If you're trying to get pregnant, you're thinking of everything you should and should not do to ensure your fertility is as high as possible. You're probably already doing things like taking vitamins and cutting junk out of your diet to try and prepare your body to carry your child.
However, did you know there's something called a fertility diet? Yes, it's true. Not only does nutrition affect your fertility, but it can also have a profound effect on it.
Here are tips to start a fertility diet, plus foods to eat, foods to stay away from, and advice on how to get on this diet and stick to it.
What Is the Fertility Diet?
In a nutshell, the fertility diet is a specific combination of healthy fats, whole grains, and plant-based protein.
Research from the Nurses' Health Study showed that these foods can help increase ovulation and the production of healthy eggs.
From that, Drs. Jorge Chavarro and Walter Willet from the Harvard School of Public Health created a diet to help women increase their chances of becoming pregnant.
They've developed ten dietary recommendations to help improve women's chances of conceiving:
- Avoid saturated fats and artery-clogging trans fats entirely
- Use more unsaturated vegetable oil to improve your insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation
- Replace a serving of meat with vegetable protein like soybeans or tofu
- Move carbs that you slowly digest, like fruits, whole grains, and vegetables, and avoid empty carbs
- Drink whole milk instead of skim or reduced-fat
- Take a daily multivitamin
- Eat iron-rich plants, like leafy greens, beets, tomatoes, and whole grains
- Drink more water, reduce coffee and tea consumption, and avoid sugary drinks entirely
- Try to reach an optimal weight for fertility, which is a BMI of 20 to 24
- Increase physical activity, but don't overdo it. Too much exercise can be just as detrimental to fertility as not enough.
Is There a Connection Between Nutrition and Fertility?
Yes. What researchers saw is that the foods listed above boost the quality of your eggs and support ovulation.
They also help you maintain a normal menstrual cycle, which is necessary for optimal fertility.
It's more than just good nutrition, though.
Eating things like red meat, saturated fats, and refined carbohydrates including white bread, pizza and biscuit dough, white rice, and many breakfast cereals, can harm your fertility.
You can eat meat, but you should stick to fish and some poultry, and while soy is often seen as an excellent dietary addition, for people trying to conceive, it's not.
How Does the Fertility Diet for Women Work?
Foods that increase fertility focus on supporting ovulation, regular menstrual cycles, and improving the quality of your eggs.
Soy protein isolate, which you want to stay away from, may contain phytoestrogens that can disrupt your hormone levels and reduce your chances of getting pregnant.
Animal protein, especially untrimmed red meat, contains certain hormones and chemicals that disrupt your hormones, too.
Your weight plays a role as well. When you weigh too much or too little, your body is more stressed than it should be, which hurts your fertility.
If you're in a good weight zone, there's less stress to inhibit your ovulation cycles and other aspects of your fertility.
Following a diet made up of foods to help you conceive will help to minimize, address, or outright eliminate these things, helping your body optimize itself in many ways, including increasing your chances of getting pregnant.
How Easy Is It to Follow a Diet For Fertility?
Fortunately, it's not hard. You don't have to make a 100 percent switch immediately (which is a bad idea anyway) except for medical reasons.
You don't have to worry about exotic, expensive ingredients to buy, either. Some diets require you to go to an organic store, find foods that aren't all that common where you live, or eat foods you don't like.
All of that can make a diet hard to learn and stick to.
This diet doesn't do that because it focuses on types of foods, not individual foods. Don't like nuts? Excellent.
You have lots of options for healthy proteins and fats, and nuts aren't 100 percent necessary.
It might help to check out "The Fertility Diet" by Drs. Chavarro and Willet, and Patrick Skerrett.
It contains many easy recipes that contain no trans fats or red meat. It gives you meals that use fish, nuts, eggs, and other protein-rich foods that increase fertility in females.
You also get ideas for how to use full-fat dairy in various recipes, along with fruit and other foods.
There's also nothing stopping you from creating or tweaking your own recipes so they're more in line with the fertility diet. In fact, that may be what you want to do so it's easier to stick to it.
To be sure, there's a learning curve here. You'll probably fail more than once.
Don't let that get the best of you, though. Fertility diets, or really, any diet that helps you become healthier, aren't something you can switch to instantly. It takes time.
Should You Add Exercises to the Diet to Get Pregnant?
Yes, you should. Exercise is one of the 10 recommendations the doctors behind "The Fertility Diet" put forth.
To be sure, you don't have to start an entire workout regimen; in fact, that's exactly what you don't want to do because you don't want to overtax your body.
However, taking a 20-minute walk every day will do wonders for your physical condition and help you keep excess weight down while you're trying to conceive.
Going for light jogs and finding light to moderate cardio workouts can help.
Your recommended intensity levels depend on your weight:
- Moderate exercise for one to five hours per week helps with ovulation
- Vigorous exercise can help improve fertility in obese women, but decrease it in women with normal weight
- Strenuous exercise for at least four hours per week can harm your fertility, especially if you're trying to conceive via IVF
Workouts you might want to moderate or eliminate altogether include:
- HIIT (high-intensity interval training)
- Running (as opposed to light jogging)
Specific workouts you can focus on besides the ones we listed above are:
- Water aerobics
- Swimming laps
- Social dancing (fast)
- Raking leaves
Can the Fertility Diet Cause You to Lose Weight?
Yes, you probably will, especially if you're exercising regularly. The foods you'll be eating are lower-calorie and help your body work at its maximum efficiency, which includes its ability to burn fat.
This isn't a bad thing unless you're already underweight, in which case you should work to find a way to use the fertility diet in a way that will help you gain some weight so your body is less stressed.
7 Best Foods to Help With Fertility
These are among the best foods for fertility out there. While there are many more excellent fertility foods for women, you can start working on your fertility diet with these and know you're going in the right direction.
Keep in mind that as you work on getting more foods to eat to increase fertility into your diet, you'll probably lose some weight.
Take care not to lose too much because, as we discussed above, weighing too little can be as detrimental to your ability to conceive as weighing too much.
Fruits are excellent snack foods. They either come small enough, or you can make them small enough, that you can just pop them into your mouth like any snack. They're sweet, juicy, and full of healthy fiber and other nutrients.
How Does It Help?
Fruits are a low-calorie food and one of the best things for curbing sweet cravings because fructose is similar enough to sucrose that your body gets a similar effect. You may stop craving sweets altogether.
You're less likely to turn to candy, pastries, and other sweet treats to silence your sweet teeth. That, in turn, ensures you don't suffer insulin spikes or fluctuations in your weight that sabotage your fertility.
It can also curb your appetite before you go out someplace, which helps you avoid overeating.
We've discussed various types of proteins and how vegetable proteins are best for fertility. However, fish aren't only excellent sources of protein, but they're also great sources of healthy omega fats. The fish you can eat include:
- Canned light tuna
How Does It Help?
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish improve circulation to your reproductive organs and may also help regulate your hormones, improving your eggs and uterine tissues and your menstrual cycle in general.
Just be sure you're eating low-mercury fish. High levels of mercury are dangerous to you, your ability to conceive, and your unborn child once you do get pregnant.
Whole Milk and Full-Fat Dairy
While skim milk has fewer calories, it does appear to cause problems with fertility by interfering with ovulation.
Whole milk doesn't do that. In fact, women who indulge in full-fat dairy products have a lower risk of infertility due to lack of ovulation than women who don't.
How Does it Help?
Medical science hasn't fully established what, exactly, makes full-fat dairy good for fertility as opposed to low-fat and fat-free dairy. However, researchers believe that it's either the fat itself or a fat-soluble substance in dairy foods that improves fertility.
Women should have about three full-fat servings of dairy per week while remaining within their optimal calorie count.
Nuts are some of nature's best foods. They contain healthy fats and proteins and are also fiber-rich foods. Besides that, they're lower in calories than other foods and can make excellent "munchie" snacks.
How Does it Help?
You can cut your risk of problems with ovulation simply by switching animal protein out for plant protein.
With nuts, you're getting a whole lot of beneficial things in one tiny item, including fiber, healthy fats, calcium, magnesium, potassium, folic acid, and vitamin E.
All of that helps to regulate your blood sugar and your hormone levels.
It sounds cliched, but eating eggs improves the quality of your own eggs, and healthier eggs mean a greater likelihood of conceiving and giving birth to a healthy child.
How Does it Help?
Eggs contain choline, which helps ensure overall reproductive health and reduces the risk of birth defects.
It doesn't get much simpler than that. As long as you don't fry them, which can introduce excess fats into your diet, you'll be good.
Unless there's something wrong with the quality of the water you're drinking, you can't go wrong with it. Our bodies run on water and staying hydrated supports your entire body.
How Does it Help?
They help your body control its temperature, provide your circulatory system with the fluid it needs to supply oxygen to your cells, helps you eliminate waste, and yes, it can help you conceive.
It also helps facilitate hormone delivery to the right places in your body and it may support your ovarian follicles, meaning you might ovulate more regularly if you're properly hydrated.
What are whole foods? They're foods that haven't been processed, added to, or refined in any way. They include:
- Fresh meat
- Fresh fish
How Does it Help?
Whole foods haven't had their nutrients processed out yet. Many processed foods, such as commercial bread, have had their nutrients taken out and then replaced, often with lower quality nutrients in lower quantities.
Since you need all the best nutrition you can get, sticking to whole foods instead of processed foods as much as you can may help with your fertility.
4 Foods You Should Avoid In Your Conception Diet
Whenever there's a list of foods you should eat to reach a specific goal, there are also foods you should avoid eating in pursuit of that goal. These are some foods you should avoid if you're trying to reach your optimal fertility level.
Sugary Foods and Drinks
Sweet foods and drinks like sodas, pastries, and candy, not only help you gain weight, they also mess with your insulin levels and energy because your body absorbs them very quickly compared to other foods. Specific things to avoid are:
- Fruit juice
- Soda, including diet soda
- Energy drinks
- Artificial sweeteners
Why Avoid It?
Insulin is chemically similar to ovarian hormones. When your insulin spikes, your body might stop producing reproductive hormones at the levels you need for fertility.
That, in turn, contributes to fewer mature eggs and irregular ovulation. Stick to other sweeteners such as honey, agave syrup, and maple syrup.
Alcohol isn't good for you as it is, but when you're trying to increase your fertility, it can be downright harmful.
Why Avoid It?
Your body turns alcohol into toxic substances, including acetaldehyde, which damages your liver.
Furthermore, alcohol is all empty carbs, which causes similar problems as sugar and refined carbs.
Also, science has not yet established any safe limit for alcohol consumption when you're pregnant. Since you don't know exactly when you've conceived, you should avoid alcohol altogether.
Soy is okay, but processed soy in the form of powders, protein bars, and other high-protein snacks is something you should avoid as much as possible.
Why Avoid It?
Processed soy, or, more specifically, soy protein isolate, may have certain estrogen-mimicking properties.
Since estrogen is necessary for optimal fertility, anything that acts like estrogen can disrupt your entire reproductive hormonal balance.
As we've discussed many times, anything that disrupts your reproductive hormones isn't good for your fertility.
While the link between soy protein isolate and processed soy and low fertility isn't strongly established, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
You don't have to give up your morning coffee just yet, but you might want to moderate your caffeine intake, especially if you drink coffee, tea, or other caffeinated drinks during the day. If your caffeine comes in the form of soda or energy drinks, definitely cut those out.
Why Avoid It?
While caffeine doesn't have a demonstrable, direct effect on fertility, it does dehydrate you, even if you're getting it from fluids like coffee and tea.
Dehydration can dry out your mucus membranes, giving your cervical mucus an inconsistent quality.
It might not harm your ability to conceive, but it certainly doesn't help. Your best bet is to limit your caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day. Ideally, you'll be able to bring it down to less than 100 mg per day.
Final Points About a Fertility Diet for Women
The bottom line is that eating foods to help fertility may help you increase your chances of getting pregnant, plus you'll become healthier overall.
Here are some key takeaways from the article to help you find the best diet and foods good for fertility:
- Avoid processed foods, alcohol, sugars, and sweets, and moderate your caffeine intake to avoid eating things that will knock your body out of whack
- Stick to whole foods like fruit, nuts, seeds, fresh protein, and more
You don't have to stick to this diet 100 percent of the time. In fact, it's difficult to do that.
But stick to it as much as possible, and you may increase your chances of conceiving by quite a bit.