Although certain foods cannot make you pregnant, certain vitamins and minerals can increase fertility. On the flip side, avoiding certain foods can also help increase your chances of conceiving.
1. Lentils are loaded with iron, which Harvard researchers found reduces ovulation problems in women and enhances fertility. Plant sources of iron appear to work even better than animal sources and can be as effective as iron supplements. Other good sources of this nutrient: spinach, beans, clams, beets and oysters.
On your plate: Cook red lentils with coconut milk and Indian spices. Combine cooked French lentils with crumbled goat feta and minced mint leaves.
2. Olives have healthy fats, critical for manufacturing hormones and maintaining the reproductive health of both men and women. Other healthy fats include olive oil, canola oil, avocados, salmon, and nuts. Meanwhile, minimize saturated fats and steer clear of Trans fats (in fried foods), which significantly decrease fertility, though the reasons aren’t yet clear.
3. Almonds, like olives, are chock-full of healthy oils; they’re an especially good source of monounsaturated fats, which appear to increase a woman’s chances of getting pregnant. Ayurvedic medicine recognizes the energetics as well as the nutrients of foods, so almonds strengthen the reproductive system and boost fertility by a sort of “law of similars”—they’re the seed of the plant, and life springs from them.
On your plate: Spread almond butter on apple slices for a fast, healthy snack.
4. Papaya boosts vitamin C, a crucial fertility nutrient for men that helps improve sperm count, morphology, and motility. Papaya also comes loaded with beta-carotene, another antioxidant that improves semen quality. Other great sources of vitamin C include peppers, peaches, strawberries, broccoli, and orange juice.
On your plate: Top bitter greens with cubed papaya, avocado, and pomegranate seeds.
5. Sunflower seeds are rich in vitamin E—crucial for sperm health. Some studies have shown that vitamin E increases sperm motility. Additionally, vitamin E seems to enhance the sperm’s ability to penetrate the egg. A half cup of sunflower seeds provides the daily requirement of this hard-to-get nutrient. Other great sources include almonds, spinach, tomato paste, and turnip greens.
On your plate: Add sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and a dash of tamari to cooked brown rice. Top goat’s milk yogurt with sunflower seeds and fresh or frozen berries.
6. Kale and other vegetables in the Brassicaceae family contain a chemical compound called diindolylmethane (DIM) that can steady unbalanced hormones in women. “Excess estrogen from environmental toxins and conventionally raised meat and dairy products can create a condition called estrogen dominance,” says Lewis. “DIM binds to these toxins and helps the body excrete them.” Other DIM-rich members of the Brassicaceae family include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and collard greens.
On your plate: Toss chopped raw kale with olive oil, almonds, kalamata olives, and avocado cubes.
7. Prunes have the highest oxygen radical absorbency capacity of any fruit or vegetable. Antioxidants are critical in preventing free-radical damage to reproductive organs and may help prevent age-related fertility decline in women. Additionally, the high-fibre content of prunes helps the body rid itself of excess estrogen from environmental sources, says Blakeway. Other high-ORAC foods: raisins, berries, spinach, kale, and brussel sprouts.
On your plate: Add chopped prunes, dried apricot, cumin, and turmeric to cooked garbanzo beans. Top salads with diced dried prunes and wedges of fresh pear.
8. Oysters contain a wealth of zinc, which helps maintain optimum sperm counts by lowering excessive amounts of estrogen in men. The mineral is also important for women to reduce the risk of miscarriage, but it’s best to find it in other sources. “Women should avoid shellfish when they’re pregnant or trying to conceive.”
9. Curb caffeine
The research on whether caffeine can affect fertility is mixed. Experts generally agree that low to moderate caffeine consumption (about 2 cups per day) won’t get in the way of getting pregnant. But you might want to cut out caffeine altogether if you’re having difficulty conceiving or undergoing in vitro fertilization. Caffeine constricts blood vessels, slowing blood flow to the uterus and potentially making it harder for an egg to grab hold.
Going cold turkey and eliminating all caffeine at once can cause nasty headaches. So if you decide to kick your caffeine habit completely, you might want to do so gradually. Every day, replace a little more of the caffeinated brew in your cup with decaf, until you’ve weaned yourself.
10. Rethink refined carbs
Lots of refined carbohydrates, like white bread, pasta, and white rice, won’t directly lower your likelihood of getting pregnant but they will short-change your body. The refining process strips 17 key nutrients from grains. Among those lost are several that boost fertility, such as antioxidants, B vitamins, and iron. A woman trying to conceive should pack her diet with as many nutrient-rich foods as possible, and whole grains are a great place to start.
If you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the most common cause of infertility in women, pay extra attention to whole grains. PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that can get worse when insulin levels in the bloodstream surge. The main culprits behind big insulin spikes are refined carbohydrates. Fertility specialist Leondires explains that when women with PCOS eat too many refined carbohydrates, insulin flows into the blood, feeds back to the ovaries, and can lead to irregular ovulation.
11. Be finicky about fish
Your body needs omega-3 fatty acids for optimal fertility, and fish is the best source. Even so, the news about mercury contamination in fish can be scary for moms-to-be. Mercury is toxic to a developing fetus and can linger in a woman’s bloodstream for more than a year.
The good news is that not all fish contain the same amount of mercury. Women trying to conceive can safely eat up to 2 small serves a week of low-mercury fish, such as prawns, canned light tuna, salmon, or catfish. It is advised to avoid canned white tuna as well as fresh or frozen swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, tuna steaks, shark, orange roughy, Spanish mackerel, marlin, and grouper, because they have the highest mercury levels.
If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, or you just don’t like fish, try flaxseeds. Flaxseeds are the richest plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids and are easy to find in health food stores. Buy the seeds, grind them in a coffee grinder, and sprinkle them on cereal or toast or add them to a smoothie. If you’re in a rush, buy a bottle of flaxseed oil and drizzle 1 tablespoon a day over salad (Just don’t cook with flaxseed oil; the heat destroys its beneficial nutrients).
12. Pump up on iron
Fill your body’s iron reserves before you get pregnant, especially if your periods are particularly heavy. Load up now, because once you’re expecting, your body has difficulty maintaining its iron stores as your baby siphons the mineral from you. To make matters worse, too little iron at the start of pregnancy puts you at risk for postpartum anaemia — a condition affecting 27 percent of new moms that causes your red blood cells to fall below normal and zaps your energy level.
If you don’t eat much red meat or you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, take a multivitamin with iron. And, to be on the safe side, ask your healthcare provider to test your blood for anaemia at your preconception check-up.
Kasey our Nutritionist can help you develop a food plan that suits your needs and fits in with your lifestyle.