According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 12% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 have difficulty getting or staying pregnant. 12% may not seem like a lot, but it means about 7.3 million women struggle to have a child. And that’s a lot.
But hold on, there’s some more bad news…
However, about one-third of women over 35 have fertility issues, so it’s a precarious position to be in.
The CDC defines infertility as “not being able to get pregnant (conceive) after one year of unprotected sex”. But if you’re over 35 or have irregular menstrual cycles, your window of time to get pregnant before being labeled as fertility challenged is only six months.
So what’s a girl to do when she finds herself peeing on sticks without any luck?
Well, if you’re a regular peruser of this blog, you probably already know what I’m about to say: modify your diet.
That’s right, certain foods may actually increase your chances of a positive pregnancy test.
Sure, you probably have the basics down; you try to eat all organic fruits and veggies, you choose whole grains and good carbs instead of overly processed white ones, and you’re even taking a prenatal vitamin regularly (right?).
Well, I’ve got some extras for you to explore. Adding these 12 fertility-boosting foods to your diet will not only make you stronger and healthier, but will help your body create the perfect home for your soon-to-come newborn.
Before we begin, let’s make sure your body is at its optimal weight for fertility.
Get to a Healthy Weight
As we discussed in our article about the perfect PCOS diet, being over or under your ideal body weight has serious consequences for your reproductive system.
Maria Biasucci-Vianna, MS, RD, CDN, and dietitian in New Rochelle, NY, has counseled tons of women with infertility problems. She says:
“Your ovaries and your fat cells regulate estrogen, which affects ovulation. If you’re too thin, you may not be producing enough estrogen, and if you’re overweight or obese, you may be producing too much”.
If you don’t ovulate, you can’t get pregnant; period.
So if you’re planning for a little bundle, try to figure out your Body Mass Index (BMI) score to make sure your ovaries have no (controllable) reason to malfunction.
There are loads of BMI calculators online and they’re super easy to use. You just have to plug in your height and your weight and the calculator will give you a score from zero to 30 or greater.
Here’s what the numbers on the BMI scale mean:
- BMI of less than 18.5 = Underweight
- 18.5–24.9 = Normal weight
- 25–29.9 = Overweight
- 30 or greater = Obese
Experts consider the normal weight category (BMI 18.5-24.9) as the “fertility zone“, aka where you want to be. Keep in mind that this number doesn’t take muscle mass into account, it’s just an estimate of body fat.
If you’re an athlete with lots of muscle, you may be better off with a body fat percentage calculator instead. It’s a little more in depth, but it will provide you with a better idea of where you fall.
Don’t forget: we have some awesome articles to help you lose weight, including my amazing fat melting drink recipe, Mediterranean diet meal plans, and even low carb recipes to help your PCOS get under control.
Now let’s check out the best fertility-boosting foods you’ll need to nosh on before and during your pregnancy.
Pump Up the Iron
Your iron stores are depleted every month during menstruation.
There’s nothing more upsetting or frustrating than getting your period when you’re actively trying to get pregnant. But use this time to start a clean slate of healthy eating in preparation for the next successful month.
The researchers in one study discovered that:
“Women who do not get sufficient amounts of iron may suffer lack of ovulation and possibly poor egg health, which can inhibit pregnancy at a rate 60% higher than those with sufficient iron stores in their blood”.
You should be aiming for 18 mg of iron every day, and when you’re pregnant you’re going to need about 27 mg daily.
Keep those iron reserves full before you’re pregnant because once you do conceive, your baby will start to steal that iron from you and your body won’t be able to replenish it fast enough.
When you’re low on iron during your pregnancy, you become at risk for postpartum anemia, which will cause your energy levels to drain – not something you want when a new baby will be depending on you for everything.
The most easily absorbed iron comes from meat sources like liver, fish, lean beef, pork, and poultry (dark meat especially). While there’s iron in veggies, it isn’t as readily absorbed as iron from meat sources so try to eat both sources together to maximize absorption rates.
If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you may need to take an iron supplement to ensure you’re at optimum levels.
Here are three iron-rich foods to add to your diet.
1. Pumpkin Seeds
One cup of pumpkin seed kernels packs 20.7 mg of iron, or 115% of your daily value.
I love snacking on roasted, unsalted pepitas, but you could also sprinkle them on top of soups, salads, yogurt, and even use them in your fall baking.
Seriously, do you need another reason to enjoy all things pumpkin this fall? Didn’t think so.
If you eat half a dozen of these, you’ll be close to your daily requirement (and may even be in the mood!)
Raw leafy greens such as spinach, swiss chard, and kale are all great sources of iron. But cooking these veggies increases their iron levels and helps your body absorb this crucial mineral better.
Just one cup of cooked spinach has over 6 mg of iron.
Cooking in a cast iron pan may even raise those levels a bit more.
Vitamin C for Fertility
Besides aiding in iron absorption, vitamin C increases the levels of progesterone, a hormone responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle and thickening the lining of the uterus.
In one study, women at healthy weights diagnosed with “unexplained infertility” decreased their time to get pregnant by consuming more vitamin C from their diets.
Are you getting the recommended 75 mg of vitamin C every day?
When women are having infertility issues, they’re often prescribed synthetic progesterone called progestin. Before you go that route, see if adding these natural sources of vitamin C help you out instead.
4. Citrus Fruit
Even though all citrus fruits make excellent sources of vitamin C, here’s how they all compare:
- 1 medium orange = 70 mg of vitamin C
- 1 medium grapefruit = 50 mg
- 1 medium lemon = 40 mg
Move aside citrus fruit, kiwis actually contain more vitamin C than oranges, with 100% of your recommended daily value.
One serving of kiwi, which is about 2 fruits, “boasts 137.2 mg of vitamin C“.
But keep that kiwi skin on! It has three times as many antioxidants as the fruit’s pulp and it’s totally edible.
6. Red, Yellow, and Green Peppers
- 341 mg (569% of your DV) of vitamin C in yellow peppers
- 209 mg (349%) in red peppers
- 132 mg (220%) in green peppers
Switch Up Your Protein
“Experts at Harvard Medical School say that replacing a serving of meat each day with vegetable or dairy protein such as beans, peas, soybeans or tofu, or nuts can boost fertility”.
What does giving up meat products actually provide in the way of results?
Well, when just five percent of your total calories come from veggie protein instead of animal protein, “the risk of ovulatory infertility drops by more than 50 percent”.
Enjoy these two protein-rich foods to reach your daily dietary goal of 46 g of protein.
Soybeans are the only beans classified as a complete protein, which means they contain all nine of our essential amino acids like meat does.
There’s close to 18 g of protein in one cup of white beans and about 15 g in kidney, black, and garbanzos.
Plus, beans are loaded with fiber to keep you full and maintain your healthy weight.
8. Full Fat Dairy
You’ll also find protein in dairy sources such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. But experts say you should forgo the low fat options and stick to full fat versions instead.
Walter Willett, M.D., a professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, said:
“We found that the more low fat dairy products in a woman’s diet, the more trouble she had getting pregnant…The more full fat dairy products she ate, the less likely she was to have trouble”.
Essential Fatty Acids
Women who regularly consume omega-3 fatty acids have better fertility outcomes.
“Their rates of conception are higher, miscarriage rates tend to be lower, and the risk of premature birth is also reduced”.
Omega-3s also help those struggling from PCOS, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids, as one study determined.
Don’t forget: omega-3s are going to be essential for your baby’s brain, eye, and spinal development when you do conceive.
9. Chia Seeds
Try making a delightful chia seed pudding to sneak in your daily dose of omega-3s.
All it takes is a quarter-cup of walnuts to deliver 113% of your daily value of omega-3s.
Snack on unsalted walnuts or add them to your banana overnight oats.
Folic acid is standard in multivitamins for women in their childbearing years because it can reduce the risks of neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida by “50% to 70%” even before a woman knows she’s pregnant.
See, neural tubes form a mere three to four weeks after conception, which is around the time a woman would notice a missed period.
A woman needs stores of folic acid to safeguard the healthy development of her baby’s brain and spine before she supplements with prenatal vitamins.
Make sure your multivitamin has at least 400 mcg of folic acid, especially if you’re actively trying for kids, and eat more of these next foods.
Despite the funky smell your pee will have, eating one cup of cooked asparagus supplies you with “62 mcg of folic acid, which accounts for approximately 65% of your daily needs”.
Half a cup of cooked broccoli will dish up 84.2 mcg of folate (21% of your RDI).
It’s also awesome at balancing your estrogen levels so your reproductive system is always healthy for ovulation.
Best Fertility-Boosting Foods for Men
Fertility isn’t just a female problem.
According to a National Survey of Family Growth, 3.3-4.7 million men under the age of 45 saw a fertility doctor and 18% of them were diagnosed with an infertility problem.
Men need at least three months to get their healthy eating habits in shape. According to Amy Ogle, a registered dietician and author, “The sperm your partner ejaculates today was actually created 90 days ago”.
There are a few critical vitamins and minerals hopeful dads-to-be should be consuming to increase their chances of hitting the target.
Just like women, men need ample amounts of vitamin C for healthy reproduction efforts.
One study discovered that when infertile men were given 1,000 mg of vitamin C twice daily, their sperm count and the sperm’s ability to navigate towards an egg were statistically improved.
When men increase their zinc levels, they raise their sperm count and improve both the quality and function of the sperm to decrease chances of infertility.
One study reported that men given 400 mg of vitamin E every day showed improved sperm motility so they had greater chances of impregnating their partners.
“This occurs because vitamin E prevents the lipid or fat structures in the sperm cells from being damaged or destroyed”.
Struggling to conceive is one of the hardest experiences you’ll ever have to go through.
But before turning to expensive and invasive fertility treatments, get your body to a healthy weight for fertility and add these super healthy foods to your (and your partner’s) diet.
And if you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, don’t worry; we’ve got you covered with meal plans and info too.
The good news is that many of the items on today’s list are outstanding foods for increasing your libidio – so go find a room already!
PS: Mike is a great name for a boy. Just saying.
Are you expecting? How did you overcome your infertility issues? I’d love to hear your baby story in the comments!