregnant by eating a healthy, fertility-focused diet, says Soma Mandal, MD, an internist specializing in women's
"There is no specific fertility diet or food that will magically cause you to get pregnant, but a well-balanced diet that is high in nutrition can support overall health in both men and women," she says.
Here are some dietary pointers to follow when your goal is to boost fertility.
A realistic approach to fertility diets
Mandal points out that no diet is magic, so eating healthy can't help with all fertility troubles.
For example, there is no specific food that will unblock blocked fallopian tubes or improve egg quality, but there are foods that will improve your health and increase your chances of conception, she says.
Arielle Spiegel, CEO and founder of Cofertility, an organization that seeks to empower people about fertility challenges, agrees.
"If you're trying to conceive, addressing all facets of fertility with diet certainly can't hurt. Diet is a great natural way to boost your fertility and move it in the right direction, even if you're already taking medication or undergoing treatment," Spiegel says.
Fertility diet for women
Mandal says that much of the information and research about nutrition and female fertility is drawn from the Nurses' Health Study, which has been ongoing since the 1970s and led to the book "The Fertility Diet."
The Nurses' Health Study found that women who ate more plant protein (such as beans), full-fat dairy (including whole milk), and monounsaturated fats (like those found in olive oil and avocados), had a 66% less chance of experiencing infertility related to ovulation disorders and a 27% lower risk of infertility due to other causes.
Mandal suggests that women who are trying to conceive follow these dietary recommendations and take certain steps, including:
- Avoid trans and saturated fats. These unhealthy fats, found in processed foods and meats, can lead to heart disease and infertility, Mandal says.
- Eat monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fats. These are healthy fats, like those in olive oil, nuts, and salmon. "These help decrease insulin resistance and decrease inflammation, two things that can affect fertility," Mandal says.
- Focus on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. "These foods can improve fertility by regulating your blood sugar and insulin levels," Mandal says.
- Increase iron. Iron can help regulate ovulation and decrease the risk of infertility in women, a 2006 study found. Although a 2019 study called that finding into question, Mandal says that iron remains an important part of a well-rounded diet. You can find iron in foods like spinach and beans, or take a prenatal vitamin.
- Add folate. Taking folic acid, the supplement form of folate or vitamin B9, is considered a very important step that a woman can take to help ensure the health of her future baby. This reduces a baby's risk of brain and spine defects, including spina bifida. "Most prenatal vitamins carry an extra punch of folic acid," Mandal says. "You can also find [folate] in foods like sunflower seeds, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, and spinach."
Healthy eating can be particularly important for women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Women with PCOS who are trying to conceive should eat an anti-inflammatory diet, with lots of leafy greens, beans, and whole foods, while avoiding dairy, soy, and gluten.
"Research has shown that limiting processed snacks can help with fertility, particularly in women with PCOS or endometriosis who should follow an anti-inflammatory diet," Spiegel says. "That doesn't mean you can't indulge in the occasional cookie, but it is something to keep in mind if you're trying to get pregnant but are facing those types of challenges."
Fertility diet for men
Much of fertility focuses on females, but male-factor infertility alone accounts for about 8% of couples who have trouble conceiving. Diet has been shown to affect sperm count — and having a higher sperm count makes it easier to conceive. Here are a few dietary changes that men who are trying to have a baby should consider:
- Swap processed meat for fish: Men who eat the most processed meat (like hamburgers or bacon) have lower sperm counts compared with men who eat the least processed meat, according to a 2014 study. In particular, eating fish is associated with a higher sperm count.
- Avoid soy: Eating soy products is associated with a lower sperm count, according to a 2008 study. This could be because soy can mimic the female hormones estrogen in the body.
- Increase intake of fruits and vegetables: Eating more fruits and vegetables was associated with increased sperm count, a 2017 medical review found. In particular, lycopene, found in tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables, has been associated with increased male fertility, Mandal says: "[Lycopene] supplementation of 4-8 mg for 8 to 12 months can lead to improved semen health and increased pregnancy rates."
Changes to make together
Following a Mediterranean diet — which includes healthy fats, vegetables, and seafood — can be helpful for both men and women who want to boost their fertility. Men who followed this diet more closely had greater sperm motility, or movement, a 2019 study found. Moreover, women who participated in IVF and followed this diet more closely had a higher likelihood of becoming pregnant and bringing it to term, a 2018 study found.
Additionally, polyamines are an organic compound that can increase fertility in males and females, Mandal says. They're particularly important for women over 35 who are trying to conceive, she says. Polyamines are found in cheddar, parmesan, and manchego cheeses, she says, so sit down and enjoy a cheese platter together.
High alcohol intake and tobacco use can be unhealthy for moms- and dads-to-be, so try to scale back on drinking and smoking together.
If you are trying to conceive or plan to start trying for a baby in the next year or so, evaluating your diet is a great place to start.
"Healthy eating is super important when trying to conceive because it helps further position your body for a successful pregnancy," Spiegel says."Considering nutrition for egg or sperm quality, for example, could help avoid genetic abnormalities in eggs, sperm, and fertilized embryos — all of which could contribute to pregnancy loss."
Moreover, if you do get pregnant, eating healthy will also pass along valuable nutrition to your baby that will contribute to their health post-birth, says Spiegel.
Whether or not you might face fertility challenges, healthy eating can benefit anyone looking to add to their family, she says.
"Healthy eating is one small thing we can actually control while trying to conceive," Spiegel says.
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