In the United States, 9% of men and 11% of women have experienced problems with fertility. In many of these cases, problems getting pregnant may have to do with the quality of sperm, problems with ovulation, or structural issues in the reproductive organs. However, lifestyle can also play a role in infertility, including your and your partner’s diet.
Here’s what the research says about diet and fertility and how you can optimize your eating to better your chance of conceiving.
Women trying to get pregnant without assisted reproductive technology (ART) such as in vitro fertilization benefit from ensuring they get enough of particular nutrients. Research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that folic acid, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids have a positive impact on women’s fertility.
If you’re undergoing ART, folic acid supplements and a diet high in isoflavones also help boost fertility in women. Isoflavones are found primarily in soy, lentils, and peas. Men in ART couples benefit from a high antioxidant intake. Antioxidants are highly available in colorful fruits and vegetables.
The same Harvard study determined that sugar, saturated fats, and trans fats have a negative association with fertility in men and women. Women and men have poorer rates of natural conception when they follow “unhealthy” diets that include lots of red and processed meats, sweets, potatoes, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Being obese (often defined as having a body mass index of 30 or above) also increases infertility risk. Research also found that some common substances such as dairy, alcohol, and caffeine don’t have any measurable effect on fertility.
When trying to get pregnant, we always recommend both of you follow a healthy diet. Women should focus on vitamin B12 and folic acid, which are also included in prenatal vitamins.
Folic acid has long been a priority for pregnant women as it helps reduce the risk of developmental neurological problems in a developing baby. Foods rich in folic acid include eggs, sunflower seeds, and dark leafy greens.
Our team can give you more detailed recommendations on foods to include in a healthy diet. A Mediterranean diet is a great model as it does emphasize many of these fertility-friendly nutrients, including healthy fats, found in olive oil and fatty fish, fresh vegetables, and whole grains.
We also recommend you try to maintain a healthy weight before conception. In addition to affecting fertility, obesity can also lead to complications during pregnancy.
While you may think more is better, too much of certain vitamins can be detrimental. An overload of vitamin A, for example, can have negative effects on a developing baby.
If you’re trying for a baby, feel free to schedule a preconception visit at our office. We can help you optimize your body so you’re ready to carry a baby. This includes helping you plan physical activity, avoid certain medications, and stay away from dangerous behaviors. We also offer comprehensive prenatal care for women during pregnancy, too.