Can Your Diet Boost Your Fertility? Get the Facts From Mayo Clinic
For a woman facing fertility issues, the question inevitably arises: Will following a special diet help me get pregnant?
Researchers now studying this question have identified foods that might have a positive effect on a woman's fertility, as well as foods that appear to decrease the odds of conceiving.
So, while there’s no official "fertility diet" that health-care professionals can recommend, they do support a healthy diet that ensures you’re getting the optimal nutrition to sustain your reproductive system.
Bonus: This type of diet is also good for your heart, brain, and other body systems, as well as the health of your baby once you do become pregnant.1
Staying physically active and eating a healthy diet helps you maintain a weight and body mass index (BMI) in the normal range. Both are crucial for women facing fertility issues.2
Natural pregnancy rates are higher in women who have a normal BMI or when women take steps to get to their ideal BMI range.2 Maternal obesity is linked with not only decreased natural fertility, but also with a higher likelihood of miscarriage and other adverse pregnancy outcomes.3,4 And on the flipside, being significantly underweight can also interfere with your menstrual cycles and fertility.
Here's your guide to food and fertility for women. (Men, don't worry. We've got you covered too.)
Choose these foods
1. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish
Fats play an important role in supporting your body's reproductive system, but fats are not created equal.5 One particularly helpful type of fat is omega-3s, a type of polyunsaturated fat found in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, tuna, and lake trout.
The omega-3 fatty acids – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – are in a form the body can readily use, and research has tied omega-3s to increased fertility.6
2. Plant protein
Research has shown that both the amount and the type of protein matters for optimizing fertility. Eating more plant-based protein has been shown to positively impact fertility.5 One study found that switching just 5% of your protein intake from meat protein to plant protein – like lentils, beans, nuts, and seeds – can decrease the risk of ovulatory infertility by as much as 50%.7
In another study, women who ate more legumes before in vitro fertilization (IVF) had a higher probability of becoming pregnant.6 If you need a refresher on legumes, think beans like cannellini, navy, Great Northern, and kidney, as well as black-eyed peas, chickpeas, and lentils.
3. Soy foods and supplements
A woman hoping to become pregnant might benefit from increasing her intake of phytoestrogens – plant-based estrogen-like molecules that behave like estrogen in the body.
Soy is one source of phytoestrogens – and also, in the form of soybeans, a legume source. Researchers have found that in women undergoing IVF, those with the highest soy intake had the highest chance of delivering a baby.8
Soy foods include miso, tofu, soybeans, and soy milk. Phytoestrogen supplements may also be helpful for women trying to get pregnant.6
You might not have heard of lignans, but lignans provide another source of phytoestrogens. Lignans, an essential component of all plant cell walls, are highest in certain seeds, especially flaxseed. Research has shown that adding lignans to the diet can help women conceive more quickly.9 Although flaxseeds are by far the best source of lignans, sesame seeds and chia seeds also contain lignans.
5. Complex carbs
Eating high-fiber foods – whole grains, legumes, and vegetables – can help improve fertility for both women and men.6
Be wary of these foods
1. Saturated fats
Saturated fats are found in fatty meats and poultry skin. Red meat, in particular, doesn't favor fertility.6 Although saturated fats have been linked to lower fertility, one exception is the saturated fat in dairy products like whole milk, butter, and yogurt. In this case, it appears that whole-fat dairy products are more fertility-friendly than their low-fat alternatives.1
2. Trans fats
The trans fats found in vegetable shortening, stick margarine, and fried foods are linked to lower fertility.5 Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has taken steps to ban artificial trans fats from processed foods in the United States, be sure to check labels on snack foods like popcorn, crackers, and processed baked goods. By law, products made with artificial trans fats may remain on the shelves until January 1, 2020.10
3. Simple carbs
To maximize your chances of becoming pregnant, avoid refined sugar, found in things like breakfast cereal, candy, soda, and baked goods. Also limit your intake of natural sugars found in fruit juices.1
Alcoholic beverages have been linked to decreased fertility.11
Although most studies have not identified caffeine as adversely impacting fertility, experts recommend limiting coffee and tea to 1-2 cups daily.1,6
Other tips for a fertility-friendly diet
Here are some other evidence-based ideas to help align your diet with your efforts to have a baby.
Try the Mediterranean diet. If you are looking for an overall plan to follow while you're trying to conceive, consider the Mediterranean Diet, which highlights vegetables, fruit, fish, and olive oil. Researchers have shown that it might improve fertility.7
A 2011 study showed that women on the Mediterranean Diet were less likely to have fertility issues compared to women on a Western diet (higher in meat, fried foods, and simple carbs).12 A 2010 study found the Mediterranean Diet increased chances of becoming pregnant by 40% in women undergoing in vitro fertilization.13
In addition, this eating plan can help you maintain a healthy weight – which does matter, because, as noted above, studies have shown that obesity can lead to increased fertility problems.5
All things in moderation. In particular, don't overload on protein and carbs. One major study found that eating large amounts of carbohydrates can lead to increased ovulatory infertility.5 And researchers have also found that eating large amounts of protein is tied to ovulation problems.1
Know when a supplement makes sense. Vitamin D supplements have been shown to be helpful in improving fertility in women who have polycystic ovary syndrome.14 And both folic acid and vitamin B12 supplements might help increase fertility in women who are undergoing fertility treatments.15,16
Are you wondering about your levels of the hormones that are related to fertility? Then find out their levels with Thorne’s Fertility Test – an easy, at-home saliva and finger-stick blood test that provides insights into the sex hormones, thyroid function, and stress hormones that relate to female fertility.
- Jensen J, Steward E, eds. Mayo Clinic Guide to Fertility and Conception. Boston, MA.: Da Capo Press, 2015.
- Lan L, Harrison C, Misso M, et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis of the impact of preconception lifestyle interventions on fertility, obstetric, fetal, anthropometric and metabolic outcomes in men and women. Hum Reprod 2017;32:1925-1940.
- Castro L, Avina R. Maternal obesity and pregnancy outcomes. Curr Opin Obstet Gynecol 2002;14:601-606.
- Chavarro J, Ehrlich S, Colaci D, et al. Body mass index and short-term weight change in relation to treatment outcomes in women undergoing assisted reproduction. Fertil Steril 2012;98:109-116.
- Fontana R, Della Torre S. The deep correlation between energy metabolism and reproduction: A view on the effects of nutrition for women fertility. Nutrients 2016; 8:87.
- Gaskins A, Chavarro J. Diet and fertility: A review. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2018;218:379-389.
- Skrzypek M, Wdowiaik A, Marzec A. Application of dietetics in reproductive medicine. Ann Agric Environ Med 2017;24:559-565.
- Vanegas J, Afeiche M, Gaskins A, et al. Soy food intake and treatment outcomes of women undergoing assisted reproductive technology. Fertil Steril 2015;103:749-755.
- Mumford SL, Sundaram R, Schisterman E, et al. Higher urinary lignan concentrations in women but not men are positively associated with shorter time to pregnancy. J Nutr 2014;144:352-358.
- Frequently asked questions about fats. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Frequently-Asked-Questions-FAQs-About-Fats_UCM_306069_Article.jsp. [Accessed June 24, 2019.]
- Fan D, Liu L, Xia Q, et al. Female alcohol consumption and fecundability: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis. Sci Rep 2017;7:13815. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-14261-8.
- Toledo E, Lopez-del Burgo C, Ruiz-Zambrana A, et al. Dietary patterns and difficulty conceiving: A nested case-control study. Fertil Steril 2011;96:1149-1153.
- Vujkovic M, de Vries J, Lindemans J, et al. The preconception Mediterranean dietary pattern in couples undergoing in vitro fertilization/intracytoplasmic sperm injection treatment increases the chance of pregnancy. Fertil Steril 2010;94:2096-2101.
- Jamilian M, Foroozanfard F, Rahmani E, et al. Effect of two different doses of vitamin D supplementation on metabolic profiles of insulin-resistant patients with polycystic ovary syndrome. Horm Metab Res 2017;49:612-617.
- Cueto H, Riis A, Hatch E, et al. Folic acid supplementation and fecundability: A Danish prospective cohort study. Eur J Clin Nutr 2016;70:66-71.
- Gaskins A, Chiu Y, Williams P, et al. Association between serum folate and vitamin B-12 and outcomes of assisted reproductive technologies. Am J Clin Nutr 2015;102:943-950.