From using an ovulation tracking app to cutting back on caffeine, people who want to get pregnant will do a variety of things to boost their chances of conceiving. But something as simple as altering your food intake might also make a difference, according to fertility specialists.
“Maintaining optimal daily nutrition and food choices can help you maintain fertility potential,” while certain eating habits (such as favoring simple carbs instead of complex carbs) can hurt fertility, says Dr. Michael Guarnaccia, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.O.G., a fertility specialist at Oma Fertility in New York. Ahead, fertility specialists outline exactly how you can adjust your diet to improve fertility.
How Does Diet Impact Fertility?
The single biggest factor that influences an individual’s fertility is their age, says Dr. Guarnaccia. “There is a known and documented association between a person’s age and the number and quality of eggs within their ovaries,” he says.
Birth year aside, health status also plays a significant role in how fertile someone is currently. For instance, having an ovulation disorder (such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, aka PCOS), fallopian tube damage, endometriosis, uterine or cervical polyps, or a body weight that’s considered too high or too low for their build are all linked with increased risk for infertility, according to the Mayo Clinic.
But there are a number of other lifestyle factors that impact an individual’s fertility, too, according to fertility specialist Joel Batzofin, M.D., FACOG, reproductive endocrinologist with Dreams Fertility, a fertility care clinic in Coachella Valley, California. These lifestyle factors include an individual’s activity level, stress levels, sleep quality and quantity, and nutrient intake, he says.
Naturally, what you eat (or don’t) impacts your nutrient intake, and therefore can play a role in fertility. While there is no specific diet that has proven to improve fertility, “maintaining a healthy diet [that] involves adequate caloric intake in combination with a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and proteins will serve to optimize fertility,” says Dr. Guarnaccia.
Fertility Diet Tips
Ahead, get the details on six expert-suggested rules for adapting a diet that promotes fertility. Just remember that there is no one-size-fits-all fertility diet that’s guaranteed to increase your likelihood to conceive. “There is no magical fertility diet, so it’s best to consult with a nutritionist before altering your food intake too much,” says Dr. Guarnaccia.
Consume the appropriate-for-you amount of calories.
Having too high or too low a body weight can impact an individual’s ability to conceive, explains Dr. Guarnaccia. “Both ends of the body weight spectrum can lead to ovulatory abnormalities, which will be manifested as menstrual irregularity,” he says. In some cases, they’ll stop ovulating altogether, while in other people, ovulation becomes less frequent, he says. (As a refresher, ovulation is the phase of an individual’s cycle when an egg is released from the ovaries and migrates to the fallopian tubes where it can get fertilized.)
“Someone with too low body mass could develop hypothalamic amenorrhea,” which is when a person loses their menstrual cycle and ovulation window altogether, says Dr. Guarnaccia. Conversely, people with higher-than-recommended body massesare at an increased risk for conditions marked by hormonal abnormalities, such as PCOS, which can create a suboptimal environment for pregnancy, and by extension prevent you from becoming pregnant, he explains.
There are hundreds (if not thousands) of factors that influence a person’s weight, including genetics, sex, race, where they live, work, and worship, the habits of those in their circle, their general activity level, and more, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. However, one of the main, malleable factors is daily caloric intake.
Work with a dietitian who specializes in fertility or a health-care provider to figure out exactly how many calories you should be eating per day, recommends Dr. Batzofin.
Eat folic acid-rich foods.
If you’re trying to get pregnant, odds are you’ve heard or read that folic acid is the supplement you should be taking. That’s why the Center For Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all people who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant consume at least 400 micrograms of folic acid a day to reduce the risk of fetal abnormalities, noting that it’s difficult to consume that much through diet alone. (Actually, it recommends that all people who can become pregnant and are of reproductive age supplement their diet with folic acid because half of all pregnancies are not planned, and so fetal health could be at risk.)
That said, it’s still wise to consume foods rich in folic acid because these foods are also rich in other nutrients that can support a healthy pregnancy, says Tomer Singer, M.D., reproductive endocrinologist and medical director at Shady Grove Fertility in New York. “Beans, peas, lentils, asparagus, eggs, leafy greens, beets, and citrus fruits are some examples of foods that have been shown to have a high [folate content],” he says.
Eat foods high in iron.
If you are or want to become pregnant, it can be helpful to consume meat (or other iron-rich foods). “During pregnancy, blood volume increases significantly, and the placenta consumes much of the iron in your system,” explains Dr. Singer. Beefing up your iron stores ahead of officially becoming pregnant can help prevent iron deficiency (anemia), he says.
The U.S. Food and Nutrition Board’s recommended dietary allowance of iron is 18 milligrams for females between 19 and 50 and 27 milligrams for those who are pregnant. Meat-eaters can get their iron fill through chicken, turkey, and beef, says Dr. Singer. “Spinach, kale, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and beans are also high in iron,” he says.
Benefits of Iron and Iron-Rich Foods to Add to Your Diet
4.Prioritize foods with omega-3 fatty acids.
A diet that incorporates omega-3 fatty acids is believed to have anti-inflammatory benefitsas well as provide protection to the egg, according to Dr. Guarnaccia. Inflammation is a major cause of infertility affecting all components and organs necessary for reproduction, according to a study published in the journal Reproductive Science. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that consuming an anti-inflammatory nutrient such as omega-3 fatty acids supports fertility.
Actually, those who supplemented their diets with omega-3 fatty acids were 1.5 times more likely to conceive compared to those who did not in one study published in the journal Human Reproduction. Worth noting, the study authors pointed out that it wasn’t a randomized, controlled study, and that the participants taking omega-3 fatty acids may have been health-conscious in different ways compared to the other participants.
“Omega-3 fatty acids are not produced by the body, so the fatty acids must be consumed in food or supplement form,” says Dr. Guarnaccia. While the Human Reproduction study findings were not dose-specific, consensus guidelines from the World Association of Perinatal Medicine and Child Health Foundation recommend people trying to get pregnant consume 200 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids per day.
“Fish like salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel, anchovies, and oysters are all high in omega-3 fatty acids,” according to Dr. Guarnaccia. However, the ACOG recommends that people pregnant and trying to get pregnant limit seafood consumption to 340 grams (or 12 ounces) per week to decrease fetal exposure to trace amounts of neurotoxins. So it’s important to consider non-fish sources of omega-3 fatty acids too, which include nuts, seeds, olive oil, canola oil, and avocados, says Dr. Guarnaccia.
Everything You Need to Know About Omega-3s and Omega-6s
Eat complex (not simple!) carbohydrates.
Actually, there are two main categories of carbohydrates: complex and simple. While complex carbohydrates are high in fiber and therefore slow-digesting, simple carbohydrates are low in fiber and therefore quick-digesting, as well as high in sugar, as Shape previously reported.
Complex carbohydrates are generally considered the healthier option for everyone, but they’re especially preferable for people trying to conceive, according to Dr. Guarnaccia. “Simple carbohydrates — white bread, pasta, white rice, and chips — may contribute to insulin resistance,” which is a condition where your body doesn’t respond efficiently to glucose (sugar), he says. “High insulin levels have been shown to elicit alterations of estrogen and progesterone which in and of itself may affect ovulation, making them suboptimal for people trying to get pregnant,” he explains.
Due to their higher fiber content, complex carbohydrates have a less extreme impact on insulin levels and therefore can’t negatively impact conception when consumed in the correct dosages, says Dr. Guarnaccia. So, to meet your daily carbohydrate intake, he recommends prioritizing foods with complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, whole wheat bread and pasta, quinoa, barley, and rolled or steel-cut oats.
Worth noting: While not all carbohydrates contain gluten, some do. If you’re trying to conceive and have gluten intolerance or celiac disease, it’s important to be extra mindful about avoiding gluten while you’re trying to conceive, says Dr. Guarnaccia. That’s because consuming glutenous products when you have an allergy causes an inflammatory response in the body that is suboptimal for conception.
Limit alcohol intake.
Limiting alcohol isn’t just for people who are already pregnant. It’s for people who want to become pregnant, too — and that’s for a few reasons.
For starters, many people don’t know they’re pregnant for two to four weeks until after they’ve become pregnant if they don’t notice the early signs of pregnancy. Consuming alcohol during the initial stages of pregnancy can increase the risk of early miscarriage as well as fetal alcohol syndrome, according to Dr. Singer. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a group of conditions marked by brain, central nervous system, heart, kidney, or lung abnormalities detected in the fetus, he explains.
“Alcohol has also been linked with reduced absorption of vital nutrients, including folic acid, B12, B1, zinc, and vitamins D and K,” says Dr. Singer. Meaning, it’s not just the alcohol that can interfere with fetal maturation, but the impact that alcohol has on other nutrients which are necessary for fetal development, he explains.
Summary: The Bottom Line On Adjusting Your Diet to Increase Fertility
Ultimately, diet is not the only nor the main factor impacting an individual’s fertility. However, dialing in on your nutrition can support your overall health, and therefore help provide an optimal environment for fertilization and fetal growth to take place. The above six fertility diet suggestions are a good starting point, but because everybody is different, you’d be wise to consult a nutrition or fertility specialist for recommendations specific to you and your needs.
P.S. Do you have healthy snack ready for when you have successfully conceived? 10 Healthy Pregnancy Snacks to Satisfy Plus Eating Tips