fresh fruit - part of the best fertility diet

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? 

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:

  • Adequate intake of supplemental folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin D
  • High consumption of low-pesticide fruits and vegetables
  • Low consumption of high-pesticide fruits and vegetables
  • High intake of whole grains
  • High ratio of seafood: total meat intake
  • Diet includes dairy and soy

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. 

I don't know how these determinants were made, although I suspect that they are based on the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen​​​ and Clean Fifteen.

  • High Pesticide Fruit/Veg
  • Low Pesticide Fruit/Veg
  • peas or lima beans
  • dried plums or prunes
  • onions
  • beans or lentils
  • avocado
  • corn
  • cabbage or cole slaw
  • orange juice
  • tomato sauce
  • apple juice or cider
  • cauliflower
  • grapefruit
  • cantaloupe
  • tofu
  • bananas
  • eggplant
  • summer squash
  • zucchini
  • yam or sweet potatoes
  • oranges
  • broccoli
  • carrots
  • 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 gynecology218(4), 379–389. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2017.08.010  

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Camille

Hi there. I'm Camille Freeman. I've been a licensed nutritionist since 2006, specializing in working with people who are trying to conceive. I'm also a professor at the Maryland University of Integrative Health, where I teach physiology and pathophysiology in the Department of Nutrition. I like reading, pointed looks, and anything to do with flowers (except the spray-painted kind.)

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