Fertility diet

Fertility Diet: Key Points to Know

Medically reviewed on January 9, 2022. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Your fertility depends on several different factors, from your menstrual cycle, to your age, to your general health. Polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, and other disorders can also affect fertility and ovulation.

You can’t control all of these factors, like age or genetics, but certain changes to your lifestyle can potentially improve your fertility and increase your chances of pregnancy, such as learning to calculate fertility window. One potential factor is your diet. Read on to learn more about the fertility diet and how you can incorporate it into your life (and consider learning more about the at-home Women's Fertility Test).

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Diet and Fertility

While initial studies on diet and its effects on fertility stalled, the past decade has seen some interesting developments. Research has found that certain vitamins and nutrients may actually positively affect fertility. In women, these vitamins and minerals include:

  • Folic acid
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Vitamin B12 [1]

This research specifically applied to women trying to get pregnant naturally. Women using in vitro fertilization or other reproductive technologies were found to potentially benefit from folic acid supplements or diets high in isoflavones, a plant-based estrogen [1].

Studies on the effects of diet on semen and sperm quality in men were limited and mostly found that semen quality was an imperfect predictor of male fertility. However, those studies found that diets high in saturated fat and trans-fat were linked to poor semen quality [1].

What to Eat to Improve Fertility

Based upon these research conclusions, it is safe to say that diet can have an important effect on fertility. While you can load your diet with various supplements, the same studies above noted that a generally “healthy diet” could improve fertility, specifically citing the Mediterranean diet as an example [1]. However, for a broader approach, here are some tips on what to eat.

More Fruits and Vegetables

Maintaining a diet high in fruits and veggies is a good way to ensure that your body gets plenty of essential vitamins and nutrients. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that participants who consumed more animal protein, trans fats, and sugar from carbohydrates saw a higher incidence of ovulatory disorders [2].

To combat that, make sure that at least half of your plate comprises fruit and vegetables for every meal. Roasting or lightly steaming vegetables can help reduce nutrient loss, especially when compared to other cooking methodologies such as deep frying. You can also consume fruits and vegetables in the form of juices or smoothies, which allows you to maximize nutrient density by eating these foods in their purest forms.

In terms of particular fruits and veggies, consider incorporating more kale into your diet. Kale is high in fiber and dense in nutrients, including those necessary for metabolizing estrogen. Eat more asparagus, watermelon, and other fruits and veggies high in glutathione, an antioxidant that may be important for egg quality [3].

Fats

While some people may misunderstand dietary fats, fats are an essential macronutrient for your diet, whether or not you’re trying to get pregnant. The type of fat matters a lot here. Omega-3 fatty acids and other plant-based fats that come from olive oil, avocados, and nuts can have an anti-inflammatory effect, which can help with general fertility [3]. Preliminary research suggests that avocados and other foods high in monounsaturated fats may significantly improve IVF pregnancy success rates [4].

Complex Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are another essential macronutrient. They get broken down into sugars, primarily glucose, which is your body’s most immediate and accessible source of energy. Simple carbs have a basic chemical structure that makes them easier to break down, turning them into sugars faster. Complex carbohydrates comprise longer, more complex chains that take longer to digest, thus having a slower, less immediate impact on your blood sugar [5].

The speed at which carbohydrates are broken down is important, and it is important to include both simple and complex carbohydrates in the diet. Certain fruits, vegetables, and dairy products are technically considered simple carbohydrates, and they are also dense in vitamins and nutrients. Other simple carbohydrates, like sweets, white bread, and highly processed foods, contribute to sudden spikes in your blood sugar and are less nutrient-dense. Your body creates insulin via the pancreas to compensate for those blood sugar spikes. While this drives down the blood sugar, consistently high insulin levels may also affect ovulation [3].

Try to focus on complex carbs that have been minimally refined or processed, such as:

  • Whole grains
  • Beans
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Millet
  • Buckwheat [3]

The slower digestion of these carbs also means a more gradual effect on your blood sugar and insulin levels. Complex carbohydrates also tend to keep you fuller for longer [3].

Protein

Aim for leaner sources of protein. Instead of red meat, consider eating more:

  • Fish
  • White meat chicken and turkey
  • Plant-based proteins such as tofu or
  • Eggs

These foods are also high in zinc and iron. If you choose to opt for beef, try to go for leaner cuts or trim away fattier pieces [3].

Salmon, sardines, and canned tuna are excellent sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which can help to keep inflammation down. Avoid eating too much larger fish, like shark, swordfish, and king mackerel, which may introduce high amounts of mercury into your body [3].

Beans, tofu, nuts, and legumes are great sources of plant-based proteins. These also contain healthy fats and are nutrient dense [3].

Dairy

Try to intake a variety of dairy products, including whole milk yogurts, cheeses, and other milk-based products, to ensure adequate intake of diverse nutrients [3]. While some women may have sensitivities to dairy, consuming a variety of dairy products helps to ensure adequate calcium intake and gives your gut a probiotic boost. While further research needs to be conducted, some research shows that temporarily subbing whole milk dairy products in place of non-fat products may help to boost fertility.

For this reason, incorporating yogurt into your diet may be beneficial, thanks to the added probiotics. While more research is necessary, initial studies suggest that probiotics and a healthy microbiome may modulate the endocrine function and help balance hormones that play roles in fertility and ovulation [6].

What to Avoid

Avoid processed meat and foods, as well as foods that are high in added sugars. These foods tend not to contain much nutritional benefit, and they cause spikes in blood sugar that lead to higher insulin levels [3].

Do your best to eliminate all trans fats from your diet. Trans fats, commonly found in margarine, fried foods, and commercially baked goods, are often used for their long shelf life, but they also contribute to a host of health problems. Trans fats also increase your insulin resistance, which forces your body to produce more insulin to neutralize glucose in your blood. High insulin can contribute to various metabolic issues along with problems with ovulation [3].

What You Don’t Need to Worry About

Previous research suggests that caffeine and alcohol may contribute to fertility issues, but most current research shows that moderate caffeine and alcohol consumption have little to no effect on your fertility nor ovulation. However, keep in mind that both are diuretics, so both can result in dehydration, which is not advantageous for overall health [3]. Too much caffeine may also affect your sleep, and studies show that poor sleep can potentially contribute to infertility problems [7].

Your diet can have an impact on your fertility but try not to overthink it. Focus on more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein. Consult your healthcare provider before making any significant changes to your diet. It may be a good idea to try an at-home fertility test, like the Everlywell Fertility Test, to gain insight into hormonal imbalances that affect fertility.


References

1. Fertility and diet: Is there a connection? Harvard Health Publishing. URL. Accessed January 9, 2022.

2. Changes in diet and lifestyle may help prevent infertility. The Harvard Gazette. URL. Accessed January 9, 2022.

3. Fertility Diet: What to Eat When Trying to Get Pregnant. Parents. URL. Accessed January 9, 2022.

4. Eating Avocados More Than Triples IVF Pregnancy Success Rate. Medical Daily. URL. Accessed January 9, 2022.

5. The Different Types of Carbohydrates. Verywell Health. URL. Accessed January 9, 2022.

6. López-Moreno A, Aguilera M. Probiotics Dietary Supplementation for Modulating Endocrine and Fertility Microbiota Dysbiosis. Nutrients. 2020;12(3):757. Published 2020 Mar 13.

7. Kloss JD, Perlis ML, Zamzow JA, Culnan EJ, Gracia CR. Sleep, sleep disturbance, and fertility in women. Sleep Med Rev. 2015;22:78-87.

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