What is the Best Diet for Fertility?
As a nutritionist specializing in preconception nutrition, I get this question all of the time! So, what IS the best diet for fertility? There are a few ways to answer this question.
Let's start with the answer no one wants to hear: there is no one single best diet for fertility across the board.
The answer depends on so many things: your weight, your genetics, what you like and choose to eat, etc.
That being said, there are some general guidelines that we can draw on when figuring out how to eat to optimize fertility.
A Mediterranean-style diet is a great choice for fertility. For the vast majority of people, a Mediterranean diet will be a massive improvement over what you were eating before, and there's a reasonable body of evidence that eating in this way may improve fertility outcomes (see, for example, here and here)
What is a Mediterranean Diet?
A Mediterranean diet includes large amounts of fruits, veggies and whole grains. Nuts, seeds, fish/seafood, and olive oil are also key players, while red meat, sugar, and salt intake are sparse. Meals are relaxing social events, and regular movement/exercise is also considered part of this diet. You can read more about it on the MayoClinic website.
Taking Your Fertility Diet to the Next Level
While the Mediterranean Diet is a reasonable choice, recent evidence suggests that a slight variation may actually be optimal for those trying to conceive - particularly if you're undergoing assisted reproductive technology (ART) such as IVF.
A recent study by Gaskins et al (2019) found that the more closely someone followed a pro-fertility diet (details to follow) before an ART treatment cycle, the better her chance of having a live birth. The Mediterranean diet did not fare nearly as well, suggesting that this pro-fertility diet may be a better choice.
What is this pro-fertility diet?
The researchers didn't detail the diet exactly, and here are the basics as I understand them:
What are high-pesticide and low-pesticide fruits/veggies?
I've included the list provided by the authors below. It would be interesting to set up a similar study that took into account the quality of the produce (i.e. organic, low-/no-spray, homegrown, etc), although I don't believe that was done in this case.
- High Pesticide Fruit/Veg
- Low Pesticide Fruit/Veg
- apple sauce
- kale, mustard, or chard greens
- winter squash
- fresh apples or pears
- string beans
- grapes or raisins
- raw or cooked spinach
- peaches or plums
- green, yellow, or red bell peppers
- peas or lima beans
- dried plums or prunes
- beans or lentils
- cabbage or cole slaw
- orange juice
- tomato sauce
- apple juice or cider
- summer squash
- yam or sweet potatoes
- head lettuce, and leaf lettuce
What is the Best Fertility Diet?
I recommend aiming for the healthiest diet that you can sustain comfortably over a long period of time. This will look slightly different for everyone, but key features might include:
- Lots of fruits and veggies, with a focus on low- or no-spray, organic, or low-pesticide versions
- Whole grains in moderation
- Fish/seafood a few times/week, with a focus on Seafood Watch's Best Choices
- Soy is fine to include if you like it
- Dairy in small amounts is reasonable; think of it as a condiment rather than a food group if you choose to include it
- Limit refined grains, sugars, trans-fats/fried foods
Need more? This paper is open-access and provides an excellent summary of the research to-date: Gaskins, A. J., & Chavarro, J. E. (2017). Diet and fertility: a review. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 218(4), 379–389. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2017.08.010