While all nutrients are important for health, there are some that have been specifically shown to have a direct impact on fertility. Below is a list of these nutrients and the foods you can find them in…
Antioxidants, Vitamins & Minerals for Fertility
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is needed to help the body create sex hormones which in turn affects ovulation and hormonal balance. Yale University School of Medicine conducted a study of 67 infertile women, where it was discovered that a mere 7% had normal Vitamin D levels.
Food sources: Eggs, fatty fish, dairy, and cod liver oil. You can also get vitamin D from sitting out in the sun for 15 to 20 minutes per day, but absorption is impacted by the darkness of your skin.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E has been shown in studies to improve sperm health and motility in men. Studies have also shown a diet deficient in Vitamin E to be a cause of infertility in rats. The meaning of the name for vitamin E ‘Tocopherol’ literally means to bear young. Vitamin E is also an important antioxidant to help protect sperm and egg DNA integrity.
Food sources: Sunflower seeds, almonds, olives, spinach, papaya, dark leafy greens.
CoQ10: Necessary for every cell in the body for energy production, CoQ10 has also been shown in studies to increase ova (egg) and sperm health. It is necessary for sperm motility in semen. It is also an important antioxidant that helps to protect cells from free radical damage; protecting DNA.
Food sources: Found in seafood and organ meats, though it is very difficult to obtain through the diet. CoQ10 Ubiquinol supplementation is the best way to obtain CoQ10. Amounts in the body decline with age.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C improves hormone levels and increases fertility in women with luteal phase defect, according to a study published in Fertility and Sterility. As for men, vitamin C has been shown to improve sperm quality and protect sperm from DNA damage; helping to reduce the chance of miscarriage and chromosomal problems. Vitamin C also appears to keep sperm from clumping together, making them more motile.
Food sources: Abundant in plants and fruits including red peppers, broccoli, cranberries, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, and citrus fruit.
Lipoic Acid: Lipoic acid is a very important antioxidant because it not only helps to protect the female reproductive organs and has been shown to improve sperm quality and motility, but it also helps the body to continually re-use the antioxidants in the body.
Food sources: In small amounts found in potatoes, spinach and red meat.
B6: Vitamin B6 may be used as a hormone regulator. It also helps to regulate blood sugars, alleviates PMS, and may be useful in relieving symptoms of morning sickness. B6 has also been shown to help with Luteal Phase Defect.
Food sources: Tuna, banana, turkey, liver, salmon, cod, spinach, bell peppers, and turnip greens, collard greens, garlic, cauliflower, mustard greens, celery, cabbage, asparagus, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, chard.
B12: Vitamin B12 has been shown to improve sperm quality and production. It also may help to boost the endometrium lining in egg fertilization, decreasing the chances of miscarriage. Some studies have found that a deficiency of B12 may increase the chances of irregular ovulation, and in severe cases stop ovulation altogether.
Food sources: Clams, oysters, mussels, liver, caviar (fish eggs), fish, crab, lobster, beef, lamb, cheese, eggs.
Folic Acid/Folate: Perhaps one of the best known vitamins necessary for pregnancy is folic acid, the common supplement form of naturally occurring folate, which is found in many foods. This vitamin helps prevent neural tube defects as well as congenital heart defects, cleft lips, limb defects, and urinary tract anomalies in developing fetuses. Deficiency in folic acidmay increase the risk of preterm labor, fetal growth retardation and low birth weight. Deficiency may also increase the homocysteine level in the blood, which can lead to spontaneous abortion and pregnancy complications, such as placental abruption and preeclampsia.
Food sources of folate: liver, lentils, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, asparagus, spinach, black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, collard greens.
Iron: Studies have shown that women who do not get sufficient amounts of iron may suffer anovulation (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.
Food sources: Lentils, spinach, sesame seeds, kidney beans, pumpkin seeds (raw), venison, garbanzo beans, navy beans, molasses, beef.
Selenium: Selenium is an antioxidant that helps to protect the eggs and sperm from free radicals. Free radicals can cause chromosomal damage which is known to be a cause of miscarriages and birth defects. Selenium is also necessary for the creation of sperm. In studies, men with low sperm counts have also been found to have low levels of selenium.
Food sources: Liver, snapper, cod, halibut, tuna, salmon, sardines, shrimp, crimini mushrooms, turkey, Brazil nuts (just one nut contains nearly 100% of the RDA for selenium).
Zinc: In women, zinc works with more than 300 different enzymes in the body to keep things working well. Without it, your cells can not divide properly; your estrogen and progesterone levels can get out of balance and your reproductive system may not be fully functioning. Low levels of zinc have been directly linked to miscarriage in the early stages of a pregnancy, according to The Centers for Disease Control’s Assisted Reproductive Technology Report.
In men, zinc is considered one of the most important trace minerals to date for male fertility; increasing zinc levels in infertile men has been shown to boost sperm levels; improve the form, function and quality of male sperm and decrease male infertility.
Food sources: Calf liver, oysters, beef, lamb, venison, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, turkey, green peas, shrimp. Zinc can be damaged by cooking so it is important to eat some foods high in zinc in their raw forms.
Essential Fatty Acids: Omega-3 acids have been shown to help fertility by helping to regulate hormones in the body, increase cervical mucous, promote ovulation and overall improve the quality of the uterus by increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs.
Omega-3 fats also contain two acids that are crucial to good health: DHA and EPA. These two acids have been shown to help many forms of disease. Low levels of DHA have been linked to depression and other mental health issues. During pregnancy, a lack of DHA may be associated with premature birth, low birth weight and hyperactivity in children.
Food sources: Flax seeds, walnuts, salmon, sardines, halibut, shrimp, snapper, scallops, chia seeds.
In addition to the micro-nutrients, macro-nutrients are important as well. Getting enough protein, fiber, fat, carbohydrates, etc. is also very important. This is a time for nourishing and providing building blocks for your body in preparation for conception. The foods that should be focused on in a Natural Fertility Diet are nutrient dense foods which help to provide the following:
A wide variety of fats are very important for fertility and the development of the fetus. Not only are essential fatty acids important, but saturated fats and cholesterol are important as well. Cholesterol is a precursor to all hormones produced in the body, including progesterone. Just make sure it is from the right foods like coconut oil, grass-fed meats, fish, nuts and seeds and avoid hydrogenated oils and vegetable oils cooked at high heat.
Eating healthy amounts of protein from a wide variety of sources is an important part of a healthy fertility diet as amino acids are the building blocks for cells in the body. Make sure to include both animal sources and vegetable sources of protein daily.
Fiber helps assist the body in getting rid of excess estrogen and xenohormones in the system and keeps your digestive tract functioning properly.
Important Foods Specifically for Fertility
Take a look at the foods mentioned below and you will begin to notice that all of these foods are nutrient dense, meaning they pack a lot of nutrition per serving. They are also the foods most abundant in the nutrients mentioned in the Fertility Nutrients section of this guide.
Eggs – Vitamin D, B12, Protein
Make sure to find eggs which are farm fresh and have deep orange/yellow yolks. They are worth the extra cost as they provide much more nutrients and are cleaner than the general factory farmed egg. Some of the best places to find quality eggs are at the farmer’s market, neighbors or the health food store.
Nuts and Seeds – Omega 3, Zinc, Vitamin E, Protein
Eat nuts and seeds in their raw form as essential fatty acids and zinc are sensitive to heat and can be destroyed if cooked. I have listed amounts of nuts and seeds and their nutritional density so you can see how packed they are with nutrients.
The best seeds and nuts for omega 3 are:
Walnuts – 1/4cup = 2,270mg
Flax seeds – 2 Tbs = 3,510mg
Hemp seeds – 3Tbs = 3,000mg
Chia seeds – 1Tbs = 2,300mg
The best seeds and nuts for zinc are:
Pumpkin – 1/4cup = 2.7mg
Sesame – 1/4cup =2.8mg
The best seeds and nuts for vitamin E are:
Sunflower Seeds – 1/4cup = 18.10mg
Almonds – 1/4cup = 8.97mg
The best seeds and nuts for iron are:
Pumpkin seeds – 1/4cup = 5.16mg
Sesame seeds – 1/4cup = 5.24mg
Dark leafy Vegetables – Iron, Folic acid, B6, Vitamin E
Dark leafy vegetables are packed with minerals, antioxidants and vitamins essential to healthy fertility. Examples of dark leafy green vegetables are spinach, Swiss chard, kale, and collards.
Fruit – Vitamin C, Flavonoids, Variety of antioxidants
Fruits are the foods highest in antioxidants per serving. Some of the fruits highest in antioxidants are prunes, pomegranates, raisins, blueberries and strawberries. Remember that antioxidants are heat sensitive, so to get their benefit eat your fruit fresh, ripe and raw.
Colorful veggies – B6, Vitamin C
The color of a vegetable will tell you what nutrients and benefits it will provide for your body. For instance vegetables that are red or green in color are high in vitamin C. Vegetables that are orange have high vitamin A. White vegetables tend to have sulfur, etc. The easiest way to get a ton of nutrients is to eat a wide variety of vegetables. Make sure you are eating a variety of colors daily. The easiest way to do this is to eat either a salad, stir-fry or fresh vegetable juice daily.
Fish and Shell Fish – Vitamin D, Omega 3, Zinc, Selenium, B12, CoQ10
Fish and shell fish (muscles, clams, etc) are some of the most nutrient dense foods we can eat. Fish provides an abundance of essential fatty acids, vitamin D, zinc, B12, selenium and CoQ10. The catch is that most of these nutrients are heat sensitive so remember this while you are preparing these foods. If you are concerned about the water source of your fish, eat fish from cold waters or you can include a purified cod liver oil supplement into your diet. Try to avoid farmed fish as they will not have the high amounts of omega 3 and have been fed antibiotics.
Liver – Vitamin D, Zinc, Selenium, Iron, Folic Acid, B12, CoQ10
Yes, I know. I can hear you saying… “liver!?” Yup. My memories of liver are of my great grandmother sauteing liver on the stove every time I arrived. She was constantly trying to fatten me up with liver and buttermilk… If I only had listened… Liver is one of the most prized and nutrient dense foods available. Across the board liver is very high in vitamin D, zinc, iron, folic acid and B12. For instance, just 4oz. has over 200% of your daily Folic Acid needs. One way that you can make liver tasty is to make paté with chicken liver and have this with whole grain crackers 1-2x’s a week. Make sure to use liver from grass-fed/free-range animals only.
Lentils and other beans – Iron, Folic Acid
Before I began studying nutrition I had no idea just how radically nutritious lentils and beans are. Lentils are the second highest source of iron of ALL foods and the second highest source of folic acid (just behind calf’s liver). Just 1 cup of cooked lentils provides 90% of your daily folic acid needs. And if you get sick of lentils, garbanzo and pinto beans follow close behind. Learn to get creative with your beans. You can use them to make soups, hummus, as a side dish, in stir-fry and even in brownies.
Raw or cultured dairy – Vitamin D, B12, Zinc
Raw dairy is basically milk products which have not been pasteurized, so they still have their important enzymes and delicate nutrients intact. Also, raw dairy comes from cows that are grass/pasture fed and do not receive hormones or antibiotics. I don’t have enough space here to go into all the benefits of raw milk and how it is VERY safe to drink, just know that it is a very different food from the milk that is available from grocery stores, even organic milk. I realize that many states do not sell raw milk at the store. If you live in one of those states, you can get raw milk straight from the farmer or you can culture your organic, pasteurized milk you buy from the store to help improve its nutritional profile and digestibility. Milk can be a beneficial food for some on the fertility diet – like those who need an easy source of protein, are underweight and can tolerate milk (I cannot tolerate pasteurized milk BUT can drink raw milk with no problem whatsoever). There are some instances where milk should be avoided; instances where there is stagnation in the body like with endometriosis or if you have an allergy to it.
What about grains?
Grains is an area of the Natural Fertility Diet that we suggest you experiment with what works for you. There have been links to infertility in those who have gluten intolerance (celiac disease – you can get tested for this) as well as a possible link to immunological infertility and grains. In some people, grains will be a non-issue, but if you have made many changes yet have not seen results, this may be an area for you to look into. Grains and pseudo-grains that are gluten-free (amaranth, rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, etc.) are a great option and tend to be more nutrient dense than the general grains we are used to eating.
Foods to Avoid
Sugar, soda & pasteurized juices
Pasteurized juices such as bottled apple juice, orange juice, and other bottled fruit juices contain concentrated sugar, which can throw off your blood sugar levels and negatively effect your immune system and hormonal balance. Also avoid any processed/refined and artificial sugars. Some great alternatives are stevia, honey, and maple syrup.
Studies have shown that caffeine can affect your hormonal balance, increase your chances of a miscarriage and prevent you from ovulating. You can watch this video to learn more…
Soy foods have been shown to contain estrogen mimicking properties. It is best to avoid processed soy foods such as soy milk, soy burgers, soy protein powder, soy chips, soy meats, and soy cheeses to avoid a negative impact on your hormonal balance. Both men and women are affected by soy.
Genetically Modified foods are becoming a real problem when it comes to fertility, causing an influx in worldwide infertility rates. Since the 1970’s alone, sperm counts among the world’s male population have declined as much as 40-50%, according to some studies. GMO foods may be one of the reasons. Look for the non-GMO verified label (see right) on foods you purchase and choose organic foods when you can. Click here to learn more about GMO and Fertility…
Foods which are altered to be reduced in fat or fat-free are highly processed and high in sugar. When choosing foods always chose the foods as nature intended. Full fat dairy is one example that was shown in a study (Human Reproduction) to increase fertility over the fat-reduced options. Again, fat is what our bodies need to produce hormones.
Superfoods should be a part of every couples fertility diet to help bridge the gap for proper nutrition, nourish the egg and the sperm, and help to balance hormones. An easy way to get fertility superfoods into your diet daily is to drink fertility smoothies.
Here is a rundown of 4 Fertility Superfoods you should know about:
Maca is a wonderful superfood from Peru that helps to balance the hormones, increase egg health, increase sperm count and sperm health while also being a tonic for the endocrine system. Maca also helps increase progesterone if the body is low in this important hormone. Maca comes in capsules, powder and tincture. It can be taken everyday.
Royal jelly is another fertility specific superfood which may help increase egg health and general fertility. Royal jelly is the foodthat is fed to the queen bee that makes her the queen bee. She goes on to live 6 years and lays up to 2000 eggs per day. Most bees live less than two months.
Royal Jelly is rich in vitamins, A, B, C, D,and E. It is also contains minerals including calcium and iron, all of the essential amino acids, plus antibacterial and immune stimulating properties. It comes in capsules or in a base of honey. It can be taken everyday.
Spirulina, Wheat Grass, and Leafy Green Vegetables
FertiliGreens is a Superfood blend that contains a mixture of leafy greens, wheat grass, spirulina, barley grass, and nourishing herbs which helps to supply the body with nutrients, minerals, vitamins, enzymes, and chlorophyll.