There's a lot of focus on what to eat when you are pregnant, but what about before?
Supporting your body with nourishing nutrients before pregnancy can reduce complications for mom, help with the growth and development of your baby, reduce the chance of preterm birth, and more.
Not only does your diet set the stage for a healthy pregnancy, it can actually boost your fertility and help you get pregnant. A fertility-supporting diet contributes to healthy hormone balance and antioxidant activity. Plus, eating well just makes you feel good.
Let's talk about what you can eat to boost your fertility and why these foods help so you can jump right into a fertility-supporting diet.
What are the Best Foods for Female Fertility?
Foods that boost fertility are loaded with antioxidants, deeply nourishing fats, proteins, and fiber. These foods also support healthy blood sugar balance, which matters because blood sugar impacts hormone balance and healthy detoxification— all critical for fertility.
Colorful Vegetables for Antioxidants
Veggies are filled with so many vital nutrients like antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients. Eating a diverse mix of all types is best, but here are some fertility-friendly vegetable superstars.
- Leafy greens. Leafy greens like kale and spinach contain essential nutrients like folate and fiber, which helps balance your blood sugar. Aside from being a critical nutrient to minimize birth defects, folate could support your fertility.
One study found a connection between higher folate intake from food and supplements and increased implantation, pregnancy, and live birth rates. Supplemental folate was also associated with higher fertilization rates for women in this study.
Adequate folate may also help to manage homocysteine levels in your body. If you’re familiar with homocysteine, chances are you’ve heard of it in the context of increased cardiovascular health risks. But, it's also linked to infertility in men and women. Homocysteine is an amino acid that is broken down with the help of folate, B12, and B6 to create chemicals your body needs. Research links elevated homocysteine with alterations in ovulation or menstrual cycles. Folate, on the other hand, is needed for homocysteine metabolism to keep your levels in check. An elevated homocysteine may be an indication you are lacking folate, vitamin B12, or vitamin B6.
- Sweet potatoes. Whether you eat them baked, sautéed, or roasted as an alternative to fries, sweet potatoes are a source of many nutrients, especially vitamin A. Vitamin A may support healthy eggs— and sperm, so be sure to share!
They also contain fiber, a critical nutrient for blood sugar balance. Fiber also plays a role in keeping our hormones in check, helping to remove excess estrogen through the body's natural detoxification pathways.
- Seaweed. You don't always hear about iodine, but it's a must when it comes to reproductive health and fertility. Iodine is an essential nutrient for thyroid health, essential if you are trying to get pregnant. Iodine deficiency is often associated with infertility.
Interestingly, salt used to be the primary source of iodine in the diet. But as people have moved away from iodized salt and now use sea salt more often, iodine intake has dropped for many people.
Seaweed contains iodine, but just be careful not to overdo it. Too much can actually have a negative impact on thyroid health, so it's a delicate balance between too much and not enough (reach out to your health care practitioner if you aren't sure!).
Proteins are the building blocks of everything in our body, so it's no wonder we need them to support fertility. When it comes to proteins, quality counts. That means organic, grass-fed, or free-range whenever possible.
- Eggs. Aside from being a source of protein, eggs also contain choline. Choline is a nutrient in the B-vitamin family that is critical for a baby's healthy brain development and preventing neural tube defects. Research tells us that maintaining healthy choline levels is crucial before even getting pregnant, but most women don't get enough in their diet.
Choline is found in the gorgeous yellow yolk of the egg, while most of the protein is in the white. Eggs also contain folate and many other minerals and vitamins to further support your fertility. If you have an allergy or don't eat eggs, supplementing with choline can make it easier to meet your needs.
- Oysters. This one may come as a surprise, but your reproductive system loves oysters. Oysters contain the mineral zinc, which supports ovulation, hormone balance, and fertilization. It also acts as an antioxidant, which helps protect your eggs (and sperm) against oxidative damage.
The reproductive system is especially vulnerable to oxidative stress. Some studies suggest it's a significant root cause for infertility in men and women. Oysters are a top source of zinc, but you can also find it in pumpkin seeds, beef, and seafood.
- Yogurt. If you tolerate dairy, yogurt is a good choice for fertility. It's filled with probiotics, calcium, and healthy fat to support fertility. Interestingly, low-fat dairy is associated with a risk of infertility, but women who regularly eat full-fat dairy appear to have higher pregnancy rates.
Yogurt, especially Greek yogurt, is high in protein, making it a simple way to boost your intake, especially for a quick on-the-go snack. There are plant-based options if you are sensitive to dairy, although these won't necessarily contain as much protein. As with all foods that come in a package, keep a watchful eye for sugar content. Some yogurts are loaded with a surprising amount of sugar that you would not suspect.
- Grass-fed meat and free-range poultry. These animal-based options contain protein as well as easy-to-absorb forms of iron. Iron is a critical nutrient for pregnancy for both mom and baby. Some studies show that women with higher iron intakes are less likely to experience infertility due to not ovulating.
Paying attention to both the quality and quantity of your meat intake is crucial, as some studies suggest that women who eat more plant-based proteins are less likely to experience infertility. Still, a review on diet and fertility indicated that infertility risks are likely more associated with heavy intake of overly-processed meats and trans fats.
- Beans and legumes. Plant-based proteins like beans and legumes provide complex carbs and fiber to support your microbiome (the healthy bacteria in your gut). While we still have so much to learn about gut health and reproduction, it looks like there's a close relationship between gut bacteria and female fertility.
While even small amounts of inflammatory trans fats are associated with negative impacts on fertility, the following healthy fats should definitely be part of your fertility-boosting meal plan.
- Avocado. As if you needed another reason to eat avocados, science says they can support a healthy foundation for pregnancy. Avocados provide unsaturated fats that are associated with fertility and healthy pregnancy outcomes.
Avocados also contain fiber to support your microbiome, blood sugar, and hormone balance. Additionally, they have vitamin E, which may boost fertility through its antioxidant activity. You’ll also find vitamin B6 in avocados, which can support healthy progesterone and homocysteine levels.
- Salmon. Technically a protein, salmon is under fats here because it's the source of the ultra-important omega-3 fatty acids. These fats may help calm inflammation, which may in turn help you get pregnant faster. Plus, eating more fish is associated with higher rates of pregnancy after infertility treatments.
Fish can be high in mercury, but experts agree that the benefits of fish outweigh the risks. Still, try to limit it to two servings of low-mercury fish a week to be safe. You can make a simple baked salmon with lemon and garlic, make salmon patty burgers, or make your own salmon salad with wild canned salmon.
- Nuts and seeds. Another fantastic source of healthy fats, protein, vitamin E, fiber, and minerals, nuts and seeds are tiny fertility-boosting dynamos. Aside from containing all of the above nutrients, studies associate nuts like walnuts with improved sperm health.
Besides tasting delicious, fruits support fertility as sources of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. All of these nutrients help cool down inflammation in your body and may protect against oxidative stress. A diet low in fruit is also associated with infertility.
- Citrus. Citrus fruits like oranges or grapefruit contain vitamin C, a necessary nutrient for ovulatory function and fertility. Vitamin C also has antioxidant activity to help fight back against free radicals. In mice studies, vitamin C has been shown to improve aging ovarian health and restore follicular reserves. Vitamin C is also beneficial for progesterone production. In one study of women struggling to conceive, it was found that progesterone levels increased and within 6 months 25% of study participants were pregnant when supplementing with 750 mg of vitamin C.
- Berries. Berries are especially beneficial because they contain polyphenols, chemical compounds with health-promoting activity in your body. Polyphenols can support fertility by acting as antioxidants to reduce the impact of oxidative stress. Plus, berries contain vitamin C, vitamin A, and other vital nutrients.
Can You Eat Certain Foods to Get Pregnant With Twins?
While it may be tempting to look for ways to increase your chance of getting pregnant with twins, there is no scientific evidence that supports any specific dietary interventions. Genetics do play a role, as does age and in-vitro fertilization (IVF), but sometimes it's just the magic of biology and reproduction.
One study did find that women from a region of Africa with the highest number of twin conceptions also had a diet exceptionally high in yams. Researchers from this study suggested that the yams had high levels of phytoestrogens that supported twin pregnancy. Feel free to add yams into your diet! But they won't necessarily guarantee a twin pregnancy.
What Foods to Avoid When Trying to Get Pregnant?
What you exclude from your diet can be just as important as what you include. These foods tend to increase inflammation and oxidative stress in the body.
- Processed meat. Highly processed meats like bacon or sausage are associated with decreased fertility for men and women.
- Trans fats. As mentioned above, trans fat adversely impacts fertility. One study found that with every two percent increase in trans fat, the risk of ovulatory infertility increased by more than 70 percent.
- Sugar and refined carbs. Diets high in sugar, especially with lower levels of fiber, are associated with difficulty trying to conceive. Drinking sweetened beverages may increase infertility rates for both partners.
- Fast food. Eating more fast food could make it more challenging to get pregnant. One study found that women who ate fast food at least four times a week had double the risk of infertility compared to women who never ate fast food.
- Alcohol. While an occasional drink probably won't make a huge impact, excess alcohol is linked to infertility for both partners. Alcohol also affects your hormones in less favorable ways.
Are There Specific Foods for Fertility Over 40?
There's no magic wand that changes fertility nutrition once you turn 40. You can get pregnant after 40, but because reproductive health is impacted with age, optimizing nutrition to reduce inflammation, promote hormone balance, and protect against free radicals becomes even more critical.
Optimizing minerals like calcium, zinc, iron, and vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate, and healthy fats like omega-3 all support healthy fertility by optimizing egg quality, and reducing oxidative stress, as you've learned above.
It is also recommended you get started on a quality prenatal as soon as you consider getting pregnant to supplement your body’s needs.
How to Create a Successful Fertility Diet
Creating a successful fertility diet is simple: focus on fresh, unprocessed foods as much as possible. Eat a rainbow of produce and avoid fast foods.
Studies show that the Mediterranean diet pattern significantly increases the (chance of a successful pregnancy) for women undergoing IVF, probably because it includes nearly all of the above. The Mediterranean diet focuses on healthy fats, fruits, veggies, fiber from whole grains, and lean proteins—sound familiar?
That said, getting started isn't always easy if you feel like you have a lot of changes to make. We have a free hormone-balancing starter kit. It includes a seven-day meal plan and recipe guide to help you get on track with fertility-boosting eating habits.
Supplements for Successful Fertility
On top of your food habits, supplements can act as an insurance policy to ensure you get all you need. Suboptimal micronutrient intake is associated with increased risks of irregular periods and ovulation, miscarriage, and other fertility issues.
Plus, it's recommended to start taking a prenatal vitamin at least three (but more like six to twelve) months before you want to get pregnant to optimize nutrient stores.
Optimal Fertility Begins with Nutrition
If you're trying to conceive, it's worth thinking about what you put in your body. Nutrition matters before, during, and after your pregnancy. Eating foods with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals can boost fertility by helping with cellular health, supporting egg quality, and more.
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