Which fertility diet is right for you?
These are definitely the questions I’m asked the most. What is a good fertility diet for getting pregnant? What are the best fertility foods to eat while TTC?
And while there are definitely a lot of basic foods that are great for maintaining your fertility and ability to conceive, the real answer is: It depends.
Here’s the secret: there’s no one-size-fits-all fertility diet. The right foods to increase your personal fertility and ability to conceive are totally dependent on what’s going on with your body.
Let’s break this down by the most common diet related causes of infertility or delays in TTC.
Conception requires a ton of different nutrients, so if you’re lacking in any one your fertility can be compromised. Think of it like this: if you aren’t getting the proper nutrition for yourself, you send signals to your body that now is not the time to start growing a baby because nutrients and food are scarce. Your body doesn’t trust that you’d be able to provide your growing baby with the right nutrients if right now you aren’t getting them for yourself.
This is the first step to focus on, and also a great “fertility primer” before you start TTC.
Your Nutrient Dense Fertility Diet
First, make sure you are getting enough calories. Making a baby requires a ton of energy, so if you are cutting calories or a category like carbohydrates or fat you are not giving your body the energy it needs. Your meals should always include each of a protein, carbohydrate and fat.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also turn off your fertility. We need so many in order to keep our reproductive selves functioning. While taking a multivitamin or prenatal can help, there are certain star fertility nutrients we want to get even more of from food:
Vitamin D - studies have linked vitamin D deficiencies to infertility and difficulty conceiving, as well as poorer pregnancy outcomes such as preterm delivery. Getting out into the sun several times per week or taking a separate supplement if you live in a colder climate or it is winter. (shout out to my fellow fogged in San Franciscans here!)
Vitamin B12 - a very common deficiency, and related to problems ovulating as well as low sperm production. This particular vitamin only comes from animal products, so vegans will need to supplement. Egg yolks, dairy and shellfish are wonderful sources.
Iron - the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide, especially for women. It’s so important to fertility I wrote a whole blog post about iron & female fertility here.
Super Fertility Foods that check off many of the above nutrients:
Nuts & seeds
Meat & fish
Eat one or more of these with each meal and you’re on your way!
The ability to get pregnant and carry to term is largely dependent on your hormones. Estrogen, progesterone, thyroid, cortisol, insulin etc - all of these hormones need to be working together and when one is out of whack it can throw off the others. When they are out of balance, you may have problems ovulating, irregular cycles, poor egg quality and difficulty conceiving.
Signs you may have a hormone imbalance include:
lots of stress and trouble sleeping
irregular, very short or very long cycles
wicked PMS and painful heavy periods
PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids
under or overweight
If you have one or more of these symptoms, your hormones need a little love.
Your Hormone Balancing Fertility Diet
My favorite foods for hormone balance are healthy fats. Hormones are mostly made of fat, so we need to be getting enough of these to keep us in check. Avocado, coconut, and grass fed butter are super fertility fats that provide the building blocks for hormone production. On the other hand, a high sugar diet will cause your hormones to go into a state of disarray so we want to avoid that as much as possible.
Each fertility hormone imbalance requires a different set of foods to bring back to balance. Working with me 1:1 includes comprehensive fertility hormone assessment so we can start working right away on what is affecting your personal body the most.
Age and Egg Health
So many women I talk with are terrified that their age is affecting their fertility. And while it’s true that pregnancy rates do tend to go down with increased age, diet plays a really big part of whether or not we have “old eggs” or healthy eggs. I’ve seen enough women in their 20s diagnosed with low ovarian reserve to know that it’s not always about how many birthdays you've had.
Your Egg Health Fertility Diet
In order to prevent premature aging and turn back the clock for your age and thus fertility, you want to make sure you’re getting a hefty dose of antioxidants. As with basically every other part of our body, free radicals will damage and age our eggs. So getting antioxidants from brightly colored fruits and vegetables, with a special focus on Vitamin C foods (citrus, broccoli, berries etc). And just like with hormone balance, healthy fats and low sugar is an absolute necessity.
Your eggs (as well as your hormones) are also sensitive to chemicals in our food and environment, and this can be a big one. Read more about what to avoid and some supplements for women over 35 here.
Gut Health & Food Sensitivities
Your digestion is probably the last thing on your mind when you’re thinking of your fertility, but it matters a lot more than you think! Your gut is the gatekeeper of your nutrition and hence your total health. And if you’re constantly experiencing GI symptoms, you can consider a digestive healing and a fertility diet to be one in the same.
Your Digestive Wellness Fertility Diet
The population of your gut bacteria - basically how many good guys v. bad guys live in your intestines - can improve or undermine your ability to get pregnant and is also associated with pregnancy complications like group beta strep and preterm labor. Consider anything with probiotics to be fertility foods. This can be a supplement, fermented food such as yogurt or my personal favorite, sauerkraut.
We also want to feed your bacteria to keep them happy. Nobody likes a hangry bacteria. Fiber is the preferred food for gut bacteria, so getting plenty of vegetables, fruit and legumes will keep your intestines strong. High fiber foods will also help excrete excess estrogen from your body, so that’s a 2-for-1 bonus!
Food sensitivities also fall into this category of digestive wellness, and this list of foods is different for everyone. Any food that gives you a bad reaction - whether that be a digestion related issue, a rash, headache or runny nose - should be avoided on your personal fertility diet. It’s not always easy to identify these foods, so keeping a journal of your meals and your symptoms can help you figure it out. Working with a dietitian will be the best way to streamline your personal diet.
Now you know where to start with your own personalized Fertility Diet! If you're still unsure on which direction to head in and would like to see what it means to work with a dietitian specializing in fertility, read more here.