You know there are a lot of rules about what you can and can’t eat once you get pregnant, but what about when you’re trying? Can certain foods improve your ability to make a baby? Absolutely. Whether you’re just beginning to add to your family or you’ve been trying to get pregnant for a while, here are eight fertility-boosting foods to add to your diet now, plus one food you must avoid.
Introducing or increasing these foods in your diet could help you conceive a baby. Try eating a little more whole wheat bread or choosing dark leafy greens for your salad!
Yeah, yeah, they’re the magical fruit, but they’re also a fertility-boosting food. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health looked at nearly 19,000 female nurses who were actively trying to get pregnant and found that infertility was 39 percent more likely in women with the highest intake of animal protein. But women who ate a lot of plant protein were substantially less likely to have trouble trying to conceive. So throw garbanzo beans into a salad, or make a vegetarian chili. Don’t like beans? Lentils, tofu, edamame, and nuts are good plant-based proteins as well.
Hooray! You read that right, and we’re not talking about the low-fat or fro-yo varieties either. The Nurses’ Health Study found that one or two daily servings of whole milk or whole milk products (like ice cream!) protect against ovulatory infertility. Skim and low-fat milk, surprisingly, do the opposite, says Jorge E. Chavarro, M.D., Sc.D., assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health and author of The Fertility Diet. Experts don’t know why, though Dr. Chavarro theorizes that removing the fat from milk changes its balance of sex hormones, which in turn hinders ovulation. Don’t go overboard, though. Dr. Chavarro suggests replacing one low-fat milk item a day with a full-fat one. (And don’t forget to compensate for the extra calories elsewhere in your diet.)
Spinach, romaine, arugula, broccoli, and other dark leafy greens are high in folate, a B vitamin that a few studies have shown may improve ovulation. Be sure to share the salad with your guy; men who get higher doses of folate make healthier sperm, potentially reducing the chances of miscarriage or genetic problems in the baby. Researchers at the University of California Berkeley’s Public School of Health surveyed 97 nonsmoking men who had no prior history of fertility problems and found that men who had the highest intake of the vitamin had nearly a 20 percent reduction in the number of abnormal sperm.
They’re high in non-heme iron, the type of iron found in certain plant food and iron-fortified foods. One study found that women who regularly took an iron supplement (which is non-heme iron) were 40 percent less likely to have trouble getting pregnant than those who didn’t take iron. Toast pumpkin seeds in the oven for a crunchy (and baby-boosting) snack.
Whole Wheat Bread
Complex carbs take longer than refined ones to digest, helping to keep blood sugar (and insulin levels) stable. What does that have to do with getting pregnant? Increased insulin levels can disrupt reproductive hormones. A Dutch study that looked at 165 couples trying to get pregnant found that when women had high levels of blood sugar, they were only half as likely to have gotten pregnant during the six-month study. When you’re trying to conceive, always choose dark bread over light, brown rice over white, and whole wheat pasta over whit
Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat that helps increase insulin sensitivity and decrease inflammation throughout the body (inflammation interferes with ovulation, conception, and early development of the embryo). Use it on salads with some balsamic vinegar, or use it for cooking, in place of butter.
This cold-water fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may help to regulate reproductive hormones and increase blood flow to the reproductive organs. Salmon is also lower in mercury than other fatty fish. Look for salmon burgers in the frozen foods section of most grocery stores. Note: Stay away from shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, which the United States Environmental Protection Agency warns against if you’re trying to get pregnant. Besides eating salmon, you can get your 1,000 – 2,000 mg a day of omega-3 fatty acids with 2 tablespoons of walnuts, or 2 tablespoons flaxseeds or chia seeds.
“If you plan on getting pregnant any time in the next year you want to make sure your diet is rich in folic acid and that you’re proactive about that now,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, author of The Belly Fat Diet for Dummies. You can take a supplement, prenatal vitamin, and increase your intake of folic acid-rich foods like fortified whole grains, fortified cereals, vegetables, and citrus fruits. You should be taking in 400-600 mg of folic acid daily before pregnancy and about 800 mg during pregnancy to ensure a healthier pregnancy and minimize risk of birth defects.
Overall, now is a great time to look at your diet as a whole, says Palinski-Wade. If you’re eating a lot of junk food, refined grains, and sweets, know that those foods have no nutritional benefit and might be hurting your body as they can lead to spikes in blood sugar. They also contain trans fats, which decrease the body’s ability to react to insulin, which will make you more prone to irregular ovulation.