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Food and Fertility

January 8, 2015

You probably know that eating a nutritious diet and living a healthy lifestyle (which includes exercising, keeping yourweight under control, and cutting back on alcohol, among other things) is a great way to increases your chances of conceiving. What you may not know, however, is that researchers have found that beyond eating a generally healthy diet, there are some foods (fertility foods) that may be helpful when trying to conceive. In addition, there are some less healthy foods that may be harmful to your ability to conceive . And note, while there is no one food that will guarantee pregnancy, there are definitely some foods you should consume and other foods you should leave behind!


Dairy: Dairy is rich in calcium, a nutrient that’s essential not just for bone health but also for reproductive health. So it pays to bone up on dairy (that includes milk, yogurt, and cheese) when you’re TTC. While you’re donning a milk mustache, try a full-fat one once a day — particularly if you have ovulation issues: Some researchers think that one serving of whole milk (or even full-fat ice cream) can decrease the risk of ovulatory infertility. But remember that just one serving of full-fat dairy a day is all you need. Any more than that will just pack on pounds (and hinder your TTC efforts). Not down with dairy? You can also find calcium in other fertility foods such as leafy greens, canned salmon with bones, tofu, almonds, and fortified juices. Aim for about 1,000 mg of calcium daily. And keep up the calcium quotient when you get pregnant since it’s crucial for the development of your baby-to-be’s bones and teeth.

  • Lean protein: Animal protein such as lean turkey, chicken, and beef are chock-full of iron. And studies show that there’s a link between iron and fertility: Women who have enough iron have a higher fertility rate than women who are deficient in the nutrient. So pump up your intake of lean animal protein to about two servings a day — but make sure to stay away from the high-fat variety and avoid more than three daily servings since research shows that too much protein (even lean protein) can decrease fertility. In fact, consider swapping out one serving of animal protein for a serving of plant protein, in such fertility foods as beans, tofu, or quinoa. If you’re not eating any animal protein, you may want to make sure your prenatal vitamin has iron.

  • Complex carbohydrates: Eating complex carbohydrates (whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits) as opposed to refined carbohydrates (like white bread, white rice, or sugary snacks) may increase fertility. How? Digesting refined carbs causes an increase in blood sugar and insulin in the body — and increased insulin levels can disrupt reproductive hormones and interfere with the menstrual cycle (and who wants a messed up cycle when TTC?). Complex carbs, on the other hand, take longer to digest and don’t cause spikes in insulin levels. What’s more, complex carbs may even promote regular ovulation. Another bonus to eating complex carbs like whole grains? They contain multiple nutrients, including folic acid, which increases fertility and decreases the incidence of neural-tube defects in a fetus, which can occur early in pregnancy — even before you know you’ve got a baby on board. Of course, when it comes to folic acid, more is better, so choose a prenatal vitamin with that has at least 400 mcg.

  • Fatty fish: The omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and herring have some big, fat fertility-boosting benefits. They may help to regulate reproductive hormones, increase blood flow to reproductive organs, and relieve stress (stress has been shown to be a surefire fertility buster). What if you’re not a fan of fish? You can get omega-3 fatty acids from other fertility foods such as flaxseed, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and enriched eggs. You can also talk with your health-care practitioner about supplementing with omega-3s.

  • Wild yams: Some experts think that this Thanksgiving staple contains a substance that may help stimulate ovulation. In fact, populations that eat a lot of wild yams have a high rate of twins. When it comes to fertility foods, this one may have double the effect!

  • Berries: Blueberries and raspberries are particularly packed with antioxidants, which help prevent damage and aging to your body’s cells — and this includes cells in your reproductive system — namely, your eggs. So a diet that’s rich in berries may help keep your eggs healthy and increase their shelf life.

  • Oysters: The oyster is famous for being an aphrodisiac and for good reason — it contains zinc, which is crucial for conception. Zinc deficiency can disrupt the menstrual cycle and slow the production of good-quality eggs. What if you simply can’t swallow the idea of swallowing this fertility food? You can find zinc — though less of it — in such fertility foods as beef, poultry, dairy, nuts, eggs, whole grains, and legumes. Or you can get zinc from your prenatal vitamin.

Baby-Busting Foods

  • High-mercury fish: Mercury has been linked with infertility. It’s also known to be harmful to your developing baby-to-be, so you’ll want to avoid eating any high-mercury fish while TTC, especially swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, tuna steak, and shark.

  • Trans fats: Researchers have found that the more trans fats in a woman’s diet, the greater her likelihood of developing ovulatory infertility. Trans fats (also called hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils) are found in processed and fried foods (packaged snacks and doughnuts, to name a few). So read nutrition labels carefully to avoid trans fats, and stick to polyunsaturated fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, and sunflower seeds) and monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil).

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