What you eat has a dramatic effect on your fertility, just as it does on your general health.
By ensuring your daily nutritional, caloric, and supplementary needs are met, and that fertility-harming foods and drinks are avoided, you’ll greatly improve your chances of a fast and healthy conception.
Protein and Fertility
Proteins provide the building blocks of life. They are essential for the building and repair of all body tissues, the transportation of oxygen and nutrients around the body, the production of antibodies to fight infection, and hormone production.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are essential for healthy egg production in the ovaries.
Studies in animals have shown that inadequate protein intake, resulting in insufficient amino acid levels, can significantly decrease egg quality.
Amino acids are also required for the production of follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone, the two vital reproductive hormones.
Adults require approximately 70 grams of protein a day, which accounts for about 20 percent of our diet. High quality protein sources include meat, fish, eggs, lentils, peas, beans, brown rice, and nuts.
When consumed, protein is slowly absorbed into the bloodstream, which allows maximum use of the amino acids they contain.
When protein is eaten in large amounts the body can become overloaded and must work hard to remove the excess. To combat this, protein is beast eaten often and in small amounts.
Fats and Fertility
Fats are vital to overall health and to fertility. They’re required for hormone production, cholesterol transportation, and in assisting the reduction of inflammation.
Deficiency in essential fatty acids cause dry skin, cracked lips, PMS, and tender breasts. Sources of fats are butter, margarine, meats, milk, nuts, and vegetable oils.
Fats fall into one of two main categories – saturated and unsaturated.
Saturated fats are found in meat and dairy foods and should not be consumed in large amounts as they contribute to obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol, and some cancers.
Unsaturated fats are found in nuts, seeds, fish, and olive oil. Two types of unsaturated fats, omega-6 and omega-3, are essential for correct function in the brain, immune system, nervous system, and cardiovascular system.
Omega-6 and omega-3 are also essential for maintaining a correct hormonal balance, vital to maximizing fertility.
Unsaturated fats should make up around 5 percent of your diet, and good sources are evening primrose oil, linseed oil, pumpkin seeds, and oily fish.
Carbohydrates and Fertility
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel, and therefore make up the majority of your diet – about 60 percent.
Energy required for reproduction and the maintenance of hormonal balance depend on sufficient levels of carbohydrates, making carbs vitally important to ensure maximum fertility.
Carbohydrates are found in sugar, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and come in two forms – simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates, found in foods such as sugar, white flour, and processed foods, are released quickly into the system and provide short bursts of immediate energy.
Complex carbohydrates, found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, are released slowly into the system and provide a longer-lasting, steady source of energy.
Simple carbohydrates should only be eaten in small amounts due to their high-calorie/low nutrient imbalance.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, contain lots of fibre and provide sustained energy throughout the day. They’re known to lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, efficiently regulate bowel movements, and provide stamina.
Complex carbohydrates should make up a large majority of your carbohydrate consumption.
Zinc and Fertility
Zinc is an essential mineral, used by the body in a whole host of functions – everything from production of DNA, healing of wounds, and maintenance of the immune system.
Zinc is also vitally important to the growth and overall health of the foetus.
Zinc is not stored well by the body, and so levels must be assisted with correct supplementation. A zinc deficiency inhibits the metabolism of protein, which in turn can lower a woman’s egg quality.
Zinc is also important for maintaining the menstrual cycle.
Vegetarians, heavy exercisers, and women who have used oral contraceptives for prolonged periods are all prone to zinc deficiency, so extra care needs to be taken in these groups.
Heavy exercisers, in particular, should take special care to ensure their zinc levels are correct, due to zinc loss through sweating.
The recommended daily amount of zinc for women trying to conceive and women who are pregnant is 25 milligrams a day.
Good sources of food containing high concentrations of zinc are red meats, liver, and seafood, with oysters being the single best source.
Vegetarians may find it difficult to consume enough zinc in their diet, since no plant source contains zinc in high concentrations. Supplementation, in this case, is vitally important.
Iron and Fertility
Iron assists blood and muscles to deliver oxygen to every cell in the body, while at the same time removing carbon dioxide from them.
With statistics suggesting that one-third of all women are iron deficient, extreme care needs to be taken to ensure the correct levels are being consumed, either through diet or supplementation.
An iron deficiency can cause a weakened immune system, loss of energy and anaemia, and an inability to focus or concentrate.
Some evidence suggests a link between iron deficiency and decreased fertility, higher risk of premature birth, and complications shortly after birth.
The recommended daily amount of iron for women trying to conceive and women who are pregnant is 60 milligrams a day.
Foods containing high concentrations of iron are organ meats, lean beef, spinach, prune juice, oysters, and beans. Other foods containing iron, although in lesser amounts, include eggs, nuts, dried fruit, and shellfish.
Vitamin C is required for the body to absorb iron, so ensure the recommended daily requirements are also met for vitamin C if you suffer from an iron deficiency.
Folic Acid and Fertility
Folic acid is required by the body for the production and maintenance of new cells, and is therefore especially important during childhood and pregnancy, due to the periods of rapid cell division and growth.
Taking folic acid supplements is one of the simplest and most beneficial things a women can do if she’s trying to conceive.
Taking a daily multivitamin containing the recommended daily amount of folic acid can decrease the risk of a baby suffering a neural tube defect by as much as 50 percent. The recommended daily amount of folic acid is 400 micrograms, or 0.4 milligrams.
Folic acid also protects against fetal urinary tract defects, cardiovascular defects, and limb deficiencies.
The use of oral contraceptives can decrease the amount of folic acid in the body even if the recommended daily amount is taken through supplements.
For women taking oral contraceptives up to the time of trying to conceive, the recommended daily amount of folic acid should be raised from 0.4 milligrams to 1 milligram, in order to counteract the depleting nature of the oral contraceptives.
Be sure to check that your daily multivitamins contain the correct amount of folic acid. If what you find is less than the recommended amount, take a dedicated folic acid supplement.
(It’s important to note that you should not take more multivitamins in order to get your recommended daily amount of folic acid. This will increase your intake of vitamins across the board, and too much of some vitamins can be harmful.)
Folic acid is found in a whole host of foods, including leafy green vegetables, broccoli, lentils, beans, organ meats, breakfast cereal, and orange juice.
Despite being found is so many everyday foods, it’s almost impossible to consume the recommended daily amount of folic acid through food alone.
This is due to two things: 1, folic acid, even in its most highly-concentrated sources, is found in extremely small amounts; and 2, the body’s inability to utilize all the folic acid consumed.
Because of this, you would actually have to eat two times the recommended daily amount of folic acid in order for your body to successfully extract all the folic acid it requires.
Taking a dedicated folic acid supplement removes the doubt and the worry, and allows you to feel secure in the knowledge that your folic acid requirements are being met.
Of course, it’s still of great benefit to eat plenty of foods rich in folic acid.
Vitamin C and Fertility
Vitamin C is an antioxidant, meaning it protects the body from free radicals.
A deficiency of vitamin C has been linked to both decreased fertility and miscarriage. These problems are believed by some to be caused indirectly through anaemia, due to vitamin C’s close relationship with iron and its absorption into the body.
Daily supplementation of vitamin C is important since it’s a water-soluble vitamin. This means that it’s not stored in the body for long periods of time, and must be replenished on a frequent basis.
The recommended daily preconceptual amount of vitamin C is 70 to 80 milligrams.
Vitamin C is found in high concentrations in fruits such as watermelons, strawberries, and cantaloupe. Many vegetables are also a good source of vitamin C – tomatoes, leafy green vegetables, and cauliflower are all good choices.
Magnesium and Fertility
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. Around 50 percent of the body’s entire supply of magnesium is found in bone. The remainder is found inside cells of body tissues and organs.
Magnesium is believed by a growing number of people to help in the prevention and management of conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
More importantly, for our purposes, magnesium is known to promote higher fertility levels in women. A magnesium deficiency is also linked to a higher risk of miscarriage.
In most cases, magnesium must be supplemented, since most western diets are low in the mineral. Western staples like fish, meat, most fruits, and milk do not contain magnesium.
Good sources of magnesium are leafy green vegetables, kelp, pulses, tofu, rye, buckwheat, brown rice, and bananas.
Diet Risk Factors
There are certain foods and drinks that cause a significant drop in fertility levels, and they should be reduced as much as possible, or eliminated altogether.
Let’s take a look at these diet risk factors one at a time.
Caffeine is found in many things besides coffee, although coffee is probably what first springs to mind when you hear that word.
And it’s not surprising that coffee springs to mind when you consider that the average American drinks around 30 gallons of coffee each year!
Caffeine is also found in large quantities in tea, chocolate, soft drinks, and some prescription medicines.
Research has discovered a very discernible link between how much caffeine a woman consumes and her levels of fertility – also on the length of time it takes for a woman to conceive once she begins trying.
A recent study found that women who drink as little as three cups of coffee a day were 27 percent less likely to conceive when compared to women with low or zero caffeine intakes.
It’s worth restating that: if you drink just 3 cups of coffee a day, you could be up to 27 percent less likely to conceive.
That’s potentially a remarkable change you can make to your fertility levels, simply by eliminating all or most of your caffeine intake.
In the same study, even a modest daily consumption of caffeine was shown to hinder conception. Women who drank only one cup of coffee a day were shown to decrease their chances of conceiving by 10 percent.
Why caffeine can have such dramatic effects on a woman’s fertility is still not known. The strongest theory is that the stimulant qualities of caffeine can cause a hormonal imbalance, which in turn affects ovulation.
Eliminating coffee from your daily life while trying to conceive is of the utmost importance for women who’ve been trying to conceive for some time without success.
All other caffeine-containing foods and drinks should be monitored to ensure their levels are not high enough to hamper your fertility.
It’s now accepted knowledge that women should not drink alcohol while pregnant. What’s not so common knowledge, however, is the harm alcohol can do to your fertility levels while you’re trying to conceive.
A study carried out by Johns Hopkins University revealed that women who never drank alcohol have a 25 percent chance of conceiving each month – the normal rate.
Women who drank just one alcoholic drink a week had a 17 percent chance of conceiving each month. That’s a difference that equates to a woman being one-third less likely to conceive each month.
Women who consume more than one alcoholic drink each week were shown to have a 12 percent chance of conceiving each month.
That’s 50 percent less likely when compared to a woman who consumes no alcohol.
Even one or two alcoholic beverages each week can halve your chances of conceiving.
For women who’ve been trying to conceive for some time without success, eliminating alcohol is a must, not a choice. Ideally, stop all alcohol consumption a month before you being trying to get pregnant.
There’s no reason why even strict vegetarians cannot have fertility levels equal to meat-eating women, and there’s no reason why their pregnancy and the health of their future baby should not be normal.
But vegetarians must be aware of their special needs to ensure they’re not compromising their chances to conceive.
One of the most important things a vegetarian can do is to identify any nutritional deficiencies they may have. If these deficiencies are identified and dealt with then fertility levels should return to normal.
Vegetarians can be divided into three groups – those who eat eggs, dairy products, and plants; those who eat dairy products and plants; and those who eat only plants.
This final group, vegans, obviously has the highest risk factor for having nutritional deficiencies, due to their lack of meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products from their diet.
One of the main problems encountered by all vegetarians is a lack of protein in their diet.
Proteins are made up of 21 different amino acids, and of those 21, 9 cannot be made in the body. They must come from your diet, or a protein deficiency will result. These 9 amino acids – known collectively as “essential amino acids” – are found in many plants.
However, only a few of these essential amino acids can be found in each type of plant, so vegetarians must effectively combine foods in their diet to ensure all essential amino acids are covered.
Examples of foods eaten together that complement each other and contain good quality amino acids are beans and rice, macaroni and cheese, and corn and black-eyed peas.
The more strict a vegetarian is the more difficult it will be to meet the recommended daily amount of amino acids. But if care is taken to consume the right combinations of foods, it can be accomplished.
Another concern for vegetarians is the level of zinc in their diets. Most people obtain the zinc in their diets in animals products. Vegetarians who wish to obtain the required zinc from vegetable sources should try to eat macaroni, potatoes and their skin, black-eyed peas, and green peas – all are good vegetarian sources of zinc.
This effort should be supplemented with a daily multivitamin, since consuming the recommended daily amount of zinc through these foods alone would be almost impossible.
Something else that vegetarians need to be aware of are deficiencies in iron and vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is a problem, in particular, since it is not found in any plant food.
Vegetarians who are unable to consume enough vitamin B12 through food should take a vitamin supplement. Good sources of vitamin B12 include milk, eggs, and fortified breakfast cereal.
A good daily multivitamin (preferably the prenatal variety) is essential for vegetarians. Consuming the required vitamins and minerals through food alone is unrealistic for vegetarians.
Having said that, a diet that’s balanced and varied and that contains as many of the fertility-enhancing vitamins and minerals as possible will still be of great benefit to non-meat eaters.
Foods to Avoid When You’re Trying to Conceive
As fertility-boosting as some foods can be, there are also many foods, when consumed regularly or in large amounts, that can actually reduce fertility – and in some cases, even prevent conception.
Believe it or not, the pea is one of the foods with the biggest potential to inhibit fertility levels.
It was back in the 1940s that scientists noticed that Tibet was home to one of the most stable populations on Earth. Researchers began to theorize, based on the popularity of the pea as a food source there, that this vegetable had anti-fertility properties.
It wasn’t long before there was scientific fact to back up the theories.
Researchers found a natural chemical in peas that appeared to have contraceptive effects. Further studies found that the pregnancy rate dropped by 60 percent in women taking the natural chemical in capsule form.
The sperm count in men who took the capsule was found to plummet by 50 percent.
More recently, studies carried out in the United States confirmed the anti-fertility effects of pea oil.
Peas should be avoided by men and women who are attempting to conceive, and throughout the duration of their pregnancy.
Soybeans contain large amounts of phytoestrogens – a plant form of estrogen that affects the body similarly to the estrogen that’s produced naturally in the body.
Women are often advised to eat plenty of soy foods as its phytoestrogens are beneficial in combating menopausal symptoms.
For women trying to conceive, though, the excess estrogen can potentially cause a hormonal imbalance, and this is known to interfere with ovulation and egg production.
Generally, soy-based foods are beneficial to women’s health. For women trying to conceive, however, it’s wise to cut back or stop altogether your intake of soy-based foods.
To maximize fertility, stop eating soy-based foods 3 or 4 months before you begin trying to conceive. Be aware that soy comes in many forms and can often be hidden in products such as flour, milk, lecithin, oils, and tempeh.
Textured vegetable protein is also soy-based and is frequently found in fast foods. These should be avoided while you try to conceive, along with tofu, which is found in many imitation meat products.
Peanut Butter and Spinach
Both peanut butter and spinach are known for their ability to reduce calcium levels. Latest research shows that each of these two foods can cause a dangerous depletion of calcium, a mineral that’s essential for pregnant women and women trying to conceive.
Peanut butter and spinach should therefore be on your list of foods to avoid.
All artificial sweeteners should be avoided where possible. Saccharin and aspartame are particularly important to remove from your diet. Many studies suggest that these artificial sweeteners are not safe to consume while you’re pregnant or while you’re trying to conceive.
Be aware that aspartame is often sold under the brand names NutraSweet and Equal, both of which should be avoided.
Rare Red Meat
The virus toxoplasmosis is often present in undercooked red meet. This is potentially harmful to your unborn baby. For this reason, rare red meat should be avoided.
Excessive amounts of sugar in the diet can exacerbate the effects of hypoglycaemia, or low blood sugar. Low blood sugar can unsettle levels of the reproductive hormones, potentially inhibiting your fertility.
The particularly high sugar content in most sodas and candy make them foods to restrict or cut out altogether.
Some fats are required by the body for essential functions, but saturated fat should be avoided or seriously limited. Foods that are fried or contain high levels of tropical oils such as coconut oil and palm oil should certainly be avoided.
Foods containing large amounts of saturated fat have been shown to cause an estrogen overload, which can lead to complications such as endometriosis.
Cutting the majority of the saturated fats from your diet will also decrease your risk of concerns such as cancer and heart disease.
Monosodium glutamate, commonly referred to as MSG, has long been known to cause a number of sensitivity problems. It’s only recently, though, that it’s been linked with the potential to negatively affect fertility.
Animal studies carried out at North-Eastern University discovered that ingesting MSG before attempting to conceive decreased conception rates by more than 50 percent.
When pregnancy did occur, the resulting offspring were found to be less healthy than in animals that had not ingested MSG.
A lesser known food preservative is BHA. BHA has been found to mimic the effects of estrogen when consumed by women, disrupting the body’s natural hormonal balance.
Research for both MSG and BHA, and their effects on fertility, is in its early stages and therefore limited. Much of the research carried out has been in animals, rather than humans.
In general, though, factors that prove harmful to animals’ fertility often turn out to prove harmful to humans’ fertility. Because of this, foods containing MSG and BHA should be avoided before you attempt to conceive, and throughout your pregnancy.
9 Ways You Can Eat and Drink to Boost Your Fertility
Keeping in mind all that we’ve discussed in this post, here are 9 very specific things you can do to maximize your fertility:
- Eat frequent, small meals.
- Eat a diet that contains protein, fat, and carbs in the correct proportions: protein 20 to 30 percent; carbs 60 to 70 percent; fats 5 to 10 percent.
- Take a good quality daily multivitamin, preferably a prenatal one.
- Ensure your multivitamin contains the recommended daily amounts of the vital fertility-enhancing vitamins and minerals: Zinc, Iron, Folic Acid, Vitamin C, and Magnesium. If one or more fall below the recommended amount, supplement with dedicated vitamins.
- Take a dedicated iron supplement, on top of your daily multivitamin, if you’ve ever suffered with anaemia.
- Stop drinking caffeinated drinks. Ideally, cut all caffeine from your diet a month before you begin trying to get pregnant.
- Stop drinking alcoholic drinks. Ideally, stop all alcohol consumption a month before you begin trying to get pregnant.
- Avoid eating peas and soy-based foods before you begin trying to get pregnant, and throughout your pregnancy.
- Take care to consume little or no MSG, BHA, rare red meat, peanut butter, spinach, and sugary sodas.