We all know we are what we eat. Most of us know how to count calories and grams of fat, good and bad, fiber requirements and getting plenty of fruits and vegetables. Our food also greatly affects our fertility.
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Most women (and men) have dieted for weight loss or gain at some point in their life. Some work, most don’t.
It usually all comes down to eating a well-rounded diet with a variety of foods and dong everything in moderation. However, when it comes to fertility and pregnancy, there actually is a certain diet to achieve greater success.
With this diet, there are a number of foods and beverages to include and some to definitely avoid to enhance fertility or fight infertility. Fixing your diet is the most natural and inexpensive way to enhance your overall health and your chances of conceiving as well. A healthy diet will also prepare your body for the least complicated and most painless pregnancy too.
What to Eat for Optimal Fertility
The basic plan – as laid out in The Fertility Diet by a trio of Harvard doctors – is based upon a diet that consists of the “true fertility foods” such as: whole grains, the good fats (ie those from cold-water fish, nuts and seeds), vegetable-based protein, and even a bit of ice cream.
A diet with these elements as well as a wide variety of fruits and vegetables of all colors and shapes will most likely provide you with all of the nutrients you need to maximize your body’s ability to create and nurture life.
The ingredients should be the most natural possible, minimizing pasteurization, hormones, chemicals and any kind of processing. This means scouring your local produce shelves and farmers’ markets for organic, local foods and a mostly plant-based diet. Women with diets highest in plants and lowest in sugar and trans fats have been found to have the highest chances to conceive. Some of the most important nutrients are:
- Vitamins C and E. These apply to both men and women and help to produce the healthiest sperm and eggs. They are also both antioxidants that minimize damage to cells from the environment and aging. Vitamin C is most readily available in citrus fruits, red pepper, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Vitamin E is found in leafy greens like spinach, almonds and sunflower seeds.
- Vitamin D. This vitamin initiates the body’s production of hormones and ovulation. It can usually be acquired through sunlight but is also available in liver oil, eggs and fish (cold water fish is best for fertility).
- Iron and Folate.These elements are essential for both fertility and a healthy pregnancy. Both are also very important for healthy eggs and embryos during pregnancy. Iron is found in meat (try for local, free range and grass fed) as well as legumes like lentils and kidney beans.Many foods contain both iron and folate. These include dark leafy greens (spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, kale), brussel sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, citrus fruits and avocado.
- Selenium. Selenium is a mineral that is recommended for both men and women. Selenium helps protect the body, as well as sperm and eggs, from free radicals that not only make conception difficult but also causes miscarriages. It is present naturally in many foods including: tuna, eggs, oats, sunflower seeds, rice and cottage cheese.
- Zinc is essential for both men and women. It facilitates cell division and maintains the balance of hormones necessary for reproduction. In men, it is one of the most effective minerals and directly affects fertility, increasing the function and quality of sperm and its motility. Zinc is found in liver, beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, yogurt and peas.
- L-carnitine protects the uterus from endometriosis and promotes healthy sperm. It is mainly found in meat and dairy (thus the ice cream in your fertility diet), but is also available in avocado, peanut butter, tempeh and wheat.
- Omega 3 fatty acids. These increase fertility by regulating hormone balance, promoting ovulation and blood flow to reproductive organs. Omega 3s can be found in salmon, flax seed, sardines and walnuts.
- Water. Drinking plenty of filtered or bottled water is essential to keep all systems of the body working at top performance as well as flushing toxins through the body and helping all of the nutrients in these foods get to where they are going by providing a healthy digestive system.
Foods to Avoid
Many of the foods and drinks to avoid are common sense and should be incorporated into your life that extends past fertility issues and pregnancy.
For women, alcohol and caffeine can not only inhibit fertility but also end pregnancy. They should be off the table at least until the third trimester, and even then still only on rare occasions.
For men, caffeine should be minimized as much as possible and alcohol avoided as it can affect sperm production and motility as well as sexual performance.
Mass produced meats and unfermented soy products should be avoided as well. They all contain trace amounts of estrogen (meat and dairy) or xenohormones (soy). Eating these will upset your hormonal balance and potentially damage sperm and eggs.
Dairy also has unhealthy fats and a variety of hormones and antibiotics that can affect the body’s reproductive system. Women who have less than one serving of dairy a day have a 50% higher chance of conceiving because of all of the hormones used on dairy cows. Look for organic or natural milk from grass-feed cows and free of growth hormones.
Processed carbohydrates and sugars can cause insulin levels to fluctuate, which will affect the motility and productivity of sperm and eggs. The processed sugars and insulin will also impact the general health of the mother and put her at risk for gestational diabetes, all of which can cause a fetus to have developmental issues. Trans fats need to be very closely limited. A person trying to conceive should keep them to less than 2 grams a day.
The best diet for fertility is one that stays as natural as possible, avoiding fat and processed or mass produced foods and including as many servings of plant based foods a day as possible.
Here are a few recipes that pack protein and plenty of fertility-friendly nutrients into healthy, low fat dishes with tons of flavor. They also have fairly short prep and cooking times with guaranteed leftovers.
Island Style Red Beans and Rice (Adapted from from Babymed.com)
Every culture has a beans recipe, and for good reason – beans supply a high dose of fiber, protein, antioxidants, vitamins and are low in sugar. This recipe includes other fertility foods such as peppers, garlic, and the healthy unsaturated fats from olive oil.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Poblano mild chili peppers, seeded and chopped
- 1 onion, diced
- 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 cups organic vegetable broth
- 2 cups of brown rice, cooked
- Heat a sauce pan over medium high heat. Add olive oil
- Add garlic, onion, pepper and cilantro. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until soft.
- Add the beans, tomato sauce, oregano, salt and pepper.
- Pour in the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat and simmer for around 30 minutes, or until liquid is reduced
- Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, make brown rice according to package directions.
- Serve the bean mixture on top of the rice.
Red and Green Frittata (from the book Cooking to Conceive)
(Serves 6 to 8)
- 6 cups broccoli, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into slices
- 8 eggs
- 1/4 cup milk
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 cup grated white cheddar, provolone or gouda cheese, divided
- 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- Steam the broccoli until just cooked
- Preheat the oven to 375°F
- In a large bowl, mix the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl. Stir in the broccoli, red pepper, half the white cheese and half the Parmesan cheese.
- Heat olive oil in an oven-proof pan over medium heat. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and cook for 3 minutes. Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese.
- Put the pan to the oven and bake until the frittata is set in the center and slightly puffed up, about 15 minutes.
- Let cool, cut into wedges and serve!
For more awesome recipes, check out The Pregnancy Miracle guide, and it’s sister guide, “Eating To Conceive“