What to Eat When Trying to Get Pregnant, According to Dietitians
Starting a family can be an exciting and sometimes nerve-wracking journey. If you’re hoping to conceive, you may be wondering if any foods can help or hinder your chances. Well, research suggests that what you eat can impact fertility and pregnancy outcomes.
According to one 2021 study, researchers found that those who adhered to a “pro-fertility diet” (similar to the Mediterranean diet) had a lower risk of infertility caused by ovulation disorders. This “pro-fertility diet” emphasized the consumption of MUFAs (monounsaturated fatty acids) and plant-derived protein, as well as low glycemic index foods, high-fiber foods, and high-fat dairy.
But these aren’t the only food groups that can be beneficial to those hoping to get pregnant. Ahead, experts recommend their top foods to include in your diet and others to avoid when trying to conceive. This way, you can feel confident in your nutritional choices on the road to parenthood.
Foods to Eat When Trying to Get Pregnant
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach or magic formula, research shows that consuming certain foods may help increase fertility and create a nurturing environment for a developing baby. Here are some potentially beneficial foods to include in your fertility diet.
Fruits and Vegetables
Antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies are a must for anyone trying to conceive. They provide essential vitamins and minerals that help regulate hormone levels, improve egg quality, and prepare the body for pregnancy.
“Oranges, lemons, and grapefruits contain vitamin C, which helps protect sperm from oxidative damage while supporting egg quality,” says Barbara Kovalenko, RD and nutrition consultant at Lasta. Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and other berries do the same and are high in antioxidants, as well as a great source of folate, vitamin C, and fiber.
In addition to citrus fruits and berries, leafy greens such as spinach and kale are excellent sources of key vitamins and minerals like folate, calcium, and iron, which are essential for growing a baby.
“Folate helps produce red blood cells, while calcium supports bone health in the mother and baby during pregnancy,” says Kovalenko. “Folate is essential for cell division and DNA synthesis during conception and pregnancy.”
According to Conceive Health fertility clinic, “low protein intake surrounding conception can have negative impacts on embryo development, leading to the potential for slowed or halted embryo growth.”
If you’re looking to add more protein to your diet, organic eggs and legumes (such as lentils, chickpeas, and beans) are great sources of protein, iron, vitamin B6, and zinc, all crucial nutrients for conception.
“Eggs are a great source of choline that helps reduce birth defects’ risk while supporting neural development in babies,” says Kovalenko. “Eating eggs may also help regulate hormones throughout the menstrual cycle.”
Liver and steak are also considered protein powerhouses and a great source of vitamins, according to CNY Fertility.
If you’d prefer seafood, that’s OK. Research shows that fish such as wild-caught salmon and sardines are not only packed with protein, but may also improve sperm and embryo quality thanks to all of the omega-3 fatty acids they contain.
“Omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in reproductive health, as they help regulate hormones and reduce inflammation,” says Kieran McSorley, RD, and COO of Brentwood Physio. “They’re important for maintaining healthy cervical mucus, which is needed for sperm to travel through the reproductive tract to fertilize an egg,” McSorley continues. “Omega-3s also support healthy fetal development and can help reduce the risk of preterm birth.”
Full-Fat Dairy Products
Dairy often gets a bad reputation for being high in calories and saturated fat, but consuming full-fat dairy products may be beneficial when trying to conceive.
“Research shows that full-fat dairy can help you conceive, particularly if you have trouble ovulating,” says Kaleigh McMordie, MCN, RDN, family and culinary nutritionist. “Full-fat plain Greek yogurt is one of my favorite options, as it’s rich in protein and versatile. You can add it to a smoothie, eat it as a snack with berries, or use it as a substitute for mayo or sour cream,” McMordie recommends. “Real milk shouldn’t be overlooked either, as it’s a great source of protein, calcium, and dairy, which are important for healthy bones for you and your future baby!”
A 2007 study published in Human Reproduction found that participants who consumed at least one serving of full-fat dairy per day had a 27% lower risk of ovulatory infertility than those who consumed less than one serving per week. While this study is over a decade old, it still emphasizes the potential benefits of incorporating full-fat dairy products into your diet when trying to conceive.
Foods to Avoid When Trying to Get Pregnant
While certain foods may increase your chances of conception, others may have the opposite effect. Here are some foods to avoid when trying to get pregnant.
Processed foods are often high in added sugars, unhealthy fats, and preservatives, which can harm your reproductive health and make it more difficult to conceive, according to UNC Fertility. Additionally, consuming processed foods has been linked to increased inflammation in the body, which can contribute to various health issues, including insulin resistance and PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome).
“Someone with PCOS should be avoiding or limiting added sugars and increase whole grains in their diet to obtain more fiber,” says Cesar Sauza, MS, RDN, and nutrition specialist at Healthcanal. “Consistently having enough fiber will help stabilize blood sugar levels (essential for pregnancy).”
High Mercury Fish
Although fish is generally healthy, some are high in mercury, a toxic heavy metal that can build up and negatively impact fertility in AFAB and AMAB individuals.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), high levels of mercury can damage the nervous system, disrupt the endocrine system, and impair cognitive function. This is especially concerning for developing fetuses, as mercury can cross the placenta and accumulate in the fetal brain, leading to developmental delays and neurological damage. This food should also be avoided during pregnancy.
Pasta and bread may be comforting and delicious, but they’re also high in refined carbs. Unlike whole grains, refined carbs are digested quickly and cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, leading to an insulin spike.
“Consuming a diet high in refined carbs (think white pasta, flour, and sugar) can spike your blood sugar and insulin, which throws off your reproductive hormone levels,” says McMordie. “Try to swap in minimally processed whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa, as much as possible. Or better yet, try swapping some processed foods for healthier whole foods like vegetables, nuts, beans, or eggs.”
The Bottom Line
The good news is that eating a balanced and delicious diet can aid in your fertility goals and help you on your journey to parenthood. So why not get excited about trying new recipes and finding your perfect mix of fruits, veggies, protein, and dairy?
Just remember to steer clear of too many processed foods, high-mercury fish, and refined carbs as much as possible. And, of course, don’t hesitate to chat with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance and support.