The Fertility Diet – Foods to Eat When Trying to Get Pregnant
With famous sayings like “you are what you eat,” and “let food be thy medicine,” it’s shouldn’t really come as a surprise that there are many foods that can increase fertility. In fact, Dr. Robert Kiltz, a reproductive endocrinologist, and fertility specialist here at CNY remarks that “our diet and other things we choose to consume is the single greatest factor we have control over that can radically increase the odds of conception and pregnancy.”
What’s more, is it doesn’t matter if you’re trying to get pregnant the old-fashioned way or are undergoing fertility treatments like artificial insemination (aka IUI) or IVF. Implementing a fertility-enhancing diet can increase sperm quality, egg quality, your chances of achieving pregnancy, reduce the risk of pregnancy complications, and optimize your overall preconception wellness.
While this article will cover the basic principles of a fertility diet, foods to increase fertility, foods to avoid when trying to get pregnant, and also touch on supplements to help fill the inevitable nutrient gaps, it’s also important to remember that other lifestyle changes like introducing the correct type of exercise to your daily routine are easy and similarly important ways to improve your fertility naturally.
It’s also important to note that sperm and eggs both take about 70-90 days to develop . That means while you may see some improvements fairly quickly, you likely won’t see the full effect of your fertility diet for a full three months.
Let’s get started!
The Basics Principles of a Fertility Diet & Why a High Fat Low Carb Diet is the Best Diet for Improving Fertility
Simply put, a high fat low carbohydrate diet is the best diet for your fertility. While this may sound controversial, Dr. Kiltz and other fertility experts both here at CNY Fertility and elsewhere understand the importance of a high fat low carbohydrate diet for fertility. While eating a high fat diet goes agains most of what we were taught in school, most of that “science” has already been debunked as propaganda and marketing . The truth is that fat provides key building blocks for every cell in our body and is vital for fertility.
A high fat low carbohydrate diet helps improve fertility through two main avenues.
- It reduce inflammation .
- It helps balance hormones and is used in the synthesis of many influential reproductive hormones .
But why is it that reducing inflammation a key component of a fertility diet? Inflammation causes a laundry list of problems in the body and according to several studies, wreaks havoc upon the reproductive system . Similarly, Dr. Robert Kiltz notes that “inflammation is one of if not the leading causes of infertility.”
Chronic inflammation can cause tissue damage and reduce blow flow and nutrient delivery impeding the body’s ability to function properly. This is one of the reasons why things like antibiotics, steriods, aspirin, heparin , and other immune modulators like intralipids, IVIG, are often used in conjunction with fertility treatments.
While these drugs can help suppress and modulate the immune system, a properly constructed fertility diet can similarly yield the desired inflammation-reducing results. How so? A high-fat low-carb diet reduce inflammation via three primary methods:
Carbohydrates (AKA Sugar and Fiber) Causes Inflammation
While “sugar” has been a bad word for some time now, let’s remember that all plants are primarily made up of sugar. Even if it starts in a “complex carb,” it ultimately gets broken up into glucose, fructose, and other sugars. Not surprisingly, there is a huge host of studies that demonstrate that sugar is a leading cause of inflammation .
One of these studies demonstrated that a relatively small 50g dose of sugar causes a spike of C-reactive protein (CRP) along with other inflammatory markers just 30 minutes later and remains elevated for some time . Another study similarly showed that eating 50 grams of carbohydrates resulted in increased levels of inflammatory marker Nf-kB.
What about fiber? The problem with fiber is heat. Heat generated by constant fermentation in your gut (have you ever looked outside at compost pile in the winter? It’s steaming right?). Your gut that sits directly on top of your reproductive organs. Your reproductive organs that designed to function at a very specific body temperature and damaged greatly by heat .
While many individual studies and large meta-analyses of multiple studies have implicated carbohydrate consumption with inflammation, there is indeed good news. The effects are reversible as demonstrated by a 2014 study which showed that reducing carb intake resulted in lower inflammatory markers in their body.
These findings all support the theory that carbohydrate consumption can cause inflammation; given what we know about inflammation, it only makes sense to limit carbohydrate intake.
Many Plants Contain Toxic Inflammatory Chemicals
One of the most obvious but seemingly overlooked facts is that plants are living creatures that do not want to die. Because they can not move, plants product toxins to protect themselves from fungi, insects, and animal predators alike. Of the thousands of plants that have been tested, a vast majority including domesticated plants we routinely eat contain their own unique set of toxins, sometimes numbering in the few dozen. When plants are damaged, via predation or harvest, some plants greatly increase their natural pesticide levels and may at times reach acute toxicity levels to humans .
It’s estimated that the average American eats about 1.5 g of naturally occurring plant toxins per day .We all seem to think that synthetic pesticides that are sprayed on plants are a big deal, but the level of natural pesticides consumed is 10,000 times the amount of synthetic pesticides (and remember, just because it’s natural doesn’t make it better – cyanide is indeed natural) .
How dangerous are these natural pesticides? Well because humans eat such a wide range of food and are difficult to control in day to day activity, animal studies are often best, particularly when looking at the potentially toxic effects of plants. For example, feeding alfalfa sprouts (which contains a toxin called canavanine) to monkeys causes a lupus-like syndrome ( an immunological inflammatory disorder) . On a similar, but more morbid note, the mortality rate of grazing cattle is estimated to be around .5-.7% due to toxic exposure of ingested plants .
While you may think that we are talking about obscure tropical fruits and vegetables, you may be surprised by the number of common grocery items that contain these natural pesticides.
Fats Protect Your Body From Inflammation
Fat is one of the most important biomolecules for reducing inflammation. Studies show that fatty acid intake reduces key markers for inflammation including C-Reactive Proteins levels , reduce inflammatory responses, , help protect against inflammation and autoimmune disease , and otherwise show that fats are critical for limiting and preventing inflammation .
Eating a high fat low carbohydrate diet helps improve and regulate your reproductive hormones. How exactly it balances and regulates reproductive hormones can generally fall into two categories: providing your body with the building blocks of hormones (aka cholesterol), reducing the intake of foods that mimic reproductive hormones, and reducing the effects of metabolic syndrome by lowering blood glucose levels.
If you remember back to your high school or college science class you may indeed remember a thing or two about hormone synthesis. If you don’t that’s a-okay too. Long story short, several of the most important reproductive hormones including Estrogen, Progesterone, and Testosterone all derive from cholesterol . That’s not all Cholesterol does for fertility, it is also a critical component of Vitamin D synthesis from sunlight, which is similarly shown to play a vital role in fertility .
What’s more, cholesterol is vital for brain function . Given your brain takes a front seat to your fertility, cholesterol deficits may result in it being shunted to take care of brain needs at the sacrifice of fertility hormones.
Hormone Disturbances Via Phytomimicry of Reproductive Hormones
While the link between soy and decreased fertility in both men and women has long been firmly established due to its estrogenic activity (it contains phytoestrogen chemicals that mimic estrogen and interfere with normal hormonal signaling) , there are over 300 plants with estrogenic activity. Flaxseed, sesame seeds, berries, oats, wheat, barley, dried beans, lentils, rice, alfalfa, rye, apples, carrots, garlic, and more are all culprits of containing phytoestrogen .
Why exactly do plants make these hormones? Well, it is hypothesized that plans make them for the exact reason of decreasing fertility . Phytoestrogens are known to cause infertility in humans and other animals and do not play any other known role in plant biology. As mentioned before, we often forget that plants too are living creatures that do not wish to die and this is one way in which plants lower populations of animals that like to eat them in the immediate area.
Hormone Regulation via Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels
PCOS is a hormonal disorder in females that affects 1 in 10 women. It is largely characterized by having high male hormone levels (hyperandrogenism), infrequent ovulation and is the leading cause of infertility. While getting pregnant with PCOS can be a challenge, it’s very possible and adapting a fertility diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates is one of the best ways to improve those odds.
While exact cause of PCOS is still unknown, PCOS is highly correlated with carrying excess weight, type 2 diabetes, previous gestational diabetes, and cholesterol problems – problems that are all linked to high insulin levels.
It turns out that it is this hyperinsulinemia that causes the ovaries to make testosterone and other hormonal imbalances that cause the infrequent ovulation and other PCOS symptoms.
Because insulin is released after eating a high carbohydrate meal, eating a low carb diet is one of the most effective treatments in lowering insulin levels and has been shown to have a favorable impact on metabolic syndromes like PCOS .
While the experts have understood this for some time now, research is beginning to catch up. One recent study showed that every PCOS patient enrolled in a High Fat Low Carbohydrate fertility diet resumed regular menstruation and ovulation and half got pregnant naturally without the need of any medical intervention like ovulation induction, IUI, or IVF .
Foods to Increase Fertility
Ready to bust out your note pad and write down all these food that make it to the top of the fertile food list for their ability to increase your fertility and help you get pregnant?
Liver & Steak
While the sounds of a nice steak dinner is usually at the top of the list, the sound of eating liver probably isn’t. But if you’re serious about a fertility focused diet and eating foods to increase fertility, these two powerhouses should be on it. These two foods are a great source of protein and fat, AND it just so happens to be the best source of vitamins (much more so than any superfood like blueberries or kale). As you can see on the chart below, beef and liver place in the top two if not the first two spots on a large list of critical nutrients when compared to a few common “superfoods.”
Liver is a premium source of vitamin C,E,D, Co-Q10, Zinc, Folate, and fat – all of which have been shown to play a crucial role in male and female fertility . Given the incredible amount of nutrients liver packs, it along with beef with similarly contains a lot of nutrients are two of the best foods to eat when trying to get pregnant.
Eggs are another fertility superfood and at the top of the list of foods to eat when trying to get pregnant. Eggs are known as some of the most effective food for improving fertility because they are packed with protein, Vitamins B12 (aka Folic Acid), E, Zinc, and fat. Protein and vitamin E help the motility of sperm. Vitamin E is also known to affect overall sperm quality positively. Fertility specialists recommend ensuring appropriate vitamin E levels to support general male fertility and to help men with an unexplained reduction in semen quality. Most of the fertility-boosting nutrients in eggs are found in the yolk.
Eggs are a rich source of Choline. The body needs to obtain a majority of its required choline from diet, as it can only naturally produce a limited amount. Choline is known to reduce the risk of some birth defects. Doctors and fertility specialists recommend ensuring appropriate choline levels before and throughout pregnancy to help with proper fetal development.
Salmon, Sardines, and other High Omega-3 Fish
Salmon is an oily fish that is packed with protein, omega 3s, and essential fatty acids known to benefit both male and female fertility and are great foods to eat when trying to get pregnant . Omega 3s are vital for human cell production, and they help balance the reproductive system. Omega 3s help with sperm production in males and maintaining oocyte quality in females.
Salmon contains high levels of vitamin D, which plays an important role in male and female general and reproductive health . Achieving appropriate vitamin D levels can be very difficult, especially during the winter months when there is less sun. In fact, Vitamin D deficiency affects about 40% of Americans. Men’s and women’s fertility is both negatively impacted by vitamin D deficiency.
Pork belly is packed with fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. It is known as better bacon because they taste similar, but pork belly has more healthy fats and meat. Pork belly is about 30% fat, and a single oz contains 15 g of fat. This fat is loaded with B vitamins known to impact fertility directly.
Pork contains selenium, which is important for normal reproduction in both men and women . Selenium is an antioxidant that supports healthy follicles in the ovaries, which develop and release eggs. (More info on the follicles and their role in fertility here!) Research has shown that low selenium levels can be a factor in miscarriages. In men, selenium has been shown to improve sperm motility.
Butter is a key ingredient to Dr. Kiltz’s Keto diet, also known as the B.E.E.B.I (Bacon, Eggs, Butter, Beef, Ice Cream – pronounced baby) diet. High-fat butter contains high levels of cholesterol. Cholesterol is needed to make many critical fertility hormones and to fight inflammation. The liver produces 75% of the cholesterol that the body needs; the remaining 25% must be achieved through diet. Cholesterol is a major component of breast milk and is essential for baby’s growth and development.
Butter is full of other beneficial nutrients as well. High-fat dairy products, like butter, have been linked to a reduced risk of diabetes, obesity, and heart issues.
Other Full-Fat Dairy
Natural fats from butter, cream, whole milk, and full-fat yogurt are needed to keep the lymphatic system running. Eating fat lubricates the lymphatics and filters out harmful pathogens to protect the body from illness-causing invaders. The lymphatic system is critical to maintaining optimal health. It is part of the circulatory system and the immune system. Besides being a rich source of cholesterol, full-fat dairy also contains many nutrients.
Full-fat dairy contains protein and other nutrients known to support fertility like zinc, choline, selenium, vitamin A and vitamin D. Vitamin A is essential for reproduction in both males and females. In females, vitamin A supports egg quality, ovarian response, embryonic development, and placental function. In men, vitamin A is required for maintenance of the genital tract. Vitamin A is known to support immune health in men and women.
Full-fat dairy also contains lots of calcium. In addition to supporting bone, heart, muscle, and nerve health, calcium is involved in sperm production in men. It is important to ensure you are eating full-fat products as the calcium found in skim and other lesser-fat products does not absorb as effectively.
Aged cheddar, parmesan, and manchego are all examples of mature cheeses. In addition to being high in calcium and fat, mature cheeses are known to be high in specific proteins known to affect fertility, polyamines. Polyamines are proteins found naturally in plant and animal products. Polyamines play an important role in the reproductive system. Mature cheese is high in the polyamine putrescine, which plays a role in sperm health. Putrescine is also believed to improve egg health, especially in women 35 and older.
Asparagus is loaded with folate. As discussed, folate can help improve male and female fertility and impact fetal development. Fertility specialists recommend that women ensure appropriate levels of folate through diet and supplementation to prevent neural birth defects. Folate has also been shown to increase implantation rates in women undergoing IVF treatment. Men need folate to ensure sperm DNA replicates accurately without mutations. Errors in DNA replication can lead to genetically abnormal sperm, which is known to cause male infertility.
Pomegranates are rich in antioxidants that are rumored to assist with fertility. Pomegranates contain vitamin C, folate, and potassium, which are all known to impact male fertility. Pomegranates can improve sperm concentration and motility in men. In women, pomegranates increase blood flow to the uterus, supporting uterine health.
Walnuts contain high amounts of protein, fat, and magnesium. Walnuts are about 15% protein and 65% fat. A single serving of walnuts provides 163% of your daily recommended amount of magnesium. Magnesium is an essential mineral for overall health and fertility. Magnesium helps to convert the food we eat into energy for our cells. It also helps the body detoxify and eliminates foreign invaders in the liver that could negatively impact fertility.
Berries are a healthy, sweet, and sometimes sour, tasty snack. They are loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that are known to combat inflammation and to help both male and female fertility. Berries are also high in folate and vitamin C.
Beans and Lentils
Beans and lentils are packed with the following nutrients known to impact both male and female fertility positively:
Citrus fruits are packed with:
- Vitamin C
Sunflower seeds contain the following vitamins and nutrients known to impact fertility positively:
- Vitamin E
- Folic acid
Foods to Avoid When Trying to Get Pregnant
When discussing the scientific basis for eating fertility diet focused on high fat low carbohydrate intake we certainly mentioned lots of substances or foods to avoid when trying to get pregnant, but it’s an important enough topic that it deserves its own section. While so much of what we try to do in life is focused on what we should add or do to improve things, the truth is that it’s often what we choose to eliminate that has the greatest impact. Here we will cover categories, nutrients, and foods to avoid when trying to get pregnant.
Sugar and Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates have been associated with the increase we are witnessing in obesity and other chronic conditions. In addition to causing inflammation, large amounts of carbs can also affect reproductive hormone levels. Sugars and carbohydrates play a direct role in determining blood sugar and insulin levels. If insulin or blood sugar levels get too high, reproductive hormone levels can be thrown off, which can cause anovulation and directly affect female fertility. Any food high in sugar (aka carbohydrates) can easily join the list of foods to avoid when trying to get pregnant. Foods that are high in sugar and carbs include fruits, bread, rice, potatoes, and sugary sweets like candy.
Soy and other Phytoestrogen Rich Foods
As previously discussed, phytoestrogens can damage male and female fertility. Any food, like soy products that contain high levels of phytoestrogens, is a prime candidate to join the list of foods to avoid when trying to get pregnant.
Women’s ovarian function can be affected by high levels of soy. Eating excess soy can lead to lower circulating levels of hormones, especially lowered gonadotropin levels. High soy levels have their greatest effect on premenopausal women during their reproductive years. Eating a diet containing lower levels of soy should not pose a threat to the function of the ovary. Foods that are high in soy include edamame, imitation meats, and soy products like soy milk.
As mentioned earlier, fiber lead to excess heat in and around the reproductive organs leaving high fiber foods near the top of foods to avoid when trying to get pregnant. While people are often told to eat lots of fiber, it’s actually not necessary for proper bowel function and research is starting to show too much fiber to have a negative impact on fertility. High fiber diets are associated with a decrease in the concentration of hormones associated with fertility and a higher probability of anovulation in women.
While you could argue alcohol isn’t really a food, you also could argue it is. Either way, we’re putting it on our list of foods to avoid when trying to get pregnant.
We are well aware of the potentially devastating consequences of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, but research has shown that alcohol affects both male and female fertility. Excessive alcohol consumption has been shown to cause an increased risk of ovulation disorders in women. In men, heavy drinking can affect sperm health. Alcohol consumption can cause a shrinking of the testes, changes to the shape, size, and movement of sperm and lower testosterone levels. Because of this, alcohol should be avoided by both parties when trying to get pregnant.
Filling the Nutrient Gap of Your Fertility Diet with Supplements
It can be extremely difficult to ensure your body is getting all of the vitamins and minerals that are essential to reproduction through diet alone. Fertility supplements like those found at Molecular Fertility are comprised of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients known to impact fertility. They are great for supporting a healthy diet and helping to improve fertility outcomes.
The Bottom Line about Fertility Diets
Whether you jump all into our recommended fertility diet or simply use this page as a guide to understanding more about what you’re eating, we hope it helps your fertility journey. Food is indeed a controversial topic, but our experience and research alike have shown that there are both many foods that increase fertility and many foods to avoid when trying to get pregnant and believe your effort to be more than worth it!