Make All the Difference With Optimal Fertility Nutrition
Updated: Jun 8
So maybe you're thinking about a baby, or maybe you're thinking WAY down the road but either way, you want to start preparing your body for a potential pregnancy (the more power to ya!!) There is so much we can do to supercharge our fertility. Whether you’re trying to conceive the ‘old-fashioned way' or you’ve started on a fertility treatment journey, the most powerful place to start is with the foods you eat. In fact, we recommend all women – even if not planning to conceive for a year or more follow an optimal fertility diet, as not only does it improve likelihood of conception, but it improves overall health for you and baby during pregnancy and beyond.
While fertility is complex, and every woman has her own journey, there are foods and nutrients you can use to nourish your ovaries and uterus, support immunity, reduce inflammation, and rebalance your hormones – all factors that can impact fertility, conception, prenatal health, and even infant health.
Nutrition and Fertility
There’s a surplus of data that shows our diets can make a powerful contribution to getting (and staying) pregnant. And while there are many reasons for fertility challenges, including PCOS, endometriosis, anovulatory infertility, and other causes, refining what you eat can have a profoundly positive impact on most root causes of fertility problems.
Here’s just a sample of the available research:
A major study 39% of 5,598 first-time mothers in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, found that those who generally avoided fast food in their diets conceived within one month of when they began having unprotected sex, while women who included fast foods in their diets four times per week, had double the likelihood of still not having conceived at 12 months, compared to the no fast food eaters.
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health monitored the fat consumption of 147 women undergoing IVF treatment and discovered that those who ate the highest amounts of monounsaturated fat were 3.4 times more likely to have a child after IVF. They concluded that avocados contain the best kind of monounsaturated fat while saturated fat was found to decrease the number of “good eggs.”
Low vitamin C is associated with reduced ovarian function and progesterone levels, consistent with a study that found that when women were supplemented with ascorbic acid, their progesterone levels rose, their luteal phases lengthened, and their pregnancy rates increased.
Women with low B12 or low folate have an increased risk of recurrent miscarriage, as do women with hypothyroidism and PCOS, all of which are influenced by nutritional status.
Low Vitamin E levels are connected with an increased risk of anovulation.
Low Vitamin B6 has been found in women with miscarriage and prenatal nausea and vomiting.
Vitamin D plays a role in helping women conceive after IVF.
High homocysteine blood levels are associated with low folate/folic acid levels, low luteal phase progesterone, and a 33% increase in likelihood of anovulation, while higher levels of folate are associated with higher progesterone levels.
Low selenium is associated with increased risk of miscarriage, possibly due to it's importance for healthy thyroid function.
Major studies have shown that most women in the US are chronically low in many of these nutrients. For example, most women go into their childbearing years low in:
How Does a Fertility "Diet" (for lack of a better word) Work?
What we do – or don’t – eat influences your menstrual cycle regularity, ovulation egg quality, the health of you uterine lining, your immune system, and your gut and vaginal microbiome, for example, all of which influence fertility. The best foods for fertility provide the information your cells and endocrine system need to support conception and pregnancy and provide the essential building blocks of your hormones, while helping to balance hormone, including insulin resistance, which for some is a ‘hidden' cause of inflammation, ovarian dysfunction, PCOS, and fertility challenges.
What we eat should be the foundation for all treatment plans. We're going to explain which foods to add to your diet or emphasize if you’re already paying attention to eating healthy, and what supplements to add that really can make a difference not just in getting pregnant, but staying pregnant, having a healthy pregnancy, and optimizing your baby’s health.
What Does a Optimal Fertility Diet Look Like
Whole, organic, fresh foods
Plenty of fruits and vegetables – shoot for 6-8 servings daily
Good quality protein (preferably grass-fed)
Healthy oils and fats
Nuts, and ample seeds
Slow burning carbs in moderation
Here’s exactly what to eat – and what to skip, to optimize fertility and pregnancy
First and Foremost - Whole, Organic Foods
We want to keep processed foods to the bare minimum and watch the toxins in our foods that come from pesticides and other chemicals on non-organic foods. The chemicals and fake ingredients within processed and non-organic foods can be endocrine disruptors and work against you ask you try to manage your hormones and keep them as healthy as possible.
Fatty fish help you get pregnant. From PCOS to endometriosis, ovulatory infertility to period problems, fatty fish improves gynecologic health and fertility. Just keep it to low mercury forms, and no more than 12 oz. weekly of recommended varieties. Salmon, Mackerel, Sardines, and tuna are all great options.
Eggs, Eggs, Eggs
Eggs have been a symbol of fertility for years now, and it's no wonder! Eggs provide choline, essential for baby’s brain development, and eggs are an especially rich source. They’re also an excellent source of blood-sugar balancing protein and energy. We recommend eating two eggs, daily AND still supplementing choline - it's THAT important. We recommend at least 400mg of Choline daily.
Eat those fats!
Healthy fats improve insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation, and support healthy cycles and fertility. Researchers shows that amongst women undergoing IVF treatment, those who ate the highest amounts of monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds) were 3.4 times more likely to have a child after IVF, compared to women who ate more saturated fats. They further concluded that avocados contain the best kind of monounsaturated fat for fertility – a great regular addition to your diet if you enjoy them. They're also a great way to make a creamy smoothie if you can't stand to eat them plain.
Try Your Very Hardest to Limit Gluten
Celiac disease and possibly even non-celiac gluten intolerance, can affect fertility, increase miscarriage risk, and is associated with additional pregnancy complications; it also plays a role in endometriosis, leaky gut, and Hashimoto’s, all of which can impact fertility and pregnancy.
Full fat dairy
It was initially thought that any dairy was important for fertility, however, multiple studies have started to suggest that it's not the dairy itself, but getting both adequate fat and calcium in the diet that gave fertility a boost. First, we recommend ample daily intake of the other fats discussed in this article, and ample dietary calcium intake from sources like tahini, lentils and garbazno beans, leafy greens, sardines, and other healthful vegan sources but full fat dairy can be beneficial to a balanced diet in small amounts; no more than a few times a week depending on the person. Sometimes we recommend skipping dairy all together. We will be able to tell you more if you stop in or shoot us a message.
Balance Blood Sugar
Blood sugar balance and insulin sensitivity are essential to healthy ovulatory function and fertility. Women with a diet high in processed, refined foods, have nearly twice the risk of ovulatory infertility as women with low glycemic loads, whereas a blood sugar balanced diet protects and enhances fertility, reduces inflammation, reverses the insulin resistance associated with PCOS, and has numerous other benefits that support healthy fertility. A diet with adequate good quality protein helps protect against insulin resistance. To eat for blood sugar balance, simply follow these simple steps:
Don't skip meals or let yourself get ‘hangry.' We've all been there, but don't do it!
At each meal, make sure you include a good quality protein source (legumes, beans, nuts/seeds, fish, poultry, less than once/week red meat is okay) + a good quality fat (avocado, olive oil, ghee) + a small amount of grain + your veggie serving. Even if you're having something like oatmeal or another grain, add a protein + healthy fat.
Avoid sugary foods and empty carbohydrates like cookies, cake, and white flour pastries that jack up your blood sugar after which it will drop, causing a blood sugar roller-coaster.
This may seem cliche because we hear it all the time but drinking enough water can improve your quality and quantity of cervical mucus, reduce inflammation, and promote cellular health, while also preventing depression, fatigue, brain fog. Aim for 6-8 cups per day of water.
**Note: Soft drinks pose a specific fertility risk. According to the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, women who consumed 2 or more sodas a day were up to 50% more likely to experience ovulatory infertility than women who drank less than 1 soda a week.
Amping Your Nutrient Intake
While ideally, we’d be getting all we need from our diet, numerous nutrients are needed in optimal amounts for yours and baby’s wellness, and as we mentioned, most women are going into their fertility years nutritionally depleted. Here are the supplements that can make all the difference. Don’t be overwhelmed, most of these are in a prenatal vitamin and you can even get a great one-a-day so it’s not as much as it seems!
Start taking a Prenatal Vitamin: All women trying to conceive should take a high quality, food-based prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement. Women taking a prenatal vitamin are more likely to get pregnant, which is associated with healthier pregnancies and lower rates of preterm birth, birth defects, and stillbirth. Unfortunately many prenatals fall short on bridging the phytonutrient gap and women’s actual preconception and prenatal needs, so check the label on the one you choose to make sure it includes the specific complement of the nutrients I describe below.
Methylfolate: During pregnancy folate plays a special role in the formation of baby’s chromosomes and nervous system formation, as well as mom’s health. Adequate levels improve egg quality, and prevent miscarriage and other pregnancy complications including preclampsia and placental abruption; it prevents neural tube and other defects in baby, and may protect against autism. For these benefits, you have to be taking it during the first 28 days of pregnancy. It also protects against prenatal and postpartum depression in mom. However, if you have the MTHFR gene, you can’t make full use of what you’re getting from your diet or the regular folic acid found in most vitamins. That’s why we recommend methylfolate, which everyone can metabolize, MTHFR gene or not. Dose: It’s typically recommended that sexually active women in their childbearing years take 400 to 800 mcg methylfolate daily.
Vitamin B6 supports healthy levels of progesterone which creates a healthy uterine lining for implantation. Many women enter pregnancy low in B6, especially if they’ve been using hormonal contraceptives. It’s best to take the active form, Pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P),in a range of 5-10 mg per day. Going into pregnancy with adequate B6 levels may also prevent morning sickness (it can be supplemented at 50-100 mcg/day if you do get this common pregnancy symptom).
Iron: In addition to plant-based sources of iron from your diet, a prenatal vitamin that contains 27 mg of iron reduces ovulatory infertility. Use iron chelate, which is a non-constipating form.
Iodine is critical to your healthy thyroid function and therefore healthy menstrual cycles fertility, miscarriage, and stillbirth prevention. Once pregnant, it's also critical to your baby’s thyroid, brain development, and central nervous system development. Even mild iodine insufficiency can affect your thyroid health and fertility, and deficiency is associated with reduced IQ and cognitive development in baby. Food sources include kelp and other sea vegetables, and seafood, as well as iodized salt. Your prenatal vitamin should contain a daily dose of 200 to 250 mcg of iodine. It’s important to note, however, that excess intake can cause thyroid suppressing in the baby, so if you’re taking an iodine supplement that exceeds the recommended amount (i.e., for natural thyroid treatment or breast health), decrease to the recommended dose once you start trying to conceive.
Choline is essential for baby’s neurologic development and signaling, and cognitive function, especially memory, focus, and attention. Adequate intake may prevent birth defects and provides your child with stress resilience and protection from anxiety. While it can be obtained from the diet, many women’s diets fall short, especially if you don’t eat egg which is one of the primary sources aside from beef and calf liver. Dose: 400 mg/day.
Zinc is another important fertility nutrient. It plays a role in ovulation, supports healthy estrogen and progesterone levels, and is important for optimal immune function. It protects the developing egg against oxidative damage, supports healthy oocyte development, and is important for fetal brain development and function. Food sources: oysters, shellfish, seafood, beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds. Dose: your prenatal vitamin should supply between 15- 45 mg zinc daily.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids play an essential role in conception, and the formation and development of the oocyte and embryo. Higher intake is associated with better ovarian reserve and higher rates of conception. Your intake of DHA prenatally is also critical for baby’s brain and neurological development, may prevent preterm labor, regardless of other risk factors, and interestingly, a couple of studies have shown that it can improve stress resilience, including to even severe social stressors, while EPA can prevent prenatal and postpartum depression. Shoot for a combined dose of 2 g daily while you’re trying to conceive, and then taking a combined DHA/EPA, either from fish oil or a vegan source.
Vitamin D plays a strong role in sex hormone production, and vitamin D is associated with improving fertility. It can reduce insulin resistance in women with PCOS and plays a role in preventing and treating fibroids and endometriosis. It promotes healthy follicle formation, and in studies of women undergoing IVF, women with higher vitamin D levels have not only pregnancy rates 35% higher, but higher quality embryos compared to those who are deficient. It also appears to prevent preterm labor. Food sources include fatty fish, eggs, and cod-liver oil. Sunshine is also an important source, but dietary sources and sunshine aren’t usually enough to meet fertility and pregnancy needs. Dose: the amounts in a prenatal vitamin are typically lower than needed, so a separate supplement is needed. For most women, 2000 iu daily will take care of deficiency, but it’s ideal to have your level checked and supplement accordingly, as women with a serum vitamin D level > 30 ng/mL have the greatest chances of getting pregnant,
A probiotic may augment fertility, conception (including with IVF), and healthy pregnancy in a variety of ways. Disruption in the vaginal microbiome can favor the growth of organisms that interfere with fertility and increase pregnancy risk including miscarriage and preterm birth. Women undergoing IVF often have higher levels of BV and abnormal vaginal flora, which is now suspected to be a cause of the infertility that led them to treatment, and may also interfere with IVF success. Probiotics can also help reduce inflammation and regulate blood sugar, important in PCOS, endometriosis, and other conditions. Taking a probiotic containing a broad spectrum of Lactobacillus species may provide you with a fertility advantage; an added benefit is that taking a probiotic with Lactobacillus rhamnosus during pregnancy can also help prevent urinary tract infections, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, as well as prenatal and postpartum anxiety and depression, and women who take a probiotic through the third trimester may help to prevent eczema, allergies, and asthma in their babies.
Under-eating can be just as detrimental to your fertility and pregnancy as eating the wrong foods can be. When our bodies don't have adequate calories, fat intake, and vitamin and nutrient intake, they cannot do what they need to do; such as, ovulate or sustain a pregnancy. It's important that we are eating the right things and eating enough of them.
What to Expect
First of all, most statistically, it's common for it to take 12 to 24 months to conceive, so please do not put a label on yourself until at least 6 months of trying to conceive. It really can take that long when following a natural, root-cause based approach to boosting or restoring fertility. There’s a 90 percent chance that most women will conceive within 12 months and by optimizing your fertility it often takes far less. Optimizing your diet, can only further your odds plus it can only improve your health. It's a win-win and the first step of taking care of yourself so that you can take care of a potential baby (or two *wink wink*).