If you’re one of thousands of people currently struggling to conceive, swapping your usual diet for a fertility diet can be one simple lifestyle change that can boost your chances of becoming pregnant.
While you can’t guarantee fertility, when it comes to how to get pregnant, you can make lifestyle choices that give you the best chance. For both men and women, what you eat affects the likelihood of pregnancy.
Popularized by Harvard researchers in 2007, the term fertility diet was coined after they noticed a pattern between the nutritional choices women were making and whether or not they became pregnant. Since then, research interest into the area of male and female fertility has boomed, resulting in an avalanche of information that can often feel overwhelming for those of us trying to conceive.
To help make things a little easier, we’ve sifted through the research and consulted an expert for their perspective, unpacking the science behind the fertility diet so that you feel empowered to make informed decisions about what to eat — and what not to eat.
Often, nutritional advice focuses solely on women. But it takes two to tango. It’s crucial to consider both partner’s food choices. We’ll cover what men and women should eat as part of a fertility diet — and the differences may surprise you.
Seek advice from a health professional if you’ve been trying to conceive for 12 months if you’re a woman under 35, and six months if you’re over 35. If you suspect you might be pregnant or simply want to know what to look out for, our guide ‘Am I pregnant?’ outlines the early signs to watch for.
How does diet affect fertility?
According to the CDC (opens in new tab), many factors influence fertility, including stress levels, exercise, and genetics. Nutrition also plays a significant role. By adapting your diet, you can feel more empowered and increase your chances.
“A healthy diet correlates with better sperm quality, including sperm count,” says Theresa Gentile (opens in new tab), registered dietitian and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Conversely, obesity and a high fat diet affect the structure of sperm and sperm count. Obesity also negatively affects female fertility.”
Gentile is the coordinator of the home enteral nutrition program at Maimonides Medical Center. She owns a nutrition consulting practice where she focuses on cardiac health and weight management by improving women's metabolism. Gentile earned undergraduate and master’s degrees from CUNY Brooklyn College.
The 2007 Harvard study published in the Obstetrics and Gynecology (opens in new tab) journal on the fertility diet scored the healthiness of women’s diets. They discovered a strong link between a healthy diet and a reduced risk of infertility.
Other research has confirmed similar findings with men. One review, published in Vitamin and Nutrition Research (opens in new tab), concluded that men with unhealthy diets were more likely to have reduced sperm quantity and quality.
If you want to become pregnant, the foundations of healthy eating still apply. You don't need to drastically change your diet if you eat well already. If there’s room for improvement, small changes make a difference.
What foods are good for fertility?
So what exactly does a fertility diet look like? A nutrient-dense, balanced diet can improve your chances of becoming pregnant. Let’s break down the key components.
Fruit and veg
No surprises here. Fill your plate with a variety of fruit and veg to maximize your nutrient intake. One 2018 study, published in Human Reproduction (opens in new tab), linked low vegetable consumption with an increased time to pregnancy.
Fats often get a bad reputation, but certain types are beneficial and have a place in a healthy diet. The secret? Focus on monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These include avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
“Monounsaturated fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids may have a beneficial effect on the growth and maturation of eggs and decrease the risk of not ovulating,” says Gentile.
With men, greater consumption of omega-3 fats is associated with better sperm quality, according to a 2012 study in Human Reproduction (opens in new tab).
- Read more: Nine healthy foods that contain fat
Not only are whole grains associated with improved heart health, they can also raise your chances of conceiving.
“In the Nurses' Health Study, women experienced lower risk of infertility if they consumed high amounts of whole grains, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated oils, vegetables, fruits, and fish,” says Gentile. Opt for choices like rye bread, quinoa, and brown rice.
If you want to conceive, lean proteins are a smart choice. One 2019 review published in the Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology (opens in new tab) journal found that eating a high proportion of plant-based protein relative to animal protein favored fertility in both men and women. If you eat meat, choose lean versions like fish and poultry rather than red or processed meats.
While a fertility diet is similar for men and women, you may be surprised by the differences with dairy. Consuming whole-fat milk can benefit female fertility, but men should stick to low-fat products like skimmed milk, according to the same 2019 review cited above.
Are any foods bad for fertility?
So what foods do you need to minimize as part of a fertility diet? An unhealthy diet can increase inflammation, which reduces the chances of conception. “This inflammatory diet is characterized by high animal protein intake, saturated trans fatty acids and refined carbohydrates,” explains Gentile. “It is low in fiber and unsaturated fatty acids.”
If you want to conceive, minimize your intake of processed foods. These are often high in calories and low in nutrients. Watch out for processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and refined carbs.
Processed foods often contain saturated and trans fats. “In women, trans fatty acids may increase insulin resistance and heighten the risk of diabetes, metabolic disorders, and polycystic ovarian syndrome, which can negatively affect fertility,” says Gentile.
Trans fats can hamper fertility in men too. “They’re associated with poor sperm quality and lower sperm count,” she cautions.
Try preparing your favorite meals using whole foods instead to avoid the feeling of missing out.
There is debate about whether or not caffeine has a negative impact on fertility. “Most research studies do not show an association between moderate coffee consumption and male fertility,” says Gentile.
With women, the picture is different. “Much research indicates that high caffeine consumption may be associated with an increased time to achieve pregnancy and a heightened risk of pregnancy loss,” she adds.
Alcohol is linked to reduced fertility, though there’s uncertainty about what level increases the risk, according to a 2013 review published in the Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology (opens in new tab) journal.
“An association between chronic alcohol consumption and poor semen quality has been reported in many studies,” says Gentile. “There is evidence that alcohol consumption, especially heavy drinking, correlates with reduced fertility and a higher risk of developing menstrual disorders.”
This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice.