One of the best things you can do while trying to conceive (TTC) is to eat a well-balanced, nutritional diet. Experts have found that the food you eat can affect your chances of conception, either negatively or positively. With that in mind, it is important to think about what you are putting into your body during this time and to try to adopt a fertility diet that is loaded with foods that increase your chances of conception.
You may have heard claims that there is one particular food that magically skyrockets your chances of conception, but experts tend to disagree with that notion. Instead of zoning in on one or two particular foods when TTC, it is likely much more effective to just focus on incorporating all-around healthy eating habits when planning your fertility diet. Splurges are, of course, allowed here and there! I am personally a proponent of the “everything in moderation” mentality.
If you’re wondering what types of foods you should include in your fertility diet to help increase your chances of conception, you’ve come to the right place! We’re going to talk all about the key food groups, vitamins, and nutrients for TTC. We’ll also discuss some great examples of food sources for each one along with some foods that should be limited or avoided during this time.
Things to Keep in Mind
Before we get started, I want to point out that I am not a doctor, and my advice is solely based on extensive research. Aside from these fertility diet suggestions, each person is unique and may have additional nutritional needs that need to be addressed via specific supplements. I strongly recommend discussing your intended fertility diet with your healthcare provider to ensure it is right for you.
Similarly, this list is not exhaustive. I discuss some of the main fertility-boosting vitamins and minerals here, but there are certainly others that are beneficial for fertility and general health as well. I encourage you to start by focusing on these and add or adjust accordingly based on your conversation with your healthcare provider.
Lastly, I want to mention that implementing and maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet is not just wonderful for trying to conceive. It is also extremely important for pregnancy, breastfeeding, and your overall health in general!
When planning your fertility diet, I would recommend starting out by trying to keep things simple. Think about the main food groups, and make sure you are hitting them all in a balanced way.
TTC Benefits: Incorporating enough protein into your diet is thought to help regulate your hormones, body weight, and ovulatory function. It also helps support embryo development and survival. Plant-based proteins and lean meat are best.
Example Food Sources: chicken, turkey, lean beef, quinoa, chickpeas, peanuts, chia seeds, salmon, shrimp, eggs
TTC Benefits: Incorporating enough healthy fats into your diet is thought to help regulate ovulation and decrease inflammation. It also helps with hormone production and sperm quality and health. These are the fats that are actually good for you that can be found in fish, oils, nuts, and seeds.
Example Food Sources: salmon, olive oil, avocado, walnuts, flaxseeds
Vegetables and Fruits
TTC Benefits: Incorporating enough vegetables and fruits into your diet is thought to help decrease inflammation and lower your chances of miscarriage. You should focus on consuming vegetables and fruits of all different colors as they each provide different nutrients and benefits. Dark green leafy vegetables are some of the best!
Example Food Sources:
- Vegetables: kale, spinach, bok choy, lettuce, red cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, asparagus, garlic, brussels sprouts
- Fruits: strawberries, bananas, blueberries, apples, grapefruit, pineapple, grapes, tomatoes
Benefits of TTC: Incorporating enough full-fat dairy into your diet can help support ovulation. Studies have shown that choosing full-fat dairy options over low-fat dairy can help decrease your risk of ovulation issues.
Example Food Sources: full-fat greek yogurt, whole milk, full-fat cheeses
Benefits of TTC: Incorporating enough whole wheat and whole grain foods into your diet can help regulate your hormones and support ovulation. They are also thought to help improve the quality of the uterine lining for implantation.
Example Food Sources: brown rice, oatmeal, whole-wheat bread or pasta
Fertility Considerations: Added sugars are thought to have an adverse effect on fertility for both women and men. (We’ll discuss more on this in the Foods to Avoid or Limit section.) It’s okay to splurge every once in a while, but moderation is key! If you want something sweet without being too unhealthy, try to focus on options that are more natural and/or lower in sugar like the ones listed below.
Example Food Sources: fruits, dark chocolate
Key Vitamins and Minerals
Building off the main food groups and healthy ways to approach each of them, we can next take a more detailed look at the key vitamins and minerals we should focus on when planning an ideal fertility diet. If you are eating a healthy, balanced diet as outlined in the food groups section above, you are likely already hitting many of these. That being said, it’s still extremely helpful to give each of these vitamins and minerals some extra attention to make sure you’ve identified your sources for them.
As discussed in my post on 10 Steps to Take Before TTC, most health and fertility experts also recommend supplementing your healthy diet with a prenatal vitamin. This will help ensure that any gaps in your diet are filled in order to meet the daily recommended amounts of each of these vitamins and minerals.
Just remember that a prenatal vitamin is not a replacement for a healthy diet and doesn’t magically give you the ability to go back to eating lots of unhealthy foods. It should be taken as a supplement to an already-healthy diet to ensure those daily minimums are being hit. If you’re wondering how in the world you would know how much you need of these vitamins and minerals each day, the American Pregnancy Association (APA) has a great resource for identifying daily recommended amounts.
If you’re looking for a prenatal vitamin that offers a great mix of nutrients, quality, and cost, check out Nature Made Prenatal Multivitamins. They cover the recommended daily amounts (with the exception of calcium, which you can make sure to get from your diet), comes highly rated, and provides great value for the cost. I will also be doing a separate post soon specifically on prenatal vitamins, so stay tuned!
TTC Benefits: Folate is technically a B-vitamin (B-9) but is worth mentioning separately. It is thought to support ovulation health and sperm health.
Example Food Sources: black beans, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, lettuce, eggs, fortified cereals, oranges, lemons, beets, brussels sprouts
TTC Benefits: B-Vitamins (namely, Vitamin B-6, B-12, and Choline) are thought to support ovulation and progesterone production.
Example Food Sources: chicken, turkey, beef, eggs, chickpeas, brown rice, almonds, broccoli, kale, lentils, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, tilapia, carrots
TTC Benefits: Vitamin C is thought to be a powerful antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation, assist with progesterone production, and boost your immune system. It is also thought to support egg health, cycle regulation, and sperm health and motility.
Example Food Sources: kale, spinach, strawberries, dark chocolate, pecans, tomatoes, potatoes, pineapple
TTC Benefits: Vitamin D is thought to help regulate your reproductive hormones, reduce inflammation, and boost your immune system.
Example Food Sources: salmon, tuna, sardines, eggs, mushrooms (getting moderate amounts of sunlight can help tremendously as well)
TTC Benefits: Like Vitamin C, Vitamin E is also thought to be a powerful antioxidant that supports egg health, cycle regulation, and sperm health.
Example Food Sources: avocado, almonds, peanut butter, spinach, red bell pepper, asparagus, pine nuts, granola
TTC Benefits: Iron is thought to help decrease the chances of ovulatory issues such as failure to ovulate.
Example Food Sources: eggs, fish, tomatoes, red meat, broccoli, spinach, cashews, kidney beans, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, turkey, dark chocolate
TTC Benefits: Zinc is thought to help support sperm quality and health.
Example Food Sources: oysters, eggs, pumpkin seeds, crab, chickpeas, red meat, dark chocolate
TTC Benefits: Calcium is thought to help support sperm motility and promote hormonal balance, ovulation, and embryo development.
Example Food Sources: broccoli, cabbage, chia seeds, milk, cheese, yogurt, sardines, white beans, almonds, collard greens, spinach, kale
Omega 3's / DHA
TTC Benefits: Omega 3’s (particularly DHA) are thought to support ovulation, egg quality, and sperm quality.
Example Food Sources: salmon, tuna, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, anchovies, sardines
TTC Benefits: Selenium is thought to help lower inflammation which can, in turn, help promote successful implantation. It is also thought to support egg health and sperm health.
Example Food Sources: brazil nuts, spinach, shrimp, tuna, tilapia, dark chocolate, pork, turkey, eggs, brown rice, mushrooms, bananas
Foods to Avoid or Limit
When planning out your fertility diet, it also just as important to think about foods that you should avoid or limit while TTC. Eating the healthy foods we discussed above can do wonders for your fertility, but its benefits might be limited if you are also still eating foods that are unhealthy or foods that can adversely affect your fertility. We don’t want to have a “one step forward two steps backward” situation on our hands!
However, keep in mind that moderation is key! The purpose of this list is not to tell you that you have to completely cut out these foods. The purpose is to bring attention to some foods that may adversely affect fertility in large quantities so that you can make educated decisions on how to adjust your fertility diet accordingly.
It is thought that a diet with too much added sugars can adversely affect fertility in both women in men. For women, a higher intake of added sugars can increase insulin which can, in turn, hinder ovarian growth hormones and egg maturation. For men, a higher intake of added sugars can lower sperm motility.
Examples of foods high in added sugars include candy, pastries, doughnuts, and sweetened drinks. It is perfectly fine to splurge on occasion, but added sugars should be consumed infrequently and in moderation. If you’re craving something sweet, try to reach for options that are more natural and/or lower in added sugar such as fruits and dark chocolate.
A high intake of saturated fats has been found to adversely affect fertility in both women and men. For women, it can disrupt egg development and maturity. For men, it can reduce sperm concentration and sperm count.
Examples of foods high in saturated fats are fatty beef, poultry skins, and butter. While it is perfectly fine to splurge on these every once in a while, they should not be a main part of your diet. Try to instead focus on consuming the foods we discussed above such as lean meats, fruits, and vegetables.
Excessive amounts of soy intake has been found to potentially decrease fertility by disturbing the female reproductive hormones, increasing menstrual cycle lengths, and disrupting ovulation. It can also decrease sperm count in men.
Examples of foods containing soy include soybeans, tofu, and soymilk. The good news is that experts believe it takes very high levels of soy to cause these effects, so don’t feel like you need to strictly limit or completely cut out soy. It is thought that as long as you are not consuming more than 60 grams of soy per day, there should not be any effects on fertility.
Many people associate the need for limiting alcohol with pregnancy, but it can also be important while TTC. Engaging in excessive drinking can decrease fertility in both women and men. For women, it can disrupt hormone levels, menstrual cycles, and ovulation. For men, it can cause lower testosterone levels and decreased sperm health.
If you want to be on the safe side, you can completely cut out alcohol. The Mayo Clinic encourages avoiding alcohol completely when trying to conceive since a safe amount of alcohol consumption hasn’t been established.
There are many conflicting opinions and beliefs regarding the safety of drinking alcohol while TTC. I encourage you to speak with your healthcare provider and to do what you are personally comfortable with.
The main source of caffeine that most people instantly think of is coffee, but there are other sources of caffeine as well such as chocolate and sodas. Experts have found conflicting results regarding the relationship between caffeine and fertility.
Some studies have shown that consuming large amounts of caffeine can increase your risk of miscarriage and decrease overall fertility, but other studies have shown that there is no significant relationship. If you want to be extra cautious just in case, many experts recommend limiting your caffeine intake to no more than 200 mg per day. For reference, 200 mg of caffeine is the equivalent of about 1-2 cups of coffee.
So much of fertility (for both women and men) is dependent upon what you’re putting into your body. Incorporating a healthy, well-balanced fertility diet can do wonders for your chances of conceiving and, of course, your overall health in general. If incorporating the aspects we discussed into your diet sounds completely overwhelming or would be a major shift for you, remember to be patient with yourself. You don’t have to do everything all at once! Make small changes each day to improve your diet over time because every little bit helps.
Adopting a healthier diet gradually over time will allow you to change your eating habits in a sustainable way. It can even change your cravings and preferences for the better. It sounds too good to be true, but studies have shown that eating healthily over time lowers cravings for unhealthy foods.
That being said, allowing yourself to splurge here and there can help avoid going into a “strict diet” mentality and to instead adopt a healthy but reasonable diet that you can commit to long term. Moderation and balance are key!
In addition to eating a healthy, well-balanced fertility diet, there are several other activities you should consider focusing on prior to TTC. Check out my post on 10 Steps to Take Before TTC for a super helpful checklist!
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