Does diet play a role in infertility?

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD 

While most mothers are familiar with the importance of good nutrition during pregnancy, the role of diet in conception is often overlooked.  

The foods you eat can play a large role in preventing infertility, and eating a healthful diet is often recommended to couples who have trouble conceiving.  

Diet recommendations for fertility depend in part on what’s specifically contributing to infertility in each individual and couple. However, there are also many overarching recommendations that can help with conception in most people. 

Infertility Risk Factors 

There are several factors that can contribute to infertility in both women and men by affecting hormone levels, sperm health, and more. These include (1): 

  • Body weight: being underweight, overweight, or obese 

  • Age: being older than 35 

  • Smoking 

  • Excessive alcohol use 

  • High levels of emotional stress 

  • Eating disorders 

  • Competitive, strenuous exercise 

  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and insulin resistance in women 

  • Endometriosis in women 

Good nutrition can help with most of these conditions and therefore may help improve fertility.  

Eating for Fertility 

Since there are a variety of contributing factors to infertility, there are also several different styles of eating that can help with this issue. However, most fertility “diets” share many of the same recommendations. 

One of the most well-known recommendations is achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight. Women who are underweight, overweight, or obese have a higher risk of infertility. Plus, male obesity can also lead to conception problems (1).  

Other dietary risk factors for infertility include a high intake of trans fats, saturated fats, and sugar. On the other hand, overall “healthy diets” that are rich in plant foods, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and foods with antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids (like fatty fish) have been shown to protect against infertility (12). 

In other words, eating a well-balanced diet with a variety of healthful foods and limiting trans fats, saturated fats, and sugars is a fundamental part of improving fertility through diet. 

Some additional factors that may help with conception, but that haven’t been well-researched, include eating more iron-rich foods, protein from vegetables instead of animal sources, and full-fat dairy (2). 

While it’s likely best to limit caffeine and alcohol consumption, current research has not found a strong link between these beverages and infertility. Still, aim to get most of your fluids from water and limit coffee, tea, alcohol, and sugary sodas (2). 

Finally, regular exercise may help with conception, but it’s important to not overdo it. Strenuous activities can put too much strain on your body and may make it difficult to conceive. 

If you and your partner are concerned about the impact of your diet on fertility, be sure to discuss diet recommendations specific to you with your doctor and a registered dietitian. And remember, getting to a healthy weight is often the first step in improving infertility.  

Note from Healthy For Life Meals: Our menus are rich in nutritious, whole foods that can help you maintain a healthy diet and get to a healthy weight, two factors that are important for healthy conception. Get started with on of our plans today! 

Stef Keegan