Conceiving

Women's Health

Fertility foods: What to fill your plate with while trying to conceive

There are a number of factors that influence your fertility including age, genetics, alcohol, smoking, age, environmental components and nutritional choices.

What you eat plays a large role in fertility, so the foods you fill your plate with each day do matter — particularly if you are trying to conceive (TTC). 

In fact, a 2007 study by the Harvard School of Public Health, which included nearly 19,000 women, found that the participants “who followed a combination of five or more lifestyle factors, including changing specific aspects of their diets, experienced more than 80 per cent less relative risk of infertility due to ovulatory disorders compared to women who engaged in none of the factors”. 

Ovulatory disorders are a common cause of infertility and refer to when ovulation doesn’t occur or occurs on an irregular basis, which is seen in conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). 

So, what foods should you be eating to help your fertility and which should you be avoiding that could hinder the process? 

We’ve done some digging and have compiled a guide for you on everything you need to know about what to eat for fertility.

Fertility-friendly foods

Choosing a well-balanced diet filled with essential macronutrients and micronutrients is the best way to prepare your body for pregnancy.

Macronutrients are the components of food the body needs for energy, to maintain the body’s structures and systems.

During fertility it is important to focus on all three major macronutrients, protein, carbohydrates and fat.

Micronutrients include things otherwise referred to as vitamins and minerals.

We recommend trying to get your micronutrients from good quality food sources versus supplements as the former are more bioavailable (easily absorbed) in their natural form. 

Healthy eating is about variety, texture and incorporating a variety of flavours. There is plenty of opportunity for flexibility based on your own personal preferences.

Ensuring your plate of food is as colourful as possible is a great way to ensure that you’re eating a variety of nutrients, vitamins and minerals from the core food groups.

How to build a ‘fertility-friendly’ plate

At its core, your diet should consist of fruit and vegetables, including starchy veggies like potato, sweet potato and pumpkin. Aim for 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables each day!

You should try to include 3-6 serves of grains and cereals each day, such as rice, wholegrain bread, quinoa and buckwheat.

As well as 2 serves of animal and plant-based proteins, such as fish, other seafood, chicken, poultry and eggs, lean red meat, tofu, tempeh, beans and legumes.

As for healthy fats, try to incorporate 1-2 serves each day, such as nuts and seeds, olive oil, avocado and coconut products like yoghurt, milk, desiccated coconut and flour into your diet.

Try to limit your intake of processed foods to one to three time per week.

According to the Harvard study, those participants who obtained the highest fertility diet scores, had a lower Body Mass Index (BMI), exercised for longer periods of time each day and consumed a modified Mediterranean diet. This dietary pattern is rich in plant-based proteins, full-fat dairy products, healthy fats and fibre, and low in trans fats, animal-based protein and low-fat dairy.

These participants also consumed more iron and took a multivitamin daily.

The higher “fertility diet” score and a lower risk for infertility were similar in different subgroups of women regardless of their age or whether or not they had been pregnant in the past, which demonstrates the importance of food when it comes to fertility

On the findings, lead author, Jorge Chavarro explained, “We analysed what happens if you follow one, two, three, four or more different factors.”

They found that women who started following more of these recommendations reduced their risk of infertility, for every one of the dietary and lifestyle strategies undertaken.

Chavarro explained, they found “a sixfold difference in ovulatory infertility risk between women following five or more low-risk dietary and lifestyle habits and those following none.”

Fertility diet

There isn’t currently one way of eating that is deemed the official “fertility diet”, but the Mediterranean diet comes pretty close. 

In fact, research from 2018 that looked at how the Mediterranean diet impacted women undergoing IVF found that following this style of eating “may help increase the chances of a successful pregnancy and delivering a live baby for women undergoing IVF treatment”.

While there isn’t currently any concrete evidence that labels the Mediterranean diet as the best way to eat for fertility, a lot of the research is promising. 

And, other studies have lauded the diet for its ability to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and overall mortality. The balance of macro and micronutrients from this way of eating also helps to keep your blood sugar levels under control, helps with cognitive function as you age and keeps you feeling satiated due to the focus on healthy fats.

The foundations of the Mediterranean diet are built on a high consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy and plant-based proteins such as beans and legumes.

A large emphasis is placed on healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and oily fish like salmon and sardines.

Fish is the preferred source of animal protein, with other animal proteins like poultry, eggs and dairy to be eaten in smaller quantities daily, or limited to a few times per week.

Processed foods, red meat and alcohol are occasional inclusions.

Moderation is key when it comes to food, so you don’t have to follow this style of eating to the letter.

But, if you have been trying to get pregnant for a while and are keen to switch things up food-wise, adding Mediterranean-style foods to your plate can make a big difference to your energy, health and inflammation levels.

Diet for getting pregnant

Another thing to consider when discussing fertility foods is to be aware of “The Clean 15” and “The Dirty Dozen”. 

The experts at the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases an annual “Dirty Dozen” list that is made up of the foods they say contain elevated levels of pesticides that could be concerning, while the “Clean 15” lists are made up of foods that contain the least amount of pesticides. 

While it’s good to know this information, don’t let it colour your food choices too much. If you can only get your hands on tomatoes from the grocery store versus tomatoes grown organically, it’s better to eat a dish with veggies than forgo the nutrients as they are on the Dirty Dozen list.

The most up to date information from the EWG is from 2021 and is as follows: 

The Dirty Dozen

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Kale, collard and mustard green
  • Nectarines 
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Cherries
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Capsicums
  • Celery 
  • Tomatoes
The Dirty Dozen List
These foods contain elevated levels of pesticides according to the EWG

The Clean 15

  • Avocados
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapple
  • Onions
  • Papaya
  • Sweet peas (frozen)
  • Eggplant
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Kiwi
  • Cauliflower
  • Mushrooms
  • Honeydew melon
  • Cantaloupes 
The Clean 15 Foods For Fertility
These foods contain the least amount of pesticides according to EWG

The takeaway

The fertility journey can be filled with ups and downs and you can only do what you can do, so try to keep that in mind when it comes to the foods you eat. 

When it comes to constructing your plates of food each day, try to incorporate a number of different coloured veggies, some starchy carbs like sweet potato, potato, pumpkin or rice, as well as a sprinkle of healthy fats like avocado or olive oil and some protein like chicken or steaks, fish or eggs.

For snacks, try to reach for fruit with a small handful of nuts and/or seeds, a tin of tuna, salmon or sardines or a boiled egg. 

References

https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2007/11/changes-in-diet-and-lifestyle-may-help-prevent-infertility/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16737024/

https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/food-essentials/five-food-groups

https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/food-essentials/how-much-do-we-need-each-day/recommended-number-serves-adults

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29390148/

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/diet-reviews/mediterranean-diet/