If you’re trying to have a baby, you are probably wondering what things you can do to increase your fertility. Many factors, including food choices, affect a person’s fertility. In this article, we dive into the fertility diet and different foods that help to optimize fertility.
What is fertility?
Before we dig into the different food choices, it’s important to understand why fertility diets are a hot topic and why we’re still learning more about how food does play a role in the process of having a child.
Fertility is an individual’s potential for having a baby. Although many people associate fertility with the female gender, it also refers to the reproductive capacity in the male gender. About 50% of infertility cases are traced back to female complications, 20% back to male factors, and the remaining 30% is associated with combined male and female factors or to unknown issues.1
The diversity of experiences with fertility makes it difficult to identify the exact prevalence of infertility. The CDC estimates that about 9% of married women are infertile, while up to 16% have impaired fertility.2
As many individuals struggle to conceive, modifying what you eat may be one way you can support your natural ability to have a baby.
What is the fertility diet?
The fertility diet eating pattern was first published in 2007 by a team of Harvard researchers.3 They examined data from a large, long-term study that included more than 100,000 women. The goal was to learn what women ate and how often they got pregnant to see if there was any connection.
The researchers found that women with ovulatory infertility who followed specific eating habits had a 66% lower risk of infertility.4
The diet included:
- Choosing less trans-fat and more monounsaturated fats
- Opting for more plant proteins and less animal products
- Eating more high-fiber, low-glycemic foods
- Choosing high-fat dairy instead of low-fat dairy
- Taking multivitamins
The general theme of the fertility diet is eating foods that are rich in fat and choosing whole grains for carbohydrates.
Since then, researchers have continued to study how different foods play a role in reproductive health. Yet, there is still much to learn.5
Key nutrients from the fertility diet
When you’re trying to get pregnant, your body needs extra nutrients in order to support growing a baby. Some of these key nutrients include:
- Folate/folic acid
- Omega-3 fatty acids
The most effective way to stay healthy is to be consistent with nutrient intake. So eating more of these key nutrients even before you want to get pregnant is recommended.
Foods to boost your odds of conception
There are certain foods that are rich in the key nutrients. These foods may be beneficial to include in your diet if you want to optimize your diet for fertility:
- Citrus fruits
- Beans and lentils
- Egg yolks
- Whole milk
- Green leafy vegetables
Benefits of the fertility diet
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle, and that includes the fertility diet. Successful eating plans need to be personalized to you and your needs. Yet, the fertility diet is designed to increase the possibility of getting pregnant by making changes to your diet and even your physical activity.
There are pros and cons to every diet. This diet is no different.
- The fertility diet includes recommendations that are considered healthy for most people.
- It emphasizes eating plant-based foods, which are rich in nutrients and antioxidants.
- The diet encourages eating less high-sugar foods.
- Despite the fact the diet is not a weight-loss diet, it does encourage you to count calories.
- Following the diet may be more expensive if you do have good access to food.
- For some individuals, the iron recommendations may be too high. It’s important to talk with your health care provider or dietitian about how much iron you need so you don’t overdo it.
- The diet doesn’t emphasize culture-specific foods. For some individuals, some foods may be unfamiliar and disconnected from their family.
Is the fertility diet right for you?
It’s important to note and accept that not a single food or diet can cure conditions that cause infertility. This is particularly notable when a person has structural issues that affect the process of conceiving. For example, if a person’s fallopian tubes are damaged in a way that blocks sperm from fertilizing an egg, there aren’t any dietary changes you can make that would heal the damage to the tubes.
Food selection and lifestyle choices can help improve your overall health. Changes in your diet may have a significant impact on your fertility.
The fertility diet aligns with many of the federal guidelines for healthy eating. The major difference between the USDA federal guidelines and the fertility diet is the dairy recommendations. The USDA recommends consuming low-fat and non-fat varieties first.
In general, the fertility diet is a healthy choice. It may improve your overall well-being and maximize the nutrients that play a role in fertility.
|Learn how ZYTO can help you make better dietary choices based on the body’s unique energetic responses.|
3 fertility diet recipes
Recipes that focus on specific ingredients can help nourish your body and potentially increase fertility. Here are 3 great fertility diet recipes containing these ingredients that may improve your odds of getting pregnant.
Shakshuka is a classic dish from North Africa and the Middle East. The recipe is easy to modify but traditionally combines simmering tomatoes, onions, garlic, spices, and eggs. It’s nourishing and is high in the nutrients that help support fertility health, like protein and antioxidants. Adding cheese highlights the fertility diet’s guidelines for consuming higher fat dairy.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
- 6 large eggs
- Salt and pepper
- Crumbled feta or goat cheese (optional)
- 1 small bunch cilantro, chopped (optional)
- Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper and cook for about 5 minutes or until the onion becomes translucent.
- Gently stir in the garlic and spices.
- Pour in the tomatoes. Break any large chunk of tomatoes using a large wooden spoon.
- Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Use the spoon to make 6 small wells in the sauce. Crack an egg into each well. Cover the pan and cook for 5-8 minutes or until the eggs are done to your preference.
- Crumble any toppings, like feta cheese or cilantro.
2. Baked apples with cherries and almonds
Apples are high in fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants. They are an excellent option for dessert or when you’re craving something sweeter. Baking apples brings out the sweetness and absorbs other flavors from other ingredients, like almonds. This recipe also includes wheat germ, which is a good source of magnesium (a key nutrient for fertility).
- 1/3 cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped
- 3 tablespoons chopped almonds
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon wheat germ
- 1 tablespoon firmly packed brown sugar
- 6 small Golden Delicious apples, about 1 3/4 pounds total weight (can leave unpeeled)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup apple juice
- 2 teaspoons walnut oil or canola oil
- 2 tablespoons honey
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Toss the cherries, almonds, nutmeg, cinnamon, wheat germ, and brown sugar in a small bowl until all the ingredients are evenly distributed.
- Core each apple, stopping 3/4 inch from the bottom.
- Divide the cherry and almond mixture evenly among the apples. Press the mixture gently into each apple. Place the apples upright in a heavy ovenproof frying pan or small baking dish just large enough to hold them. Pour the water and apple juice into the pan. Drizzle the oil and honey evenly over the apples and cover the pan with aluminum foil.
- Bake until the apples are tender when pierced with a knife, 50 to 60 minutes.
- Transfer the apples to individual plates and drizzle with the pan juices. Serve warm or at room temperature.
3. Tuscan white bean stew
Legumes offer a reliable and budget-friendly protein source. They are also high in fiber, vitamins, and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. This recipe focuses on plant-based protein that is high in flavor and fertility-boosting nutrients. I’ve also included an easy recipe for homemade croutons, which helps you avoid any unnecessary added ingredients often found in store-bought croutons.
For the croutons:
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, quartered
- 1 slice whole-grain bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
For the soup:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 shallots, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 large carrot, chopped
- 1 large celery stalk, chopped
- 1 19-oz can cannellini beans
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme or oregano
- 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
- 1 liter low-sodium vegetable broth
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 1 cup kale, stems removed and chopped
- Make the croutons by heating the olive oil over medium heat in a large frying pan. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
- Remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes to infuse the garlic flavor into the oil.
- Remove the garlic pieces and discard. Return the pan to medium heat.
- Add the bread cubes and sauté, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the shallots and a pinch of salt. Cook on medium heat for 1-2 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
- Add the carrots and celery and cook on medium high heat for 5 minutes until the veggies are tender.
- Add the cannellini beans, rosemary, herbs, chili flakes, vegetable broth. Bring everything to a boil. Then, reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Remove the sprig of rosemary and transfer 1/3 of the soup to a blender. Blend until smooth and add it back to the pot. Stir together.
- Add the kale to the soup and cook until wilted.
About Julie Harris
Julie Harris is a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified personal trainer, and health and wellness writer. She has experience working with digital health companies for the past 10 years. Julie is passionate about sharing information based on science. When she isn’t working, she’s in the kitchen baking something sweet to eat or running on the trails.
1. Shreffler, K.M., A.L. Greil, & J. McQuillan. “Responding to Infertility: Lessons From a Growing Body of Research and Suggested Guidelines for Practice.” Family Relations 66, no. 4 (2018): 644-658.
2. “Infertility.” US Department of Health & Human Services. Cdc.gov.
3. Chavarro, J., W. Willet, & P.J. Skerret. “The Fertility Diet: Groundbreaking Research Reveals Natural Ways to Boost Ovulation and Improve Your Chances of Getting Pregnant.” (New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education, 2009).
4. Bao, Y., M.L. Bertoia, et al. “Origin, Methods, and Evolution of the Three Nurses’ Health Studies.” American Journal of Public Health 106 (2016): 1573-1581.
5. Gaskins, A.J., F.L. Nassan, et al. “Dietary Patterns and Outcomes of Assisted Reproduction.” American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology 220, no. 6 (2019): 567. e1-567. E18.