What you should and shouldn’t eat when you’re trying to conceive

By Kaye Lopez | Photos by Ignacio CampoJoanna KosinskaTom HermansStephanie HarveyGesina KunkelWaldemar Brandt, and Kayla Maurais/Unsplash

So you think you’re ready to have a baby on board? What you do before you actually get that big fat positive result is just as important as how you take care of yourself during actual pregnancy. With so much infertility issues plaguing our generation these days, aspiring parents need to be armed with more knowledge on what can help boost their odds of being blessed with a little bundle of joy.

Certain factors like age and genetics are beyond our control but it’s still possible to beat the statistics by eating and avoiding certain foods to improve ovulatory function for women, and even quality and quantity of sperm for men. According to Sarah Krieger, R.D., a nutritionist based in St. Petersburg, Florida, “eating as if you’re already pregnant can actually help prime your body for conception.” So read on to find out which are the best and worst foods and ingredients to getting your body primed for pregnancy.

Fruits and Vegetables

You can’t go wrong with a daily dose of fruits and vegetables, especially when you’re trying to get pregnant and your goal is to produce high quality eggs. Filling half of your plate with fruits and vegetables like watermelon, asparagus, and kale will do just that.  According to Alisa Vitti, integrative nutritionist and author of WomanCode: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source, “watermelon and asparagus, in addition to other raw fruits and vegetables, give the body a rich supply of glutathione, which is important for egg quality” while “kale is another powerhouse vegetable because it contains elements necessary for estrogen metabolism.” Not a salad eater? Vitti suggests juicing kale and other greens mixed with phytochemical-rich fruits like goji berries to give it an extra fertility boost. She also recommends roasting vegetables in high heat for a short time without water or microwaving them with a bit of water to minimize nutrient loss.

Fats

Once again, fat is our friend, as long as we moderate our consumption and choose our fat sources wisely. Healthy unsaturated fats from nuts, avocados, olive oil, and grapeseed oil reduce inflammation in the body, which in turn helps regularize ovulation and improve general fertility. In fact, “studies have shown that consuming a certain quantity of monounsaturated fats in the form of avocados during the IVF cycle increased the success rate by three and a half times, as opposed to women who don’t eat good plant-based fats during that period,” Vitti says.

But not all fats are created equal so stay away from trans fats found in commercially baked goods and snacks, animal products, French fries, and some margarines, which are known to increase insulin resistance.  This condition causes glucose to remain in the bloodstream instead of being moved to the cells, overstimulating the pancreas to keep producing insulin, which then increases the amount of insulin in the bloodstream. Too much insulin in the blood is related to many metabolic disturbances that affect ovulation.

Complex Carbs

Still related to the effects of high insulin levels in the blood during ovulation, consuming too much processed carbs leads to a spike in blood sugar, which the pancreas tries to control by producing more insulin. Substitute these “bad” simple carbs with healthy complex carbohydrate sources like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains that are digested more slowly and therefore have less effect on blood sugar and insulin. As a bonus, they also contain other fertility-friendly B vitamins, vitamin E, and fiber. 

Buckwheat even contains d-chiro-inositol, which is a compound that improves ovulation, according to Krieger. Brown rice is a good carb alternative, especially for women suffering from hormonal disorders like PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), who may have been advised to cut down on gluten. According to Vitti, “gluten has been shown to create an inflammatory response in the body, which heightens C-reactive protein and sends signals that it’s not an ideal time to conceive. It makes implantation more difficult and is also known to inhibit ovulation.” Other healthy carbs to try are amaranth, millet, and quinoa. These keep you fuller longer and your blood sugar levels more stable. 

Protein

Protein, together with zinc and iron, are important building blocks of a healthy pregnancy. Choose lean cuts of chicken, turkey, pork, and beef to keep your weight in check and your estrogen levels balanced as well as to avoid organochlorine pollutants lurking in animal fats, which have been linked to conception delays. Alternatively, we should aim to consume more protein from cold water fatty fish like salmon, canned light tuna, and sardines, which are excellent sources of DHA and omega-3 fatty acids. They also help develop the baby’s nervous system and cut your risk of premature birth. Rest assured that you’ll be safe from harmful mercury levels even if you consume these a couple of times a week but it’s best to avoid varieties like shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel.

Eggs are rich in protein, too, including the yolk, which has excellent stores of both protein and choline, a vitamin that helps develop brain function in babies. An even better, low-calorie choice, which can also help with weight loss, is plant protein found in beans, nuts, seeds, and other legumes such as lentils and chickpeas.

Dairy

Did you know that whole milk and full-fat dairy products are actually better than low- or non-fat alternatives when trying to conceive? In their study, Walter Willett, M.D., a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, found that “the more low-fat dairy products in a woman’s diet, the more trouble she had getting pregnant.” That said, some might even consider cutting out dairy altogether. According to Vitti, “we’re being exposed to dairy in mass quantities that’s more hormonally driven, meaning the production of cow dairy has become very chemically manipulated. These excess hormones may disrupt the conversation that the brain is trying to have with the endocrine system, particularly your ovaries.”

If you decide to do so, consult with your doctor on how you can properly supplement your calcium intake. But if there’s one dairy product that can boost your fertility, it’s homemade or Greek-style yogurt, which contains probiotic microbes that could help boost your future kid’s health. A study conducted on mice at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that females who ate yogurt versus junk food diets gave birth to larger litters. It also boosted semen quality in their male counterparts.

Vitamins

Even if you’re not rushing to get pregnant anytime soon, one of the easiest things you can do to prepare is to take a a daily multivitamin that contains at least 400 micrograms of folic acid and 40 to 80 milligrams of iron. According to a Harvard study, women who took daily multivitamins containing 400 micrograms of folic acid were 40 percent less likely to experience ovulatory infertility over the eight years than women who didn’t. And for women who eventually get pregnant, getting enough folic acid before and early on in pregnancy can reduce brain and spine birth defects by up to 70 percent.Taking a prenatal multivitamin is packed with other nutrients crucial for a healthy pregnancy like iron to prevent anemia and calcium for strong teeth and bones.

This is just a partial list of nutrition do’s and don’ts to help guide your conception journey. There are a couple more “controversial” foods that we can discuss later on but what’s important to understand is that the key to a fruitful fertility diet is variety. Eating a restrictive diet, no matter how healthy or clean it might be, may lead to nutrient deficiencies that will actually do more harm than good to you and your future baby. So  go global with your food selections and make sure to fill in those nutrient gaps with fertility-boosting foods not just from the entire food pyramid but also from all over the world.     

Have some female-specific training questions, feedback, or suggestions for future articles? Please feel free to drop me a note on the comments section below or on any of our social media platforms.  You can also e-mail me directly at [email protected].

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