6 Best Foods to Eat for Fertility, According to a Dietitian
Wanting to become pregnant is an exciting time in a person's life. Many parents will agree that there is nothing better than welcoming a little bundle of joy into the world and watching it grow.
But while you may have visions of holding your little one in your arms shortly after deciding that you are ready, unfortunately, infertility is pretty common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 5 persons will have difficulty conceiving after one year of trying.
Fertility challenges can occur for several reasons, including hormonal imbalances, poor egg quality and poor sperm health. And while there is no magic bullet to resolving fertility challenges and getting pregnant, some foods, when included in an overall healthy diet, may help support your quest to becoming a parent. However, it's important to remember that while your diet can help improve the outcomes, the result is out of your control.
How to Eat When Trying to Conceive
Before digging into what to eat to support fertility, supplementation plans need to be established. The CDC states that all females of childbearing age should include at least 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to reduce the risk of developing specific congenital disabilities once pregnant. Some health care providers will recommend you take a form of folate called MTHF-folate instead of folic acid. However, research is needed to back this. Ultimately, that decision should be made between you and your health care provider.
When it comes to general dietary patterns, a diet low in ultra-refined carbohydrates and added sugars may positively support fertility efforts. A 2021 publication in Advances in Nutrition suggests that following the Mediterranean diet appears to help women succeed on their fertility journey. If you're unfamiliar, the Mediterranean diet focuses on dietary fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, plant-based protein, antioxidants and vitamins and minerals.
Even more so, a 2018 study published in Human Reproduction shows that frequently eating fast food and limiting your fruit intake can increase your risk of fertility challenges. And while many social media influencers will tell you otherwise, there isn't good-quality data to support the notion that dairy and gluten need to be avoided when trying to conceive unless you have a true allergy, intolerance or celiac disease.
Your choices are abundant when it comes to which specific foods should be included in a fertility-supporting diet. From colorful produce to versatile beans to satisfying whole grains, you can quickly fill your plate with nutrient-dense foods to help your body get the nutrients it needs to support a healthy pregnancy.
Among the sea of nutrient-packed foods out there, here are six fertility-fueling foods you should have on your radar if you are trying to support your fertility.
If you haven't jumped on the sardine train yet, now is the time. Named after the beautiful island of Sardinia, sardines are chock-full of DHA omega-3 fatty acids, high-quality protein and a slew of other fertility-supporting nutrients.
A 2018 study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism shows that couples who eat more fish are more likely to conceive than those who eat less, making sardines an obvious choice on a fertility-supporting diet for both females and males. Opting for lower-mercury options is a better choice for any fertility journey, as too much exposure to mercury during pregnancy may increase the risk of congenital disabilities.
Like other smaller fish choices, sardines are on the lower end of mercury levels, making them a pregnancy-friendly seafood addition that is easy to include in meals and snacks.
Dairy foods have gotten a bad rap for the unsubstantiated theory that dairy triggers inflammation and therefore should be avoided when trying to conceive. However, the results of a 2021 meta-analysis of 27 studies published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition suggests that dairy foods do not induce chronic inflammation and, in some cases, can actually combat inflammation.
For people with ovulatory infertility (a condition in which a female does not release an egg for fertilization to occur, or ovulation happens on an irregular basis), some data shows that opting for full-fat dairy instead of fat-free choices may result in a decreased risk of ovulatory infertility. Specific data from the Nurses' Health Study II, published in 2018 in Frontiers in Public Health, shows that choosing low-fat dairy foods and drinks instead of full-fat choices was associated with a higher risk of ovulatory infertility.
Lean beef is known for being a protein powerhouse. Less known is that lean beef (like flank steak and eye of round roast) is also chock-full of key nutrients many people don't get enough of in their diets, including zinc.
Lean cuts of beef are a natural source of zinc, along with other fertility-supporting nutrients like vitamin B12. You can enjoy a Grilled Flank Steak with Tomato Salad or a Ginger Beef Stir-Fry when trying to conceive to potentially support your efforts via your dietary choices.
Eating whole grains, like oats, fuels the body with B-vitamins, iron and heart-healthy fiber. For females who are trying to conceive, whole grains may also play a role in supporting a thick endometrial lining (the lining in the uterus where the embryo implants). Since the chances of attaining a clinical pregnancy and live birth increase with increasing endometrial thickness, doing anything that might help keep the lining thick and healthy may help you achieve your goal.
Although, intuitively, many people focus on the female side of fertility support, the male factor is a primary or contributing factor in approximately 50% of couples, per a 2021 review published in The Lancet.
One of the best foods to eat to support male fertility is a tomato. This fruit (yes, it is technically a fruit) is loaded with a fertility-supporting antioxidant called lycopene. Opting for dishes with cooked tomatoes, like Garden Tomato Sauce, will allow your body to absorb more of this antioxidant compared to eating raw tomatoes.
If you aren't a tomato fan, you can enjoy other lycopene-rich foods that are naturally red or pink, including watermelon and red peppers, to get your lycopene fix.
Would you believe that the simple act of eating walnuts every day can have a profound effect on male fertility? It's true! According to data from a 2019 clinical trial published in Current Developments in Nutrition, males who ate 42 grams of walnuts (approximately one handful) every day for 3 months experienced healthier sperm compared to those who took a nutritional supplement.
Walnuts are a fantastic source of plant-based proteins, ALA omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, nutrients that may support both male and female fertility.
Our Spinach-Strawberry Salad with Feta & Walnuts and Walnut-Rosemary Crusted Salmon are easy dishes to whip up and enjoy for a dose of nutrient-rich walnuts. Of course, you can simply nosh on these nuts on their own too.
The Bottom Line
Having difficulties conceiving is something that many people experience. And if you're facing those challenges, most factors are out of your control. Yet, foods like sardines, walnuts, dairy, whole grains and lean protein can provide nutrients that positively impact your fertility health.
Additionally, remember that a healthy and balanced diet shouldn't focus on restriction but rather on incorporating foods that will help you reach your goals. That means that desserts and foods with refined carbs like pasta and pizza can be part of your journey.