Fertility Diet, the best way to eat when you’re trying to get pregnant
Years ago I sat in my doctor’s office and we talked about preparing for pregnancy. I had recently stopped taking the Pill and new that before the regular withdrawal bleeds that it gave me, I rarely ever ovulated and got my period – and this couldn’t mean good things for getting pregnant! I asked all sorts of questions about what I should be doing to increase my chances and all I got was a prescription for prenatal vitamins. No advice on a good fertility diet, no ideas on how to convince my body to ovulate…nothing but a promise that I could try ovulation-stimulating meds after we tried for a year.
What I began learning in the years that followed changed my life.
The right fertility diet can not only help you balance your hormones and get pregnant easier, it can also make you feel so much better (I got rid of acne, PMS, severe mood swings, and migraines).
What is a fertility diet?
Benefits of a natural fertility diet
- provides antioxidants to reduce free radicals that may damage the health of both the sperm and egg
- increases energy and libido by providing plenty of enzymes needed for all of our body’s biochemical reactions
- assists in supporting the detoxification process
- lowers the risk for certain causes of miscarriage
- supports regular ovulation
- provides the right type of fats needed for hormone production
- Increases the body’s stores of nutrients for a developing baby
The research behind specific fertility diets
Research by Dr. Price
I was first introduced to the idea of a specific fertility diet when I became aware of the research of Dr. Weston A. Price. While I currently carry a slightly different theology of nutrition than the foundation that carries his name, he was one of the first to document how specific nutrients promoted fertility in indigenous and traditional cultures.
As a dentist in the 1930’s he began traveling to see why we in America were dealing with cavities, decay, and dental crowding while he noticed that other people groups living in non-industrialized areas had better teeth than we did! (His book Nutritional and Physical Degeneration can be found on Amazon. )
What he found during his travels was that not only did these people (whose diets included no processed or refined foods) have no tooth decay or need for corrective braces, they were full of vitality and health. They did not have problems with fertility and pregnancy, cancer and heart disease were unknown, and as a whole, they were happy and mentally healthy.
He found that the reasons behind this were because of what they ate and how they ate it.
He also found that eating for fertility was extremely important to them, no matter the country or tribe they came from. In some cultures, it was customary for couples to refrain from getting married until after the women had been able to consume these special foods for a certain number of months when these foods were in season. (maybe they noticed babies born in certain seasons fared better than others and so, without knowing why they began to have people get married only in the late spring/early summer) Many other cultures found it very important for women to eat certain foods before marriage and traveled far distances to provide it for them. And still, other cultures even held special ceremonies that included many of these foods.
While his discoveries happened about 80 years ago, much of the information has stood the test of time and been proven to be correct over and over again with modern studies.
Research by Dr. Brewer
Dr. Tom Brewer wrote a book on his diet recommendations that he gave his patients. Over the years and during over 50 years of research, he found that eating a certain way decreased the risk of pregnancy complications dramatically. He passed away in 2005 and his book is currently out of print, but his information lives on.
Research by Harvard
A 2007 study by Harvard found rates of the risk of infertility associated with ovulatory disorders dropped by 80% when they changed their diets! Higher fertility scores were associated with eating more high-fat dairy (and less low-fat dairy), more fiber and less trans fats, and consuming less sugar from carbohydrates.
We analyzed what happens if you follow one, two, three, four, or more different factors. What we found was that as women started following more of these recommendations their risk of infertility dropped substantially for every one of the dietary and lifestyle strategies undertaken. In fact, we found a sixfold difference in ovulatory infertility risk between women following five or more low-risk dietary and lifestyle habits and those following none.” (source)
Basic guidelines for eating for fertility
Drink clean water – Technically not even food, but it’s important to make sure your drinking water is free of contaminants, some of which may even be placed there by your local water facility (chlorine and fluoride). Choose glass or stainless cups/bottles instead of plastic (plastics contribute to estrogen dominance) and use a quality filter at home to remove harmful chemicals like agricultural pesticides.
Eat lots of vegetables and fruits – Choosing organic if you can afford it is best as you’ll reduce the number of herbicides and pesticides you’re exposed to, but fill your plate with veggies! Shoot for 7-9 servings per day, mostly vegetables, some fruits. Vegetables and fruit are a great source of fiber that helps to remove waste products (a large source of detoxification) as well as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Eat grass-fed meats – While all meats are a source of protein and much of our fat-soluble vitamins, choosing grass-fed meats offers you more “good” fats (like Omega 3’s and CLA) and less “bad” fats. Because of the way the animals are raised they also are free of added hormones, antibiotics or other drugs. Chicken, beef, and pigs raised outside on pasture are able to eat their normal diet and are usually healthier as a result.
Eat organic whole fat dairy – Fresh milk (not pasteurized or homogenized) is preferred if safe choices are available in your location. Organic milk should be free of herbicides and pesticides as the cows are only allowed organic feed. Grass-fed cows also tend to have milk of higher nutritional quality, especially during the spring months when grass grows quickly. Dairy, however, may be congesting to some (or contribute to mucus production), so it’s important to test and see how your body does with it. To test – simply cut out all dairy for 3-4 weeks and see how you feel! When you add it back in, pay attention to how your body responds.
Cold water fish – A great source of omega 3 fats, fish is a great source of protein in any healthy nutritional plan. Stick to wild caught fish like Alaskan salmon, halibut, and sardines. (the smaller the fish the less risk of mercury contamination).
Eat grains in their natural form – Brown rice, millet, quinoa, and even wheat have beneficial nutrients but can be hard for the body to digest if not prepared correctly. Stick to sourdough or sprouted bread and pasta whenever possible and chose to eat grains in their whole forms versus highly processed.
Key nutrients for fertility
This important “vitamin” actually refers to a group of fat-soluble compounds that serve as pre-hormones, or hormone precursors, to the active form of vitamin D, called calcitriol – and it is responsible for regulating over 2000 genes in your body. It supports the production of estrogen in both women AND men, is needed for insulin production, and is key in regulating cell growth and deciding how those cells grow.
Food sources of Vitamin D:
- Cod Liver Oil – is one of the richest food sources of vitamin D (buy only from a reputable company that sells fresh ((not fermented)) oils and has strict standards for quality control)
- Eggs -especially the yolks and from chickens who have had regular access to run around in the great outdoors eating grass, worms, and other insects.
- Wild Caught Fish – fatty fish like herring top that list
- Butter – from cows that had access to pasture
- Lard/Tallow – (from grass-fed and pastured animals) the second richest source of vitamin D.
- Organ Meats – may sound gross, but they are nutrient-rich (eaten sparingly, maybe 1x per week)
Vitamin D is fat-soluble and stored in the body.
Side note – it’s always best to get your nutrients from food, but Vitamin D supplements are also available. Just be sure to research the dangers of supplementation (especially high doses and long-term).
Vitamin A promotes better cervical fluid and helps ensure follicles develop correctly. It can be classified into one of 2 groups. Retinol, which is found in animal products, and carotenoids (beta carotene), found in plant foods. The great thing about retinol is that the body can easily convert this to a usable form of vitamin A. It takes a lot more beta carotene, on the other hand, to come up with the same amount of usable vitamin A. Infants and children, as well as those in poor health (decreased thyroid function, celiac, diabetes) or on low-fat diets, already have an even harder time converting beta carotene to a form the body can use.
Food sources of Vitamin A
- Sweet potato
- Red bell peppers
- Butter and cream – particularly from cows fed growing grass.
- Egg yolks – particularly from chickens raised on pasture
Vitamin A is fat soluble and stored in the body and works synergistically with Vitamin D. There are also concerns about Vitamin A supplementation causing health problems, so either get your nutrients from food or work with a qualified health care provider if you feel the need to use supplements.
This vitamin is also an antioxidant and this basically means that it fights/deactivates free radicals within our bodies (free radicals damage cells, kind of like rust on a car or an apple that turns brown) which protects both the egg in the woman and sperm in the man. Vitamin E also has a property in it known as tocopherol. It was given the name after a fertility study was done with rats in 1936 and in Greek this means “to bring forth a child”. It’s known to improve sperm health and motility in men.
Food sources for Vitamin E:
- Butter – from grass-fed cows
- Grains – vitamin E is found in the wheat kernel which is removed to make white flour. It is also easily damaged during processing and can become oxidized. Freshly ground wheat is always best!
- Seeds – sunflowers contain 35mg per 3.75oz
- Nuts – almonds contain 26 mg per 3.75oz (90% of which is tocopherol!) Learn how to properly prepare them for better nutrient absorption.
- Legumes – varies from 7mg to 28 mg depending on the variety
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Unrefined (and unheated) oils like olive and sunflower oil
- Eggs – when from chickens raised on pasture they contain 3 times more vitamin E than conventional eggs.¹
This fat-soluble compound assists vitamins A & D, also known as Activator X by Weston A Price. It is found in certain fatty parts of animals that feed on young green growing plants. The animals eat rapidly growing plants, which are high in vitamin K1, part of this K1 is then converted by the animal’s tissues to K2. The amounts of K2 within the animal products will then vary widely depending on what the animal eats and when they eat it.
Food sources include:
- Whole milk
- Egg yolks
- High vitamin butter oil (available as supplements)
- Fish eggs
If you’d like to read even more about vitamin K2, I’d recommend an article written by Chris Masterjohn, “On the Trail of the Elusive X-Factor: A Sixty-Two-Year-Old Mystery Finally Solved”. It’s more complex than what I can ever get into.
This water-soluble vitamin is actually a group of 8 vitamins that help to promote overall health within the body. Making sure you get enough B vitamins in your body can help regulate menstrual cycles and maintain the quality of both egg and sperm. Vitamin B6 is especially helpful in lengthening the luteal phase of the cycle.
Folate (also known by the synthetic version folic acid) is part of this group and is well known for preventing neural tube defects like spina bifida and cleft palate.
Foods to eat for B vitamins:
A powerful antioxidant, vitamin C helps to protect the DNA of both egg and sperm and can help neutralize toxins within the body. It also aids in sperm and semen production, keeping the semen less sticky, or clumpy, and allowing the sperm to move freely.
Foods high in Vitamin C:
- red peppers
An essential component of the genetic material within our bodies. A deficiency in zinc, therefore, can cause chromosomal changes in either partner which in turn causes reduced fertility and greater risk of miscarriage. In women, zinc is important in helping your body utilize your reproductive hormones, oestrogen, and progesterone. For a man, it can greatly impact the sperm count since zinc is found in high concentrations in the sperm. It is also needed to make the outer layer and the tail of the sperm.
Foods needed for zinc:
- beef, venison, and poultry
- whole grains
- whole fat dairy products
- seeds like sunflower and pumpkin
- molasses and maple syrup
Iodine, a non-metallic trace element, is required by our bodies for making thyroid hormones. As in, if you do not have enough iodine in your body you can not make enough thyroid hormones. When our bodies are deficient in this element, it affects our thyroid, adrenals, and entire endocrine system. Not only is it important in a fertility diet, but it’s also essential in the prenatal and nursing period as well. Infant mortality rates start to climb in areas known for iodine deficiency, and it’s also been linked to higher rates of miscarriage and stillbirth.
It used to be prevalent in our soil, but unfortunately, we’ve destroyed so many of the nutrients with bad farming practices and chemicals that much of what we currently grow is lacking in key nutrients, iodine is one of them. While it’s not found in much of our food anymore (especially in the midwest areas) it is still prevalent in seafood. Our bodies can not make it on their own, so you must consume iodine in your diet.
Foods to eat for iodine
- Fruits and Vegetables grown near the sea, including coconut products
- Blackstrap molasses (158 mcg per 100 grams/3.75 oz)
- Saltwater fish; haddock, whiting, herring (330 mcg per 100 grams)
- Butter from cows fed on iodine-rich soil
- Dried Kelp (62,400 mcgs per 100 grams)
- Spinach (56 mcg per 100 grams)
- Milk and dairy products (14 mcg per 100 grams) (at least 20% of iodine is lost during pasteurization so fresh milk is best)
- Eggs (13 mcg per 100 grams)
The recommended RDA is a small 150 mcgs for women and increases to 220 when pregnant and 290 when nursing.
Side note – because iodine directly affects your thyroid and hormones, work with a health care practitioner if you decide to use iodine supplements.
Omega 3 fatty acids
There are 3 different types of omega 3 fats; alpha-linolenic acid (ALA- plant based), eicosapentaenioc acid (EPA – animal based), and docosahexaenioc acid (DHA – animal based). These healthy fats have been shown to help increase a woman’s fertility by regulating hormones and ovulation as well as increasing both the quantity of fertile cervical mucus and the blood flow to the reproductive organs. A 2009 study suggests that women suffering from infertility, on average, have lower levels of omega 3 fats. Men that don’t consume enough omega 3’s may have issues with sperm production since the DHA within these good fats helps protect the sperm from free radicals and damage.
It’s also important to note that DHA is particularly important and may also help reduce the risk of maternal depression and anxiety. It is, however, only found in animal-based sources. ALA is the precursor to EPA and is converted with the help of enzymes (conversion rates are low – thought to be about 1%). EPA is then converted to DHA, so if you are only using plant-based sources for omega 3’s you may not be getting enough in your diet.
Food sourced ALA:
- flax seed,
- chia seed, and
- hemp seeds
Food sourced EPA and DHA
- egg yolks (from chickens raised on pasture)
- oily coldwater fish like salmon, herring, tuna, cod, sardines, and trout.
Dairy and seafood seemed to be prominent fertility foods for these indigenous people. And together they offer nutrients that without, women cannot conceive; vitamins A, D, E, and K2, iodine, and omega-3 fats. Unfortunately, most of us eating a modern American diet is basically eating ourselves into infertility by not consuming the foods that nourish our bodies with these essential nutrients.
The most important part of a fertility diet
Advice from health practitioners and people on the internet are often very different from each other. Nowadays you can’t research fertility nutrition without finding conflicting information! Paleo, keto, vegetarian, vegan, whole foods, low-carb, plant-based…and on and on.
The thing is, not every nutritional plan will work for every person!
Women with PCOS tend to do better with lower carbs and no added sugar, but that’s not to say that others with PCOS won’t find a vegetarian diet helpful. Some women with endometriosis find that cutting out red meat helps their pain and inflammation levels.
My non-medical advice:
If you are just starting to prepare for pregnancy or are just now researching dietary changes to improve your chances of getting pregnant – simply stick to whole foods! There’s no reason (yet) to do any elimination diets, just cut out the processed foods. Many times this is the only change you need to make!
If you eat a mostly whole foods diet and have been trying to get pregnant for 6-12 months, it may be time to start playing with your diet, especially if you have symptoms of other hormone imbalance. Pay attention to how different foods affect your body and mood, and if you have a diagnosis (PCOS, Endometriosis, etc) work to move to a nutritional plan that supports healing. (gluten-free and dairy-free is usually a great way to start)
If you’ve been trying to get pregnant for over one year or have major hormone issues – it’s time to work with a health practitioner, preferably a holistic professional with a nutritional focus. They can help guide you in what lab work needs to be checked and work with you on a specific nutritional plan.
Over the years I’ve tested many diets myself and have also worked with naturopaths, chiropractors, and holistic doctors to find how to feed my body through different seasons. In times of low stress and a moderate amount of activity, I need to eat differently than I do when I journey through stressful periods. The main thing I’ve learned though is that nutrition is key to building a solid foundation of health. Sure, many times I needed a couple of supplements or an alternative therapy to coax my ovaries into ovulating but had I not focused on my diet first, those treatments wouldn’t have been nearly as successful.
My normal daily fertility diet menu
Breakfast – omelet with sauteed onions, peppers, kale, and sweet potatoes OR a smoothie with good fats
Lunch – salad with leftover meat or a hardboiled egg and homemade dressing OR soup with homemade broth, leftover meats, and lots of veggies
Dinner – simple prepared meats (I try to stick to roasted or baked), steamed or roasted veggies, and either sweet potatoes or a bit or rice or quinoa
Let’s get you started on a fertility diet!
Pop your name and email into the form below and I’ll send you my Fertility Foods Checklist. I found it super helpful when I started to change my diet – it lets me see how I’m doing over the course of a week. I also know how tricky it can be to change your diet, but if I can do it – so can you! In order to give you a bit more support, I’ll also send you some helpful tips about food and fertility.