Fertility Diet: Evidence-Based Tips
Looking to create a fertility diet plan? Here’s what the evidence says about foods to increase fertility, plus helpful supplements and other diet tips when trying to conceive.
It’s no secret that the overall quality of your diet influences numerous aspects of your health. And if you’re looking to improve your chances of conceiving, examining your diet is a great place to start.
That being said, infertility affects between 15-25% of couples in the United States, and there are quite often many factors involved. This post is not meant to marginalize the struggles that many couples experience when trying to get pregnant, or presume that a change in diet will be the solution. But, improvements made in nutrition certainly can’t hurt.
In fact, research shows that adopting healthy diet and lifestyle habits can improve your fertility by up to 69%. Those are pretty good odds! And even a few swaps in your current routine could prove to be worthwhile.
Diet and fertility connection
A 2017 expert review published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology examined the currently available literature on the link between nutrition and fertility.
The authors looked at the effects of dietary antioxidants, micronutrients, and fatty acids, alcohol, caffeine, and soy intake, and animal products such as dairy, meat, and fish on fertility.
They also evaluated overall dietary patterns, and how adopting a healthier eating pattern could specifically impact fertility for both men and women.
The rest of this post covers the major findings from this review, and what we know right now about which dietary factors may be helping or hindering your ability to conceive.
Fertility foods list
Having an adequate dietary intake of the following has been found to support fertility for both women and men:
- Vitamin B12, found in fortified plant milks and nutritional yeast, but most reliably in a B12 supplement for plant-based diets.
- Folic acid or folate, found in leafy green vegetables, legumes, citrus fruits, avocados, enriched grains, and prenatal supplements.
- Omega 3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, avocados, walnuts, and DHA+EPA algae supplements for plant-based diets.
- Low glycemic index carbohydrates, such as whole grain breads and pastas, legumes, and fiber-rich plant foods that don’t spike your blood sugar and insulin response as dramatically.
The researchers also looked at diet pattern and found that overall healthy eating habits also make a positive difference.
One example is a Mediterranean diet pattern, which is predominantly plant-based. It’s high in fruits and veggies, legumes (e.g. beans, peas, lentils), nuts and seeds, replaces saturated fats with olive oil, and limits red meat intake to a few times per month. It may also incorporate fish.
Pssst! For 5 foods that may help boost fertility, see this post.
Foods that may reduce fertility
Eating a diet high in the following has been found to likely hinder fertility for both women and men:
- Trans fats, found most often in commercial snack foods and baked goods, and naturally-occurring in many animal products. A 2019 review agreed that a diet higher in trans fats, and lacking in unsaturated (plant) fats, was linked to lower fertility.
- Saturated fats, found in animal-derived foods and products made with them, coconut oil, and can be especially high in red meats.
- Animal-derived protein, like chicken, pork, steak, fish, and eggs. While more research is needed, high meat intake is concerning due to likely ingestion of environmental contaminants that could adversely affect fertility.
- Refined or ultra-processed carbohydrates, like white bread and white rice, and packaged sugary snack foods that cause drastic spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels.
Not surprisingly, dietary habits considered to be overall unhealthy don’t help fertility either. For example, if a diet high in red and processed meats, potatoes, added sugar, and sugary beverages sounds familiar, this is a good place to make some changes.
It’s also worth pointing out that the review found, at this time, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, vitamin D, and soy foods appear to have a neutral effect. More research is needed to determine whether, and how, these may affect human fertility.
The authors also evaluated studies to date on supplemental sources of nutrients, outlined below.
Getting enough folate (or synthetic folic acid in most supplemental forms) is recommended for conception and pregnancy to reduce the risk for neural tube defects like spina bifida. However, taking folate in even higher amounts may reduce risk for infertility and pregnancy loss. It may even improve outcomes for infertility treatment.
While animal studies have suggested a crucial role of vitamin D in fertility, this doesn’t seem to translate to humans. That being said, because of the overall importance of vitamin D for things like skeletal and muscle health, mental health, and immune function, it’s a good idea to make sure your levels are normal.
Antioxidant supplements – like multi-blends, N-acetyl-cysteine, melatonin, L-arginine, vitamins C and E – don’t seem to have much benefit for women undergoing treatment for infertility. However, fertility among men does appear to benefit from them. Overall, too few studies have been done to determine any overall effect of antioxidant supplements (plus, there are a lot of formulations out there).
Fertility tips for men
Don’t forget that it takes two to tango! When it comes to fertility, there are things that men can (and should) do, too.
Men who eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, omega 3 fats, and antioxidants appear to experience better fertility outcomes. Better sperm quality has been associated with getting enough folic acid, selenium, zinc, and vitamins C, B12 and E – which are abundant on a predominantly plant-based diet.
Oppositely, studies have shown that men who eat a lot of processed meat, potatoes, dairy, alcohol, sweetened beverages, and added sugar often have worsened fertility outcomes.
Fertility can be a complex issue for many people. If you’ve been looking to create a fertility diet plan, I hope you find these diet tips for trying to conceive helpful! By focusing on nutrients known to boost fertility, and minimize foods that can work against it, you may be able to optimize your experience – and your overall health.
Weigh in: Have you tried any of these fertility tips? Are you surprised by anything on the list?
For more fertility info and pregnancy-related nutrition tips, check out these posts:
- 5 Foods for a Plant-Based Pregnancy
- The Truth About Soy and Fertility, Man Boobs, and PCOS
- Foods that Increase Fertility
- Are Placenta Pills Safe?
- Weight Gain During Pregnancy