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Foods for Fertility

written by: fionayb • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 5/4/2009

Studies have shown that certain foods may be able to help couples who are trying to conceive. While many of the recommendations contained in this health and nutrition article follow regular dietary advice, there are also one or two surprising suggestions.

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    Fertility Diet?

    For couples struggling to conceive, there are few things more upsetting than the mountains of advice that others feel compelled to give you: relax, do this, don’t do that. At the end of the day, there is no one miracle cure that will guarantee success.

    However, if the cause of fertility problems is linked to ovulatory difficulties, studies have shown that certain foods may be able to help. While many of the dietary recommendations are nothing new, there are also one or two surprising suggestions.

    Basic Nutrition Recommendations when Trying to Conceive

    It comes as no surprise that the basic recommendations are the same that are given to the general public: lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low refined carbs, etc. After all, when you are trying to conceive, you want to be in your best possible health. Being underweight can lead to an absence of regular ovulation. Being overweight can also cause ovulatory problems, and may also be related to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) which makes it difficult to become pregnant.

    Surprising Fertility Diet Advice

    One big surprise though, is the recommendation that you consume full-fat dairy. Low-fat dairy is believed to contribute to fertility problems so, while you shouldn’t start guzzling ice cream by the gallon, be sure to enjoy some whole milk or a piece of good quality cheese every day.

    Here are some key tips:

    • Eat unrefined carbs: brown rice, nuts, dried beans, whole grains. Refined carbs (white breads and pastas, etc.) can affect blood sugar and worsen PCOS, thereby decreasing fertility.

    • Enjoy healthy fats. Transfats are out, but unsaturated fats such as those found in olives and avocados are okay.

    • Bring back that full-fat milk, yogurt and cheese…in moderation, of course.

    • Find alternatives to meat. It is possible that eating meat can cut fertility. Whether this is due to chemicals and steroids (in which case eating organic would be okay) or some other reason has yet to be determined. Eat plant-based proteins instead.

    There are also some recommendations for men too:

    • Be sure to get plenty of zinc, vitamin A, and antioxidants, as deficiencies in all have been linked to poor sperm quality.

    • Watch that alcohol consumption. It can reduce sperm production by up to 50%.

    Somewhat surprisingly, soy is generally not recommended since it contains plant estrogens that are believed to alter the body’s natural chemistry. Apparently, Buddhist monks used to eat tofu to limit their libido. Enough said!

    When it comes to caffeine consumption, studies seem to be divided. Some say to eliminate it completely, while others say one or two cups of coffee each day won’t do any harm. What is clear is that too much can reduce fertility. However, if cutting it out completely is going to increase your anxiety and stress levels, that won’t help either so my advice is to use your own best judgment.

    It should be emphasized that dietary changes may help some couples conceive, but this is by no means a guaranteed cure for all infertility cases. Consult your doctor for further advice and treatment.