What you eat (and don’t eat!) when trying to get pregnant has a direct impact on your fertility! In addition, how you live, how you manage your daily stressors, your sleep quality and quantity, how often you move your body … the list goes on and on … have an impact on your fertility.
When preparing for pregnancy, you want to begin intentional preconception care at least three months—but ideally 6-12 months—prior to starting the *trying to conceive* process. Remember the life cycle of the egg is ~90 days so everything you do (or don’t do!) in that window can affect the quality of your eggs.
The idea here is that you’re ensuring your eggs are in optimal condition to be fertilized, that your eggs are genetically healthy and normal, and that your body is prepared to nourish and carry a little human to term.
Step one in that process?
Reviewing your diet.
Nutrient-dense foods are best for optimal fertility, healthy cycles, growing a human, and overall health and wellness … but … that doesn’t mean there is a one size fits all nutrition plan for everybody. We all have a different genetic blueprint, have been exposed to different environmental factors, and have different nutrient needs and goals.
Which is why it’s so important to work with a trained fertility nutritionist instead of just googling “best fertility diet”.
While individualized care is recommended, that’s not a feasible option for everyone, so I’m going to give you my foundational foods for all who want to prepare as best they can for successful conception.
When it comes to nutrition and deciding what foods are best for fertility, the internet can be an overwhelming place.
Here’s a good starting point:
Would your great grandmother recognize what you’re about to put into your mouth?
No? Then don’t eat it. No exceptions. Seriously.
This means avoiding food in packages, boxes and bags with long ingredient lists; all refined sugar and artificial sweeteners; refined grains; non-organic animal products & non-organic dairy; GMOs; vegetable oils and fake/ fast/ or fried foods.
Once you’ve eliminated those foods, transition to choosing high-quality, clean, nutrient-dense, whole foods that you primarily cook yourself at least 90% of the time! I’m talkin’ clean, quality proteins (always organic animal products!), tons of healthy fats and oils, and eat the rainbow in seasonal fruit and veggies.
And then, we’re introducing all kinds of delicious, egg-nourishing, sperm-optimizing, fertility superfoods that are going to take your fertility to the next level.
Here are a few of my favorite (super)foods for fertility:
I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating – a healthy gut is one of the first steps in preparing your body for pregnancy. Everything you consume now will affect the health of your future baby. The baby that will soon be growing in your womb? That baby’s digestive tract will be colonized by the same bacteria as yours! How crazy is that?!
Fermented foods provide beneficial bacteria, enzymes, and lauric acid – all of which promote a happy digestive tract. They promote the growth of healthy bacteria, not only in your stomach, but in your vagina too. When you have a balanced vaginal pH, you have optimal cervical mucus which, in turn, is essential to conception. When you’re harboring unhealthy bacteria in your vagina, it can reduce your cervical mucus so much that your chances of conceiving are dramatically decreased.
Another benefit of promoting healthy vaginal bacteria is to prepare for birth and the optimal development of your baby’s immune system. During birth, as your baby travels down the vaginal canal, she literally “gulps” in the vaginal fluid (and all its bacteria!), incorporating the first bacteria to colonize her gut, and therefore her immune system.
Read more about why fermented foods are a fertility (super)food: Superfoods for Fertility: Fermented Foods
Liver, that much loathed food, is perhaps one of the most nutrient-dense, and valuable additions for couples who are planning to conceive and who wish to optimize their children’s nutrition in the womb. Liver is a rich source of nutrients: iron, folate, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin A. All of which are necessary for healthy fertility. It also packs a punch of Vitamin B12, which is required for proper formation of red blood cells and DNA during pregnancy.
Besides being the ultimate source of true vitamin A and folate, liver is also a rich source of essential saturated fat, cholesterol, omega-3 fatty acids, and B vitamins – all crucial players for fertility, pregnancy, and fetal development.
Women suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome, the most common cause of infertility, tend to suffer from particularly low levels of folate and B vitamins. So eating liver is a must if you’re suffering from PCOS!
Other important animal foods rich in nutrients essential for fertility (i.e. iron, vitamin B12, omega 3’s, zinc and carnitine) include grass-fed, organic red meat from sources such as bison, beef, venison, elk and lamb.
Read more about why liver is a fertility superfood: Superfoods for fertility: Liver.
Bone broth is one of our most healing diet staples. It contains valuable minerals in a form your body can easily absorb and use, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulfur chondroitin, glucosamine, and a variety of trace minerals that are vital for creating a healthy new life.
Your gut health is directly linked to your hormonal health – if you have a leaky gut, your body is unable to properly absorb the nutrients and minerals it needs to produce hormones. That’s how vital your gut health is to a balanced hormonal system! The majority of the women I work with to improve fertility and/or optimize hormone balance have some kind of digestive challenge – constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, IBS, food allergies, skin rashes, and more. And most of them have no idea how connected their gut health is with their hormonal woes.
Bone broth helps to heal and seal your gut, preventing leaky gut and the resulting food allergy development, while also helping to promote healthy digestion. The collagen and gelatin found in bone broth is actually what is responsible for this healing and sealing. It essentially fills in the holes of a leaky gut and should be a part of any gut healing regimen.
A digestive issue I see in my practice ALL THE TIME is food sensitivities and allergies. Both of these trigger inflammation in the gut and, as a coping method, the body produces additional cortisol (the stress hormone), diverting precious energy AWAY from the systems of the body that are not necessary for survival (i.e. the reproductive system), disrupting the delicate balance of your reproductive hormones… in turn, negatively affecting your fertility. Bone broth nourishes the gut lining, which both prevents the development of food allergies, and also the healing from food allergies and sensitivities.
You know that old wive’s tale about oysters being an aphrodisiac? Well, good news! Recent studies have shown that shellfish – particularly oysters – are high in rare amino acids that trigger increased levels of sex hormones in both men and women that help to improve libido!
So what makes wild caught fish and seafood a fertility superfood?
The obvious answer – all of those essential fatty acids! Loading up on these EFAs allows for increased blood flow to reproductive organs and may help to regulate your reproductive hormones as well. Omega-3 fatty acids can increase cervical mucus, promote ovulation and overall improve the quality of the uterus by increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs. Omega-3’s are also anti-inflammatory, therefore helping to reduce inflammation in the body which can be a mega fertility downer. It’s especially important to reduce inflammation in the pelvic area for healthy fertility.
Beyond the EFAs that fish and seafood provide, they are also rich in Vitamin D. For women looking to get pregnant, Vitamin D is of particular importance as several studies indicate that low levels of vitamin D may negatively impact fertility. A staggering 93% of women dealing with infertility are deficient in vitamin D3. One study measured vitamin D levels in women undergoing IVF and found the odds of pregnancy were four times higher for women with high vitamin D levels compared to those with a vitamin D deficiency. Another study found that in the group of women with the highest vitamin D levels, 47% became pregnant, while among women with low vitamin D levels, the pregnancy rate was only 20%. Another more recent IVF study revealed a higher fertilization and implantation rate in a group of women with higher vitamin D levels.
Another area that vitamin D seems to be extremely important is for women with PCOS or other metabolic imbalances. Researchers suspect that low vitamin D levels may contribute to insulin resistance and other hormonal imbalances that cause infertility in women with PCOS. Bottom line is that vitamin D is super important for optimal fertility, and wild caught fish is a fantastic food source.
Another mega important fertility nutrient is zinc. Found in high amounts in oysters, clams, and mussels, zinc is capable of improving sperm quality in men – it has been shown to improve sperm count and motility, therefore improving conception rate. Men who increased their seafood intake improved sperm production significantly.
In women, a zinc deficiency can disrupt your menstrual cycle, and negatively impact egg quality – neither of which is ideal for your fertility health. Because zinc is such a potent antioxidant, it plays a large role in egg quality. A zinc deficiency is also capable of impacting your baby once pregnant – insufficient zinc levels has been associated with birth defects, low birth weight, and impaired immune function.
And a bonus for continuing to eat fish once you’re pregnant, a large body of evidence suggests that maternal consumption of seafood during pregnancy protects your child against mercury-associated impairments in cognitive function, attention, and behavior.
Read more about why wild caught fish and seafood are fertility superfoods: Superfoods for Fertility: Fish and Seafood.
Egg yolks can honestly be considered “nature’s multivitamin”. The egg yolk supplies almost all of the whole egg’s iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin B-6, folate and vitamin B-12. It also contains 100 percent of the egg’s vitamin A, which includes two antioxidant carotenoids – lutein and zeaxanthin.
Egg white omelets and other yolk-free recipes have become synonymous with “healthy” to many people. But if you toss out your egg yolks, you’re also tossing out the most nutritious part of the egg.
Egg yolks from pasture-raised chickens are extremely rich in fertility boosting omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA; the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and vitamin K2 – which is very important in forming healthy bones, quick blood clotting, and regulated menstrual cycles. But they are especially rich in a nutrient many people have never heard of: choline – which is essential for proper development in fetuses.
Choline is of particular importance to the preconception and pregnancy diet as requirements for the developing nervous system. Most pregnant and lactating women are not consuming adequate choline for their developing babies and researchers are calling for increased consumption of choline-rich foods among pregnant and lactating women. Studies suggest that 86% of women don’t get enough choline in their diet. This is significant because choline helps protect against neural tube defects. Choline is particularly critical in tooth development as well as brain development. A mother’s intake of choline during pregnancy may improve the capability for memory in her child.
Egg yolks are very easy to digest and have been compared to breast milk for their high nutritional value. They also have a great deal of zinc and magnesium which is important for a healthy immune system.
It should be noted that it’s super important to consume eggs from organic, pasture-raised chickens, and here’s why: egg yolks from pasture-raised chickens contain up to TWENTY TIMES more healthy omega-3 fatty acids, than those from factory raised chickens.
Read more about why egg yolks are a fertility superfood: Superfoods for Fertility: Egg Yolks.
Fat intake is essential in preparing your body for a baby. We need a certain amount of saturated fats to produce cholesterol, the mother hormone. All of our major reproductive hormones – specifically estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA and cortisol – are produced from cholesterol. Cholesterol is literally the mother hormone that turns into each of the necessary hormones to make a baby! And because grass-fed butter (and/or ghee) and coconut oil are rich in saturated fats and cholesterol, they are amazing healthy fats that literally provide the building blocks for hormone production. Saturated fat like is vital for balancing reproductive hormones and virility. And, we know that we cannot conceive a child or have a healthy pregnancy without proper hormonal balance.
Butter is a rich source of the substance, especially when it comes from cows that are eating fast growing grass during the spring and fall. Bright yellow butter – raw and from grass-fed cows – is a wonderful source of fertility-supporting vitamins A, D, E, K2 and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (an antioxidant with anti-viral properties if sourced from grass fed cows). The amazing fats found in butter helps the body absorb and use key minerals like calcium, magnesium, selenium, and iodine.
Ghee is made from butter but the milk solids (lactose and casein) have been removed, so most people who are lactose or casein intolerant and can’t eat butter, have no issues with ghee.
Coconut oil is extremely good for proper thyroid function, which is essential for regulating hormones and ovulation cycles. Coconut oil also helps with increasing insulin sensitivity which is very important for increasing the likelihood of pregnancy and reducing the occurrence of gestational diabetes. Coconut oil contains Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) which are the easiest type of fatty acid that your body can burn for calories, making it beneficial for weight loss. MCTs are a unique form of saturated fat that have been shown to possess antioxidant and antimicrobial properties to help support the immune system, as well as antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral immune benefits – meaning that it’ll help you beat that cold or flu that’s causing additional stress on your body.
Coconut products also contain a high amount of lauric acid, one of the main fatty acids found in breastmilk that is responsible for building your baby’s immune system properly. It’s important to consume foods rich in lauric acid during pregnancy to improve breast milk’s antiviral quality!
Good fats aren’t only essential for getting pregnant, they are also critical for a baby’s brain and neurological development in utero. So, if you’re already pregnant or nursing, it’s doubly important to make sure you’re eating plenty of healthy fats!
Other healthy fats to include in your diet when trying to get pregnant include extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil, avocados, raw nuts and seeds, raw nut butters, and unrefined cold-pressed avocado oil.
When it comes to our reproductive health, protein plays a big role, which is why you need more of it when trying to conceive (and definitely once you’re pregnant). It’s especially important to make sure you’re consuming adequate levels of protein in the preconception stage—protein not only plays a crucial role in the production of hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle ( LH and FSH), but it’s essential to produce healthy eggs and sperm and to maintain proper reproductive organ function.
These are just some of the many benefits of eating protein for optimal fertility:
Protein is essential for the production of hormones, including reproductive hormones such FSH, LH, estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are crucial for regulating the menstrual cycle and supporting healthy ovulation.
Adequate protein intake is associated with improved eqq quality. High-quality proteins provide essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. These amino acids are necessary for the development and maturation of healthy eggs.
Protein is also important for the production of healthy sperm. Sperm cells require amino acids and other nutrients to develop properly. A diet rich in protein can help maintain optimal sperm count, motility, and morphology.
Protein helps facilitate the absorption of important nutrients involved in fertility, such as vitamins and minerals. It improves nutrient bioavailability, ensuring that essential nutrients are properly absorbed and utilized by the body.
reproductive organ health
Protein is crucial for the growth, repair, and maintenance of reproductive organs, including the uterus and ovaries. It provides the necessary amino acids and nutrients to support the health and function of these organs.
blood sugar regulation
Protein-rich foods have a minimal impact on blood sugar levels compared to carbohydrates. This helps regulate insulin levels and prevent insulin spikes, which can have a positive effect on reproductive hormone balance and fertility. Protein also helps you feel satiated and full for longer, helps with weight management, and can even boost your immune system.
At its early stages of development, an embryo requires a great deal of cellular energy supplied by mitochondria (the “powerhouse” of the cell). In the time after the egg has been fertilized, but before it implants in the uterine wall, the embryo is extremely vulnerable to nutritional supply. When mitochondrial function is limited, we see poorer outcomes in embryo survival.
A low-protein diet has been linked to significantly less mitochondria around the cell nucleus (the “command center” that contains the DNA). As well, both low and excessively high-protein diets have been associated with a decreased number of cells inside the embryo at its blastocyst stage.
Dietary protein is important in pregnancy as the placenta requires certain levels of amino acids for proper growth and development. Inadequate dietary protein can increase the risk of placental insufficiency and low infant birth weight, which can lead to other health issues such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, obstructive airway disease, and obesity later in life. Other negative outcomes of low maternal protein intake include increased risk of pre-eclampsia and preterm labor.
Of course, too much of a good thing can cause problems as well—although much less likely, it’s best not to consume an excessively high-protein diet either.
When trying to conceive, women should consume between 1.2 to 1.5 grams of protein/kg of body weight.
Protein needs while pregnant are 1.7 grams of protein/kg of bodyweight. As your body weight changes throughout pregnancy, your protein needs will change as well.
Let’s say you weigh 60 kilograms (132 pounds):
while TTC: your recommended daily protein intake for optimal fertility would be between 72 – 90 grams of protein per day.
when pregnant: your recommended daily protein intake for optimal fetal growth and development would be ~102 grams of protein per day.
Remember that all protein sources you consume that come from an animal should always be organic, grass-fed/grass-finished, pasture raised, and/or wild caught. Purchase the highest quality you can afford and source. This means:
Listen up men, this part is for you too!
Many of the pesticides, chemicals, and hormones used in the production of fruit, veggies, grains, and animal products contain synthetic estrogen-like substances which occupy estrogen receptor sites and have negative side effects on our hormonal and reproductive systems. All that excess estrogen exposure wreaks havoc on your body’s delicate hormonal system.
In men, pesticides have been shown to negatively affect: the male reproductive tract, sperm health, sperm motility, sperm count, overall male fertility, and hormonal balance. Men who consume pesticides in their foods are 10 times more likely to have low sperm count!
In women, pesticides negatively affect fertility by disrupting hormone synthesis, hormone release and storage, hormone transport, hormone receptors, thyroid function, and the central nervous system.
All of these are essential in maintaining a healthy reproductive system, and in turn, promoting your fertility … in both women and men!
Think about this for a second: when you eat food that was grown using pesticides, your body has to work harder to eliminate those pesticides. This process not only adds extra stress on your body, but it makes your liver work harder to detoxify.
When you consume meat and dairy from conventional factory farms, your body is ingesting the same chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics that the animal was fed and exposed to in their lifetime. These hormones have the ability to disrupt your own internal hormone production. This imbalance can impede ovulation and even weaken egg health and sperm, making it difficult to get pregnant.
Healthy, normal shaped, quick swimming sperm are pertinent to not only fertilizing an egg, but also in providing optimal DNA so that the embryo is genetically healthy and has a greater chance of surviving.
So, what can we do to improve male fertility health?
Sperm regeneration can take upwards of 60-90 days, and in similar practice to improving a woman’s egg quality, the sperm are affected by both healthy or unhealthy influences during this time.
There are many contributing factors that affect the health of sperm—medical conditions, environmental factors, and overall health and wellness. Men who smoke cigarettes, consume excess alcohol and caffeine, and/or are overweight have lowered fertility due to a negative impact on sperm health. Step one in improving sperm health is eliminating these top lifestyle factors that harm sperm quality. Here are some additional steps that I recommend taking in order to support and improve a man’s fertility health:
This will help protect and positively impact your sperm health. Be sure to incorporate the following into his daily diet:
wild caught fish & seafood: salmon,mackerel, herring, halibut, shellfish, oysters, cod, tuna, flounder, sardines, hake, skate, trout, and red snapper.
100% organic, grass-fed/grass-finished, pasture-raised meat: beef, wild game, bison, lamb, pork, duck, goose, Cornish game hen, chicken and turkey.
fats and oils: organic, grass-fed butter and ghee, egg yolks from pastured chickens, animal fats from clean/organic animals (lard, tallow, duck fat, bacon grease, etc), wild caught fatty fish and seafood, avocados, extra-virgin olive oil, olives, raw nuts and seeds, and raw & unrefined coconut products.
fruits: focus on the low-sugar fruits including all kinds of berries, nectarines, peaches, plums, apricots, cantaloupe, grapefruit, lemons and limes. Choose organic, local and in-season as often as possible.
vegetables: focus on variety and lots of color! Choose organic, local and in-season vegetables as often as possible.
See how it’s not that different from what to eat for female fertility health? 😉
The body needs what it needs—whole, nourishing, nutrient-dense foods that your great grandmother would recognize. Bring it back to the basics, and watch your fertility health soar.
I’d love to use this space as a forum of sorts, providing inspiration and community among my readers, so … I want to hear from you!
What’s your favorite way to use butter or coconut oil?
Did you know that you can use coconut oil topically too? It’s GREAT as a daily moisturizer, or even as a shaving “cream”!
Does anyone else use coconut oil or butter to replace vegetable oils in baking? If not, you absolutely should! Vegetables oils are TERRIBLE and are never necessary, even if the recipe says so 😉
Spread some Butter and Coconut Oil lovin’! Sharing is caring, and I bet you have some friends who would love to read this too :).
Fat intake is essential in preparing your body for a baby. We need a certain amount of saturated fats to produce cholesterol. All of our major reproductive hormones – specifically estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and cortisol – are produced from cholesterol. Cholesterol is literally the mother hormone that turns into each of the necessary hormones to make a baby! Saturated fat like grass-fed butter, ghee, and coconut oil is vital for balancing reproductive hormones and increasing fertility.
Grass-fed butter and coconut oil are amazing healthy fats that provide the building blocks for hormone production. Coconut oil is extremely good for proper thyroid function, which is essential for regulating hormones and ovulation cycles. Coconut oil also helps with increasing insulin sensitivity which is very important for increasing the likelihood of pregnancy and reducing the occurrence of gestational diabetes. Grass-fed butter is a wonderful source of fertility-supporting vitamins A, D, E, K2 and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (an antioxidant with anti-viral properties if sourced from grass fed cows). The amazing fats found in butter helps the body absorb and use key minerals like calcium, magnesium, selenium, and iodine—all critical minerals for increasing chances of getting pregnant.
Anywhere that you buy your pantry staples, but my personal favorite place is Thrive Market! There are a few things to look out for when buying grass-fed butter and coconut oil—always look for the USDA certified organic stamp, choose refined coconut oil for cooking (it has a more neutral taste!), and for smoothies, raw treats, and eating off the spoon, look for unrefined coconut oil.
The easiest way? Cook with it! Both grass-fed butter and coconut oil can be used to replace your traditional cooking oils entirely. I recommend throwing out all the vegetable oils and fake-butter in your kitchen, as they are highly toxic to and can have a negative effect on fertility health. Butter and coconut oil have high smoke points, meaning they are great for everything from searing fish and meats to sautéing vegetables.
The Fertility Code is the best-kept secret of women who want to take the guesswork out of conceiving, and give themselves every possible chance of getting pregnant successfully.
Bringing together evidence-based information, science-backed protocols and nurturing practices, this course is your one-stop-shop for getting your body, mind and soul prepared for conception.
This essential fertility course is for anyone who is struggling to get pregnant, or thinking about getting pregnant soon. The course covers all the fertility topics: egg quality, ovarian reserve, miscarriage, ovulation, cycle tracking, low progesterone, IVF, prepping for egg retrieval + embryo transfer, thyroid health, toxins, and much more. It covers EVERYTHING you need to know and you can move through the modules at your own pace.
The Fertility Code will give you the tools, protocols, tests, supplements, and more to optimize your fertility health, nourish your body, and give it what it needs to make a baby, and ensure a healthy full-term pregnancy. It has helped hundreds of women get pregnant, and stay pregnant, and it can help you too.
And if you want to get a baseline of your fertility health before getting started, take my quiz! After you complete it, you’ll receive a detailed report from me explaining your results.
If you want more personalized guidance and support, or want to have a more in-depth conversation about your specific concerns, feel free to schedule a 1:1 consultation. I offer 1:1 consultations through the convenience of video conferencing for women and couples with various fertility & hormonal health concerns.
Sarah Jane Sandy is a certified nutrition therapist, and a fertility and women’s health expert. She has helped hundreds of women increase their fertility naturally and go on to have healthy full-term pregnancies. She has been working with women and couples trying to get pregnant for over 15 years and over 90% of the women who work with her get pregnant and have healthy babies. Learn more about her own fertility journey here. To send Sarah a message, complete her Contact Form.