If you or someone you know are among the one in eight couples that struggle with infertility, you have likely come across all kinds of advice on eating to conceive. But if recommendations such as eating pineapple core sound unappealing, what can you do to optimize your diet for fertility?

Before we begin, it is important to acknowledge that infertility is an extremely complex and sensitive subject. There are many causes, including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis and ovulatory dysfunction. Moreover, unknown causes and factors other than food play a role, such as genetics, stress and exercise. When it comes to food, there isn’t enough evidence to recommend a ‘fertility diet’ per se. However, there is hopeful research to support dietary habits that may help women conceive.

Let’s break this down into two sections:

  • Prep for pregnancy– while these recommendations may not help you become pregnant, they are essential in preparing your body for pregnancy.
  • Food for fertility– these dietary habits have been linked to fertility and have some encouraging evidence to back them.

Prep for pregnancy

Heading into pregnancy with a balanced and varied diet will do wonders as you navigate the changes your body will experience. Focus on eating whole, minimally-processed food in a way that is sustainable for your lifestyle.

All women can benefit from 0.4 mg of folic acid daily, whether or not they are trying to conceive. Folic acid is a B vitamin that protects against neural tube defects (NTDs) in babies. If you are at low risk for NTDs, a prenatal multivitamin will provide all that you need.

While folic acid is well known, you may not know about choline, a B vitamin that most pregnant women aren’t getting enough of. Choline helps prevent NTDs and is also important for children’s brain development and mental health. Women trying to conceive should aim for at least 450 mg daily.Your prenatal or multivitamin likely has very little choline in it, so food sources are important! Check out this fact sheet for more info.

Food for fertility

What if you’ve prepped your body for pregnancy but conception isn’t coming as easily as you had hoped. While there are factors that are out of your control, you can optimize your diet for fertility. Try these five tips:

1.     Go whole grain– When you eat carbohydrates, blood sugar rises and the hormone insulin is released. Insulin plays a big role in keeping blood sugar stable but it also impacts the production of reproductive hormones. Including whole grains in your diet helps control insulin levels. This is especially beneficial for women with PCOS. Research* has also shown that women with ovulatory dysfunction benefit from eating whole grains.

Try this: Whole Grain Banana Nut Muffins

2.     Favour full-fat dairy– If you enjoy the creaminess of full-fat yogurt or homogenized milk, this should be easy! In a large study of women,* those who consumed one or more servings of full-fat dairy daily had a lower risk of ovulatory dysfunction.

Try this: Blueberry and Oatmeal Pancakes with Maple Yogurt Topping (made with whole milk)

 3.     Include plant protein– Research* has shown improved conception in women with ovulatory dysfunction when they eat a bit more plant protein and a bit less animal protein. This is not to say that you need to eliminate meat but try to include sources of plant protein such as pulses, tofu, nuts and seeds in meals and snacks.

Try this: Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili

 4.     Aim for antioxidantsAntioxidants protect your body’s cells from damage due to lifestyle factors and the aging process. This includes egg and sperm cells. Here is yet another reason to focus on colourful fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant proteins.

Try thisBlueberry Smoothie Bowl 

5.     Sip safely– Alcohol and high amounts of caffeine are off limits in pregnancy, but what about when you’re trying to conceive? The research is undecided in this area; however, this is a good time to practice for pregnancy. It will be easier to make the transition when you do conceive, and it decreases your chances of drinking an off-limit beverage in that short window of time you won’t know you’re pregnant.

Try this: Trendy Golden Milk

*Much of the research on food and fertility comes from a large observational study of nurses with ovulatory dysfunction, only one of the many causes of infertility. But don’t despair. The recommendations in this blog are still healthful choices that will contribute to the nourished body you need for pregnancy regardless of your specific situation.

What about weight?

Being under or overweight can impact your ability to conceive as weight is closely tied to reproductive function. However, if you are struggling with conception, this is not a time to diet and risk depriving your body of the important nutrients it needs. Being on a restrictive diet and obsessing about weight may cause stress, another factor that impacts fertility. Instead, focus on cultivating a healthy relationship with food a practice that will benefit you now, throughout pregnancy and as you raise a family. Speak with your doctor or a registered dietitian regarding your specific concerns.

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Kristina Isaac, RD.

Registered Dietitian

Kristina (BSc, RD) is a registered dietitian and blogger for Nourish Move Thrive. She enjoys finding creative, fun and simple ways to communicate the science of nutrition.

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