Trying to get pregnant? Consider a date night to the grocery store. "Keeping your body healthy by eating good-for-you foods while trying to conceive is especially helpful because your nutrient intake affects everything from your energy level to your hormones,"
Trying to get pregnant? Consider a date night to the grocery store. "Keeping your body healthy by eating good-for-you foods while trying to conceive is especially helpful because your nutrient intake affects everything from your energy level to your hormones," says Holley Grainger, RD, lifestyle and nutrition expert and mother of two. Maintaining a healthy weight is also important. An estimated 30 percent of infertility diagnoses are due to being either overweight or underweight, largely because of the resulting hormone imbalances, according to the National Infertility Association. Whether you're just starting to try to get pregnant or you've been trying for a while, consider adding these nine fertility-boosting foods to your diet now.
1. Plant Protein
Protein is an important part of a healthy diet, but according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), many Americans rely too much on animal protein. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that replacing a serving of meat each day with vegetable or dairy protein — such as legumes, nuts or tofu — can boost fertility. They 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. Include plenty of lean vegetarian protein in your diet like beans and lentils, says Rebecca Scritchfield, RD, Washington, D.C.-based dietitian.
2. Whole-Milk Products
Full. Fat. Dairy. Yes, sometimes dietary advice can be decadent. Researchers found that participants in the Nurses' Health Study were less likely to have ovulatory infertility if they consumed at least one serving of whole milk or dairy foods, such as yogurt or cottage cheese made from whole milk, each day. Skim and low-fat dairy products had the opposite effect on fertility. Experts aren't sure why, but they theorize that removing fat from milk might change the balance of sex hormones, which could hinder ovulation. However, the study isn't a license to finish that pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream in your freezer (sorry!).
3. Iron-Rich Foods
It's important to fill your body's iron reserves before you get pregnant. Once a woman gets pregnant, she often loses iron to the baby, which can put her at risk for postpartum anemia — a condition that zaps energy by causing red blood cells to fall below normal levels. "The Nurses' Health Study II reported that fertility can be improved by eating foods rich in iron, particularly vegetarian sources like beans, lentils, spinach and fortified and enriched cereals and grains," says Rebecca Scritchfield, RD, Washington, D.C.-based dietitian. Or talk to your doctor about taking a multivitamin with iron. It's also a good idea to test your blood for anemia at your preconception checkup.
4. Grain Products
Including refined grains in your diet can help boost your folic acid levels if you're trying to get pregnant. To reduce neural tube defects, the FDA mandated in 1998 that all enriched (or refined) grain products be fortified with folic acid. "Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps the body make healthy new cells. If a woman has enough folic acid in her body at least one month before and during pregnancy, it can help prevent major birth defects of the baby's brain and spine," says dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield. The USDA recommends healthy adults consume about six ounces of total grains per day and that at least half of those grains (three ounces) are whole grains.
Related: 13 Powerful Grains and Seeds
5. Herbal Tea
While many experts advise that low to moderate caffeine consumption (less than 300 milligrams a day, or about two 8-ounce mugs of coffee) is fine, other experts say that's too much. A recent meta-analysis published in the European Journal of Epidemiology found that a dose as low as 100 milligrams per day of caffeine was associated with a 14-percent increase in risk of miscarriage and a 19-percent increase in the risk of stillbirth. Whether you're looking to cut out caffeine or just reduce your intake, herbal teas are naturally caffeine-free and can be a great substitute for coffee. Plus, from lemon ginger to citrus lavender to coco caramel, they come in an endless array of tasty flavors. Or try Traditional Medicinals Pregnancy Tea.
Related: Lean More About Traditional Medicinals Pregnancy Tea
6. Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and veggies of all colors contain phytonutrients, plant compounds that work together to protect your health. These phytochemicals include antioxidants that give produce its color and keep you healthy, which will increase your ability to get pregnant. "Colorful fruit and vegetables like pumpkin, pomegranate, kale and peppers provide antioxidants and are like natural multivitamins that offer a wealth of nutrients," says nutrition expert Holley Grainger. "Adding these foods to your diet is as easy as tossing extra veggies into scrambled eggs or premade pasta sauce, blending an extra serving of fruit into a smoothie or munching on veggie sticks with hummus for a snack."
7. Olive Oil
Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat that helps increase insulin sensitivity and decrease inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation can interfere with ovulation, conception and early development of the embryo. In addition to including olive oil in your pre-pregnancy diet, it's important to cut out trans fats, which are found in many baked goods, fried foods and processed foods. Trans fats decrease the body's ability to react to insulin, which can make you more prone to irregular ovulation. "A study conducted at Harvard showed improved fertility in women eating less trans fats, sugary and refined carbohydrates and low-fat dairy. Replace these with plant-based fats like olive oil, whole grains and full-fat dairy," says dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield.
8. Wild Fish
Wild fish like salmon, shrimp (from Alaska or Canada), tilapia and catfish are low in mercury and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may help to regulate reproductive hormones and increase blood flow to the reproductive organs. "I recommend eating wild fish a few times a week for docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) or taking a high-quality supplement that supplies 1,000 milligrams each as well as one tablespoon per day of ground flaxseed, which supplies the third omega-3, ALA," says Susan B. Dopart, M.S., RD, CDE, author of Healthy You, Healthy Baby. Stay away from high-mercury fish sources like shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.
Related: The 9 Safest Seafood Options
9. Prenatal Vitamins
In addition to focusing on optimizing your dietary choices, a supplement can help you ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need on a daily basis. "To cover your bases, look for a complete multivitamin that provides folic acid (400 micrograms) and DHA (200 to 300 milligrams)," says dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield. "Both are important before, during and after pregnancy. Start taking prenatal vitamins around three months before trying to get pregnant to make sure your body's stores are ready to go at conception. For anyone who might be experiencing nausea or difficulty taking pills, try alternatives like Baby Booster shakes (with DHA and 20 grams of protein) or Vitafusion gummy prenatal vitamins.
Related: Lean More About Baby Booster Prenatal Protein Formula
What Do YOU Think?
Have you changed your diet or lifestyle to try to get pregnant? Would you include any of these foods in your diet to help you get pregnant? Leave a comment below and let us know. Share your experience on how certain foods or lifestyle changes affected your fertility — maybe your knowledge will help others!