Best Foods for Fertility
As food, microbiome, and hormone research continues, more physiological differences emerge between men and women. What might be helpful to a woman’s fertility may negatively affect a man’s fertility. It feels like biology is sometimes just a bully.
Take soy for example: Soy-based food can help women with infertility due to their slight estrogenic effects, but that’s reversed in men, where soy-based foods can harm male fertility.
Stevia is another example, but with a reverse case than that of soy. The stevia plant has a type of steroid, called steviol glycosides, and a plant structure that presents in the body as a hormone. Both of these structural elements can interfere with hormones controlled by the endocrine system, and just generally confuse your body!
For women, stevia can be a significant concern with studies linking stevia to infertility, hormone interference, and negative impact on insulin resistance. Flipping the coin, men may experience an increase in progesterone production by consuming stevia. Coincidentally, in its origin area of South America, stevia was once used as a contraceptive.
More research on stevia is needed, especially in the safety of the whole plant, which the FDA has not yet approved in the US. As far as choosing a healthy sugar substitute goes, err on the side of caution—maybe check out the antioxidant properties of monk fruit.
Foods for fertility.
So, the same foods can affect and behave very differently within men and women. But what foods are consistent in promoting fertility? Plenty! Let’s zero in on some powerhouse foods and discuss exactly what they can do to help your fertility.
Healthy food choices help overall.
In general, good nutrition will help your health, thereby optimizing your body for procreating, but additional dietary amendments may yield better fertility - especially if you’re dealing with infertility or hormonal issues.
Artificial ingredients, synthetic hormones, and potential contaminants could make conception less likely. The current Western diet—full of processed ingredients, sugar and trans fats—has been shown to cause serious detriment to sperm count in young men, pointing to how early eating habits may affect us years down the road when our minds finally turn to offspring.
Focusing on women—Harvard produced the Nurses Health Study, which looked at lifestyle factors of women contributing to either an increased or decreased risk for ovulatory infertility. The output of the original study in 2009 was coined ‘The Fertility Diet’ but that’s a bit of a reach, simply because the issues of infertility cannot be resolved by diet alone.
As the study continued, the findings point more and more to the power of nutrient-dense food. More specifically, the study evaluated the lifestyle choices in conjunction with fertility or infertility.
They found that having 5 or more of the following lifestyle markers would decrease a woman's’ risk for ovulatory infertility:
- Avoiding trans fats
- Incorporating unsaturated vegetable oils with healthy Omega 3’s
- More plant protein, less animal protein
- Taking multivitamins with folic acid and other B vitamins
- Consuming plenty of iron from fruit, vegetables and beans
- Choosing whole grains
- Choosing full-fat dairy
- Moderation with coffee, tea and alcohol
- Getting daily exercise
- Don’t even think about smoking
Similar diets tout the same benefits, like the Mediterranean Diet and the ProFertility Diet. In the end, it all boils down to the same broth:
Get the healthy, wholesome, nutrient-dense power foods into your diet and in ample amounts in order to see improved fertility.
Current infertility stats in the US.
Rates of infertility hit an all-time high in 2017. Here’s the current picture of fertility issues in the United States:
- About 10 percent of women (6.1 million) in the United States ages 15-44 have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Apr 1, 2019
- Approximately 20% of couples attempting for first pregnancy meet with failures. Authorities define these patients as primarily infertile if they have been unable to achieve a pregnancy after one year of unprotected intercourse.
- One-third of infertility is attributed to the female partner, one-third attributed to the male partner and one-third is caused by a combination of problems in both partners or, is unexplained.
Infertility issues are complex. Women often take the full weight of this on their shoulders, but some statistics say that up to 50% of infertility cases are in fact due to male fertility issues. Could the increase in infertility be blamed on the modern Western diet? In part, yes.
Even more so than women (because we know that women are more likely to be early adopters of a healthier diet or lifestyle eating plan), men need more antioxidant-rich foods. Men are more likely to have a lower intake of nutrient-dense foods that hold the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that boost biological processes. We could chalk this up to heavier animal protein in the diets of more men. Conversely, women who ate more animal proteins were 39 percent less likely to conceive, pointing directly to how hormone and processing affect much of our sources of animal protein.
While none of these facts make it any easier to handle when life gives you fertility issues, it does give an added reason for both you and your partner to incorporate these foods into your baby-on-the-way strategy.
Foods that are good for fertility.
You probably already feel like you're giving up so much, so let's talk about what you can have.
Omega-3 fatty acids are known to increase blood flow to the reproductive organs for men and women, boost cervical mucus production, and assist in the regulation of body hormones and encourage ovulation. Specifically for men, omega-3’s are critical in maintaining sperm cell viability, like DHA.
Find omega-3 fatty acids in:
- low-mercury fish, like salmon
- healthy fats, like avocado and olive oil
- whole eggs, especially the yolk
DARK LEAFY GREENS
Dark leafy greens are known to be high in a variety of different nutrients which are beneficial for fertility, including:
- folate, which increases the rate and reliability of ovulation
- minerals like calcium and iron, which are needed for prenatal care, such as preventing brain and spine defects in the initial few weeks of pregnancy
- folic acid, which improves the efficiency of cell division and copying DNA — necessary for a healthy pregnancy
- chlorophyll, which heightens blood flow and natural libido in women
Incorporate a mixture of leafy greens into several meals each day. Try using all of these options:
- romaine and bok choy
- swiss chard
- trendy new live lettuce varieties and microgreens!
Whole grains all have key nutrients needed for successful conception, such as B vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants. Studies show inadequate B12 consumption is associated with infertility, making B9 and B12 absolutely necessary for pregnancy. Fiber helps remove excess estrogen and stabilize blood sugar levels. Antioxidants are our body's cell protectors, keeping free radical damage at bay for sensitive organs that make reproductive hormones.
Check labels on grain-based goods to see if the following ingredients top the list:
- brown rice
- organic oatmeal
BEANS & PLANT PROTEINS
Research is pointing to proteins from plants and beans for women who want less issues in getting pregnant. Plant-based proteins and certain legumes offer better nutrient and mineral profiles than animal proteins, especially for women. These proteins:
- pack a lot of folate, fiber and are a good source of protein, making them a good food for conceiving.
- are full of iron, a mineral crucial for preventing anemia while trying to get pregnant.
- Lower-fat and less-stressful proteins for female GI tracks
The best beans and plant proteins for increased fertility are:
- Black beans
- Pinto beans
- Navy beans
- Organic soybeans
The current research looking at the effect of dairy on fertility is limited. We know that dairy in moderation is part of a healthy diet for those without allergies. “While no relationship was found between total intake of dairy products and risk of infertility, full-fat dairy products were associated with a lower risk of ovulatory infertility while low-fat dairy products (including skim, 1%, and 2% milk, yogurt, or cottage cheese) were associated with a higher risk.”
Get cheesy, gooey and melty without fear or guilt by eating these full-fat dairy options:
- Heavy creams
- Full-fat and mature cheeses, like mature cheddar, parmesan, and manchego
- Whole-milk yogurt
- Grass-fed butter
Besides being a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C helps maintain healthy connective tissue and is also important for wound healing and proper immune function.
The antioxidant properties of vitamin C can play a major role in fertility, reducing the negative impact of free radicals and cellular damage in the body. In studies, researchers combine vitamin C with vitamin E. The combination has been found to improve sperm health and decrease sperm DNA fragmentation.
Get your best vitamin C fresh, like in these fruits and vegetables:
- Freshly squeezed grapefruit and orange juices
- Tomatoes and tomato juice
- Broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower
- Green and red peppers
- Spinach, cabbage, turnip greens, and other leafy greens
- Sweet and white potatoes
- Winter squash
Dark chocolate is comprised of L-arginine, an amino acid that can raise sperm count, sperm motility and semen volume. The high-content cocoa varieties are full of health-promoting antioxidants, which:
- counter free radicals from pollution and toxins (connected to male infertility)
- improve heart health
Choices of dark chocolate are nearly endless, just be sure to check the label for minimal ingredients, natural sweeteners, and high cacao content. If you’ve yet to try Lakanto’s Chocolate Bars...now is the perfect time ;)