There’s a lot of talk about the best foods for pregnancy. But what about when you’re trying to get pregnant?
Does changing your diet really help fertility? And if it does, which foods boost fertility – and which do just the opposite?
If you’re trying to conceive, these questions are likely on your mind.
Well, don’t worry! In this article, we’ll cover how your diet affects fertility and what to eat (and avoid) to increase your chances of pregnancy.
Foods to avoid when trying to conceive
Before we get to the best fertility foods, let’s cover what not to eat to improve your reproductive health.
If you’re trying to get pregnant, you may want to pass on sodas, sugary drinks, and other sweetened foods.
Research shows that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages lowers fecundability, or how likely you are to get pregnant in a given cycle. This was true whether the soda drinker was male or female!
There’s even evidence that sugar may decrease IVF success. In one study, women who drank sugar-sweetened sodas had fewer eggs retrieved, fewer fertilized eggs, and fewer quality embryos than women who didn’t drink sodas.
And while artificial sweeteners may be popular, they may not be the best option for fertility either. One IVF study found that artificial sweeteners reduced oocyte quality and implantation rates. Some research even shows artificial sweeteners increase the risk of cancer.
So if you drink sodas regularly, try swapping them out for sparkling water instead. And to satisfy your sweet tooth, opt for fruit over sugary treats and desserts
Burgers, french fries, and pizza aren’t just bad for your health, they’re bad for fertility. Research shows women who consume more fast food take longer to get pregnant. While it’s unclear why, researchers think it may be because fast food is high in saturated fats, sodium, and sugar.
The more fast food you consume, the higher your risk of infertility. So if you want to boost your fertility, steer clear of drive-throughs.
Like fast food, processed foods and frozen meals are often loaded in unhealthy ingredients like sugar, salt, and saturated fats. Instead cook your favorite cheat meal at home. That way you know exactly what you’re eating. This helps maintain your fertility and overall health while letting you eat your cravings.
Red meat is a good source of protein and iron. But it may not be the best choice for fertility. One study found consuming red meat had a negative effect on implantation. Red meat also interfered with blastocyst formation, the early stages of embryo development.
So if you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s best to limit red meat or avoid it altogether. Instead, choose other rich sources of protein like fish, chicken, turkey, beans, or legumes.
Trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils are bad news for male and female fertility. One study found that higher trans fat intake is linked with reduced sperm count and semen quality. And in females, trans fats are linked with a higher risk of ovulatory infertility.
Trans fats are mostly found in commercial baked goods like cookies, cakes, doughnuts, biscuits, crackers, and frozen pizzas. Some fried foods, non dairy creamers, and margarine may contain trans fats as well.
Food manufacturers are required to list any trans fats on nutrition labels. So before tossing an item in your cart, always check the label.
Dairy’s role in fertility is mixed, depending on the fat content. One study found low-fat dairy foods may reduce fertility. And this same study found that full-fat dairy products such as whole milk and full-fat yogurt may boost fertility.
Some research also suggests that consuming dairy products may increase the risk of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Women with PCOS often have high levels of androgens and problems with ovulation.
So if you have PCOS, or suspect you do, you may want to avoid dairy. And if you’re trying to get pregnant, you may want to choose full-fat dairy foods over skim or low-fat. Or go for plant based options like almond milk, oat milk, or coconut milk.
Alcohol affects male and female fertility. In men, alcohol is known to lower testosterone levels and sperm production. And in women, alcohol can disrupt hormones, alter the menstrual cycle, and cause problems with ovulation.
In one study, women undergoing IVF who consumed seven or more drinks a week had lower pregnancy rates and live birth rates. Not to mention if you’re drinking and getting pregnant, you can potentially damage the fetus too.
That said, caffeine can lead to dehydration, which can affect your production of fertile cervical mucus. So if you’re an avid java lover, you may want to cut back while you’re trying to conceive.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, it’s best to not consume over 200 mg a day of caffeine if you’re trying to get pregnant. That’s roughly one 12-ounce cup of coffee.
Keep in mind, while the foods we covered above may reduce fertility, so can stress. If making drastic changes to your diet is stressing you out, back off and go slow. Even small dietary changes can have a big impact.
What foods boost fertility?
Now that you know foods can lower fertility, let’s cover the best foods to increase fertility.
Fruits and vegetables
No surprise here, but diets rich in fruits and vegetables are linked with better male and female fertility. Fruits and veggies are bursting with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. They’re especially high in vitamin C, which improves sperm count and sperm motility in men and helps trigger ovulation in women.
What’s more, research shows women who eat more fruit get pregnant quicker than those who eat less fruit. So if you’re trying to get pregnant, aim to eat at least two servings of fruit and four servings of vegetables every day.
Fish is one of the best fertility foods to add to your diet. Seafood is rich in fertility-boosting nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.
Omega 3s help regulate your hormones, reduce inflammation, and increase blood flow to the uterus. Vitamin D affects hormone levels, implantation, and even placenta health. The maternal vitamin D levels are also linked to the selection of the ‘best sperm’ during fertilization. This helps proper fertilization and boosts your chances of conception.
One study found couples who consumed two or more servings of seafood per week were 61% more likely to get pregnant than cycle than couples who consumed less.
This same study found another unexpected fertility benefit of seafood: increased physical intimacy. Meaning couples who consumed the most seafood had sex more frequently than fish-free couples. Turns out the whole oysters and libido myth may have some truth to it.
But not all seafood is safe for fertility. Some fish have high levels of mercury, a heavy metal that can harm reproductive health.
So you’ll want to avoid high mercury seafood like:
- King mackerel
- Orange roughy
- Bigeye, yellowfin, or albacore tuna
Luckily, there are plenty of low-mercury seafood options. Aim for two servings a week of low mercury seafood like:
- Freshwater trout
- Canned light tuna or skipjack tuna
Not a fan of seafood? No worries, you can go with an omega-3 or vitamin D supplement instead.
While fish has many benefits for fertility, eating too much red meat and animal protein may not be the best move for fertility.
One study tracked the diets of nearly 19,000 women over eight years. They found women who replaced animal protein with vegetable protein had a lower risk of ovulatory infertility.
And you don’t have to go full vegan to see benefits. Consuming just 5% of total energy intake from plant protein over animal protein was linked with a 50% reduction in ovulatory infertility.
Good sources of plant-based protein include beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy foods like tofu and edamame.
What is the best fertility diet?
Spoiler: there’s no magic fertility diet that’s perfect for everyone. What works best for you will depend on your body and unique health situation.
That said, there are a few fertility diets that may improve your chances of pregnancy. Some of which are based on the foods that boost your fertility mentioned above.
Of all the fertility diets out there, the Mediterranean diet gets the most attention. This makes sense, as the Mediterranean diet is rich in wholesome foods like leafy green vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, and fish. Poultry and dairy are included in small amounts too.
The Mediterranean diet is shown to increase levels of vitamin B6 and folate, two nutrients crucial for fertility. Vitamin B6 helps increase progesterone, which thickens the uterine lining to prepare for pregnancy. Folate is linked with higher rates of implantation, pregnancy, and live birth.
One study found couples who followed the Mediterranean diet were 40% more likely to get pregnant after IVF fertility treatment.
Low carb diet
Keeping your blood sugar stable is a crucial part of eating for fertility. When you eat high-carb foods such as bread and pasta, those carbohydrates are converted into sugar. Your body then releases insulin to bring your blood sugar back into balance.
Over time, eating a diet high in refined carbs and added sugars can lead to insulin resistance and is linked with anovulation. When insulin gets too high, it can increase testosterone, which can throw off ovulation. In fact, one study found that women who eat high-carb diets are 78% more likely to have problems with ovulation than those who eat low-carb diets.
But it’s not just about how many carbs you eat. Quality matters too. High glycemic foods like cereal and white rice were linked with a greater risk of ovulatory issues. Lower glycemic foods like brown rice were not.
Complex carbs like whole grains, beans, and vegetables provide your body with energy and are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. So they’re a much better option than simple carbs.
Low calorie diet
Your weight affects your fertility. Women who are overweight or obese are more likely to have problems with their menstrual cycle and trouble ovulating. Being overweight or obese also increases the risk of infertility, miscarriage, and pregnancy complications.
This may be because your body fat influences your hormone levels. High levels of body fat are known to disrupt many hormones, including estrogen, LH, FSH, and progesterone. Even losing small amounts of weight are shown to improve fertility.
Following a low-calorie diet helps with weight loss, which may increase your chances of pregnancy if you’re overweight. One scientific review found that overweight and obese women put on a low-calorie diet were more likely to have improvements in ovulation and get pregnant.
That said, being underweight can also harm fertility. The ideal BMI for pregnancy is between 18.5 and 24.9. So if you’re outside that range, adjusting your calorie intake may help you reach a healthy weight to improve your chances of pregnancy.
Eat foods that boost estrogen and progesterone
If you want to get pregnant, reproductive hormones like estrogen and progesterone need to be in the right balance.
Estrogen rises in the follicular phase. This causes luteinizing hormone (LH) to surge, triggering ovulation. Estrogen also helps maintain the uterine lining to prepare the uterus for implantation.
Progesterone also plays a key role in fertility. It thickens the lining of the uterus to help maintain pregnancy and preps the breasts for milk production.
If either of these hormones is too low, conception can be tricky.
And while there aren’t any foods that contain estrogen or progesterone, there are foods that boost their production. Eating more of these foods can support the healthy hormone levels needed for pregnancy.
Foods that support estrogen include:
- Soy foods such as edamame, tofu, tempeh, and miso
- Flax seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Dried fruit, such as dates, prunes, and dried apricots
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts
To support progesterone, you’ll want to eat foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6, magnesium, and zinc. These nutrients help your body produce progesterone – so the more of them you eat, the better!
- Foods high in vitamin C: citrus fruits, bell pepper, kiwi, strawberries, broccoli, and tomatoes
- Foods high in vitamin B6: chicken, turkey, salmon, tuna, eggs, sweet potato, chickpeas, spinach, and bananas
- Foods high in magnesium: dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, black beans, cashews, almonds, bananas, and spinach
- Foods high in zinc: pork, chicken, shellfish, lentils, cashews, oats, mushrooms, and yogurt
How can you improve your diet for fertility?
Starting a healthy eating plan can be overwhelming. Especially if you’re used to convenience foods and eating on-the-go.
And the truth? Sticking to a healthy diet does take more time than swinging through a drive-thru.
But healthy eating does not need to be complicated or feel like a part-time job. A little prep work and some simple swaps can go a long way.
Here are a few ways to build healthy eating habits to support fertility:
- Meal prep: Spending a couple of hours on weekend meal prep can make it so much easier to eat healthy during the week. Keep it simple. Roast a tray of veggies, cook a pot of beans or quinoa, or bake some chicken or fish.
- Morning smoothies: Smoothies are a simple way to start your day with a hearty dose of fruits and veggies. Add some nuts, seeds, or avocado to add some protein and healthy fats for a satisfying breakfast.
- Snack smart: Ditch chips, crackers, and other packaged snacks for wholesome snacks. Try some fresh fruit with a handful of nuts or seeds. Or snack on some raw veggie sticks with some hummus or guacamole.
- Salad lunches: Eating a salad for lunch is one of the easiest ways to get your fill of veggies. Add some plant or animal-based protein and some avocado and you’ve got a complete and filling meal.
- Meatless Mondays: Try replacing animal protein with beans or legumes at least once a week. You’ll get a hefty dose of fiber and protein… and save money!
- Swap meat for fish: Fish not only cooks faster than meat, it’s also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Canned fish like salmon, sardines, or canned light tuna also make an excellent salad topper or snack.
Other tips for building a fertility-friendly diet
To optimize your diet for fertility, there are some general guidelines you’ll want to follow.
Choose whole foods
No matter which fertility diet you choose, pick whole foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, and seeds over processed foods. This will flood your body with the nutrients needed for a successful pregnancy.
Check nutrition labels
When you do buy packaged foods, look for products with short ingredient lists and words you recognize. If the nutrition label reads like a science textbook, put it back.
And don’t be duped by fancy marketing. Even products labeled as ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ can have added sugars and trans fat. So be a label detective and choose wisely.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) such as BPA can disrupt your hormones and harm fertility. EDCs can leach from packaging materials into processed foods. They can also leach from plastic food containers. So it’s best to store your leftovers in glass containers.
Pesticides are another major source of EDCs. So choose organic foods when possible and always wash fruits and veggies well.
Toss old food
Steer clear of any food that’s been sitting out at room temperature for too long. Food that’s unrefrigerated can start to grow bacteria in as little as 20 minutes.
Since pregnancy makes you more vulnerable to infections, it’s best to play it safe. Don’t eat leftovers if they’re over 3-4 days old and always reheat them properly.
Ditch raw or undercooked foods
Eating raw or unpasteurized food increases the risk of foodborne illness. And as mentioned, pregnancy makes you more susceptible to these bad bugs.
So if you’re trying to get pregnant, avoid any raw fish, raw shellfish, or undercooked eggs. Unpasteurized milk, cheese, and juice are also no-nos.
Summing it up
Choosing what to eat when you’re trying to get pregnant can be overwhelming. With so much information out there, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details. And while some foods may help or harm fertility, being too rigid with your diet isn’t healthy either.
Fertility is a journey, so it needs to be sustainable. Do your best to eat wholesome, nourishing foods. But be gentle on yourself too. Try to keep a balanced lifestyle with regular exercise, stress relief, and plenty of sleep. And track your ovulation so you can keep tabs on your fertility.
P.S. Try Inito to track your fertile window and confirm ovulation. This will help increase your chances of getting pregnant with ease.
- The best diet for fertility is one that favors healthy, natural foods over processed foods.
- Foods high in refined carbs, trans fats, added sugars and red meat may harm fertility.
- Low-fat dairy products may have adverse effects on fertility, while high-fat dairy may improve fertility.
- The best fertility foods include vegetables, fruits, seafood, and plant sources of protein like beans and legumes.
- The Mediterranean diet is known to increase fertility. This diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, and olive oil.
- Low carb diets promote blood sugar balance, which may improve ovulation in some women.
- Being overweight or obese can make it more difficult to get pregnant. Going on a low calorie diet may support weight loss, which may improve fertility.
- Eating plenty of estrogen and progesterone-boosting foods can promote the right hormone balance to support pregnancy.