June 21, 2024

If you’re trying to get pregnant, you might try increasing your nutrition through the foods you’re eating. Research has suggested that diets high in things like whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and fish are associated with improved fertility (particularly in females); they can also help you get off to a healthy start in pregnancy.

“Eating as if you’re already pregnant can actually help prime your body for conception,” says Sarah Krieger, RD, a nutritionist based in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Learn how to create your own fertility diet by embracing fertility-friendly foods, which can increase your chances of conception.

Foods to Include in a Fertility Diet

While there aren’t any magic foods for getting pregnant, one simple way to support your fertility is ensuring your diet includes healthy choices from the following food groups.

Fruits and vegetables

Go ahead: Load your plate with fruits and veggies. One study by the Harvard School of Public Health, which comprised nearly 18,000 people, found a higher incidence of ovulatory disorders in those who consumed more trans fats, sugar from carbohydrates, and animal proteins. On the other hand, those who consumed more iron, fiber, and protein from vegetables had a higher fertility diet score.

What does this mean for people trying to conceive? You should make sure half your plate at every meal is composed of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Watermelon and asparagus, in addition to other raw fruits and vegetables, give the body a rich supply of glutathione, which is important for egg quality,” says Alisa Vitti, integrative nutritionist and author of WomanCode: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source. “Kale is another powerhouse vegetable because it contains elements necessary for estrogen metabolism.”

Though consuming the whole fruit or vegetable is best, Vitti suggests juicing kale and other greens if you’re not a fan of raw veggies. “I love recommending patients make fresh, mostly-vegetable juices with a few fruits like goji berries, which contain phytochemicals that are beneficial for fertility,” she says. To combat nutrient loss, roast vegetables in high heat for a short time with no water or microwave them with a small amount of water.

Fats

Healthy, plant-based fats in moderation are an important part of any balanced diet. Nuts, avocados, olive oil, and grapeseed oil can reduce the inflammation in the body—and studies have shown that anti-inflammatory diets can lead to improved fertility.

Some fats may even assist people who truly struggle with infertility. “Studies have shown that consuming a certain quantity of monounsaturated fats during the IVF cycle increased the success rate by three and a half times, as opposed to women who don’t eat good plant-based fats during that period,” says Vitti. Foods high in monounsaturated fat include avocados, nuts, and some oils (like olive oil, peanut oil, and canola oil).

It can also be helpful to avoid trans fats (the kind found in processed snacks like French fries and packaged foods) and eat more unsaturated fats. Trans fats increase insulin resistance. Insulin helps move glucose from the bloodstream to the cells; resistance means it’s harder to move glucose into the cells. The pancreas keeps pumping out more insulin anyway, resulting in more insulin in your bloodstream. High insulin levels can negatively affect ovulation, so it’s best to focus on foods that guard against insulin resistance when creating a fertility diet.

Complex carbs

To increase fertility, try to incorporate more complex (“slow”) carbs and limit highly processed ones. Your body digests refined carbs (like cookies, cakes, white bread, and white rice) quickly, and turns them into blood sugar. To drive down the blood-sugar spike, the pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream, and studies have found that high insulin levels appear to inhibit ovulation.

Complex carbs (those containing fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains) are digested slowly and have a more gradual effect on blood sugar and insulin. Barely refined grains are also superb sources of fertility-friendly B vitamins, vitamin E, and fiber. “Some of my favorites are buckwheat, which contains d-chiro-inositol, a compound that improves ovulation,” says Krieger.

For some people, particularly those with hormonal disorders like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), cutting back on gluten may be advised (though this guidance isn’t set in stone). “Gluten may create an inflammatory response in the body, which heightens C-reactive protein and sends signals that it’s not an ideal time to conceive,” says Vitti. “It can make implantation more difficult.” However, you’ll want to talk to your doctor before making any major diet changes and have a plan for what your meals will consist of without gluten.

Compose a quarter of your plate with more complex carbs, like brown rice. It may also pay to break out of your rice and pasta rut and sample more diverse whole grains like amaranth, millet, and quinoa. They’ll help keep you full longer and maintain healthy blood sugar levels, which is also important for fertility health.

Protein

Chicken, turkey, pork, and beef trimmed of excess fat are great sources of protein, zinc, and iron—all-important building blocks for a healthy pregnancy. Excess saturated fat found in animal protein, on the other hand, may be linked to fertility issues, according to one study on nutrition and fertility.

Protein sources from the sea can also be nutritious options. For instance, coldwater fish like salmon, canned light tuna, and sardines are excellent sources of DHA and omega-3 fatty acids; they also help develop the baby’s nervous system and cut your risk of premature birth, so why not start pre-conception?

You can include these fish options a couple of times a week in a fertility diet without worrying about mercury levels, says Krieger. But it’s best to avoid other varieties, such as shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel, which are known for having higher levels of mercury.

Eggs, too, are another potent protein source in a fertility diet. “They get a bad rap from cholesterol, but the yolk has excellent stores of protein and choline, a vitamin that helps develop brain function in babies,” she says.

When picking foods that increase fertility, you can also opt for plant protein (from beans, nuts, seeds, and tofu). They come with healthy fats and are relatively low in calories, which can be helpful for pregnancy if weight loss has been recommended for you as a pre-conception step.

A study published in Nutrients found that the risk of ovulatory disorders is cut in half when 5% of your total calorie intake is derived from plant proteins. Beans are super sources of plant-based protein, as are nuts, seeds, and other legumes, such as lentils and chickpeas.

Dairy

Lactose-tolerant people should reach for whole milk or other full-fat dairy foods (such as yogurt) instead of non-fat and low-fat dairy to support fertility. The more low-fat dairy products in a woman’s diet, the more trouble she had getting pregnant,” says Walter Willett, MD, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. That’s because a high intake of low-fat dairy has been shown to raise the risk of ovulatory infertility compared to high-fat dairy.

On the flip side, if you’re having continued trouble conceiving, your doctor may suggest limiting dairy in your fertility diet plan. “We’re being exposed to dairy in mass quantities that’s more hormonally-driven, meaning the production of cow dairy has become very chemically manipulated,” says Vitti. “These excess hormones may disrupt the conversation that the brain is trying to have with the endocrine system, particularly your ovaries.” Just make sure you consult your doctor about the best ways to supplement your calcium intake if you decide to temporarily ditch dairy.

It’s also a good idea to boost your yogurt intake, ideally Greek-style. Why? The probiotic microbes may be instrumental in boosting pregnancy health. Researchers published a study in Cureus that found that probiotic-rich yogurt may have benefits for pregnancy, such as improving metabolism and reducing premature birth.

Foods to Limit or Avoid in a Fertility Diet

Everyone’s fertility diet will look different, and it’s important to always listen to your body when it comes to nutrition. But if you’re looking specifically to get pregnant, it may be helpful to know how the following foods can impact your fertility. This way, your food choices can come from a place of empowerment.

Caffeine

If you’re a java lover, you don’t have to completely eliminate your daily brew, but it may be helpful to consume coffee and tea in moderation when trying to get pregnant. Consumption of coffee or tea doesn’t seem to cause ovulation problems—but it could lead to dehydration.

“Our morning cup of coffee is the worst thing we can do from the dehydration standpoint,” says Angela Chaudhari, MD, a gynecologic surgeon and assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. In addition, caffeine is a diuretic that can prevent your mucus membranes from staying moist, potentially affecting the consistency of your cervical mucus. (The more fertile cervical mucus you have, the better chances the sperm has of “sticking” to it and reaching the egg.)

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) also recommends that pregnant people limit overall caffeine intake (whether from coffee, energy drinks, teas, or even chocolate) to under 200 milligrams a day, so it might be a good idea to get in that practice now.

Instead, consider replacing some of your daily caffeine with decaffeinated or low-caf beverages, decaf coffee, and herbal teas. For instance, a study in Nutrients found that green tea may help improve fertility. While green tea isn’t completely caffeine-free (an 8-ounce cup of brewed green tea has between 30–50 mg of caffeine on average), it contains less than an equivalent cup of coffee or brewed black tea. Other low- to no-caffeine options include herbal brews such as chamomile, hibiscus, and ginger teas.

Alcohol

Most experts recommend that couples looking to get pregnant avoid alcohol. Not only can it lead to dehydration, but high amounts of alcohol use (this includes binge drinking) have been associated with reduced fertility. Additionally, if you’re regularly drinking and get pregnant without realizing it, there may be some risks to the fetus as well.

It’s also important to note that the benefits of abstaining don’t just apply to the person getting pregnant; a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health confirmed that alcohol use can impair sperm health and may have lasting effects on the fetus too. Bottom line? If you’re looking to get pregnant, it might be best for you and your partner to limit alcohol for now.

Sugary drinks and processed sweeteners

It’s important to live a balanced life with treats now and then. But if you have any issues with unstable blood sugar levels (for instance, if you have diabetes or PCOS), it might be helpful to stick to less-processed sweeteners to help boost fertility. Concentrated doses of the sweet stuff can throw your blood sugar totally out of whack, creating issues with insulin and your general hormonal balance.

Consume candies and desserts in moderation for your fertility diet plan, and don’t forget about sneakier sugar bombs like fruit juice, energy drinks, and sweet teas. Sugared sodas, in particular, have been associated with ovulatory infertility, according to a study in Epidemiology.

Limiting sugar intake doesn’t mean you should use artificially sweetened products in its place. “Artificial sweeteners are stressors on your system; they create a cortisol response, which inhibits ovulation,” says Vitti. If you’re craving sugary stuff, choose less-processed sweeteners with lower glycemic loads, such as agave syrup, honey, maple syrup, or stevia, a natural zero-calorie sweetener.

Processed soy

It may be helpful to avoid forms of processed soy in your fertility diet, particularly powders and energy bars, because research suggests that soy may have a negative effect on fertility. For instance, a study in the Journal of Nutrition found ovarian function can be negatively impacted by diets high in soy. Some experts believe that large quantities of soy protein isolate in these products contain estrogen-mimicking properties that can disrupt your hormonal balance.

Note that whole soy products like edamame and tempeh are fine in moderation, as are fermented versions of soy such as miso paste or natto. “When we’re eating soy in its most natural form like in other cultures like Japan and China, it’s healthy for the body,” says Krieger.

Tips for a Successful Fertility Diet

In addition to the specific types of foods you’re eating, it can also be helpful to incorporate other nutrition tips into your daily habits when trying to conceive. Healthy eating sets the stage for a healthy body, which is key for a successful pregnancy and baby!

Choose whole foods over processed options.

To harness the power of whole foods in action, consider getting inspiration from the Mediterranean lifestyle. Typical foods eaten in the Mediterranean diet include whole grains and vegetables with less processed meat, which may protect against ovulatory dysfunction. Research has shown a relationship between the Mediterranean diet and fertility health.

Take your vitamins.

Take a daily multivitamin that contains at least 400 micrograms of folic acid and 40 to 80 milligrams of iron. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), folic acid promotes baby neural tube development, and it reduces the risk of certain birth defects of the brain and spine. Some experts recommend starting a prenatal vitamin as soon as you begin trying to conceive.

Mix up your plate.

Regardless of how virtuous your fertility meal plan seems, too much of anything is never good for the body. “Even if you’re eating homegrown tomatoes every day of your life, you might be getting too much of something in your soil,” says Krieger.

Now’s the time to kick food fads and round out your plate with a variety of foods from different parts of the country, even the world. “The more variety you have, the more likely you’re able to complete the nutrient gaps you may be lacking,” says Krieger

Know the best fertility foods for males.

It’s easy to forget that a male partner brings a full 50% to the baby-making table. “I’m not saying treat your partner like a child, but if you cook and eat at home together, help make veggies a focus on his plate,” says Krieger. Vitti advises male partners to eat asparagus, sunflower seeds, and other foods rich in zinc to prevent testosterone from being converted to estrogen.

They may also need to pass on the cheese plate for better male fertility: High dairy intake has been linked to poor sperm motility and concentration. You can also encourage them to take daily vitamins. Prenatal vitamins on the market come in packs with the vitamins for male fertility, including vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, and lycopene.

Also, selenium is fantastic for sperm motility, and the number-one source is Brazil nuts. “Have a nice big bowl that your guy can crack open,” says Krieger. Another superfood is oysters. On top of their supposed aphrodisiac properties, the bivalves are rich in zinc, vitamin B12, and protein.

Calculate your fertile window.

Adapting a fertility diet can help you conceive, but it’s also important to time your baby-making sex properly. You can only conceive during a short timeframe each month—the day of ovulation and the five days beforehand—which is why many couples track their fertile window. Consider using our ovulation calculator below to figure out when your odds of getting pregnant are the highest.

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