You are what you eat. Your grandmother has been saying this for years, and an increasing number of scientists are joining in. But is it also true that your fertility is dependent on what you eat? What foods should you eat if you want to get pregnant?
Food, no matter how good, how unprocessed, or how rich in nutrients, is not a cure for infertility; there are, however, certain foods that have been shown through research to increase your chances of getting pregnant. But remember, check with your doctor before you take any form of supplementation!
So, what are the three foods every woman who wants to get pregnant should be eating?
Eat More Avocados
Just about everyone knows that folate, one of the B-vitamins (or folic acid, as it’s known in supplement form) helps prevent certain birth defects and most pregnant women are now taking vitamins with folic acid. But did you know that folic acid may also increase a woman’s fertility?
Research has found that higher folate intake is associated with higher rates of implantation, clinical pregnancy, and live births for woman undergoing fertility treatment. Other research, which focused on evidence from epidemiologic literature, supports that folic acid increases the chances of getting pregnant.
The jury is still out on whether folic acid will improve your male partner’s sperm. One well-designed study found that subfertile men had a significant (74% ) increase in total normal sperm count with 26 weeks of combined zinc sulfate (66 mg/day) and folic acid (5 mg/day) supplementation. These results were not found with either folic acid or zinc sulfate alone. Further research has been inconclusive whether folic acid supplementation alone will improve sperm quality or count. One study found that it did and one study found that it did not.
The following foods are high in folate, which is the form of folic acid that occurs naturally in food:
- Dried beans and peas
- Green vegetables
Many foods are supplemented with folic acid (breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, rice) and many multivitamins, especially those designed for woman, contain substantial amounts of folic acid. Note that most of the research looked at the impact of folic acid supplementation, not folate that was consumed through food.
Drink Whole Milk
One large study found that women who consumed one or more servings of whole-milk products a day were 27% less likely to experience anovulatory infertility (failure to ovulate) than those who consumed less than one serving a week. Researchers followed 18,555 married, premenopausal women with no history of infertility who were trying to get pregnant or became pregnant over an 8-year period. Not only did they find that woman consuming whole milk foods had an increased rate of pregnancy, but they also found that women who consumed two or more servings a day of low-fat dairy food were almost twice as likely to fail to ovulate as women who ate less than one serving a week.
Eat More Fish, But…
Many studies have found that eating more omega-3 fatty acids reduces the time it takes to get pregnant. Foods that are highest in omega-3 fatty acids are mackerel, salmon, cod liver oil, herring, oysters, sardines, anchovies, and caviar.
BUT…some of these fish may also be high in mercury. Generally speaking, fatty fish high on the food chain (predatory fish that eat smaller fish) are higher in mercury. The following fish should be avoided by women who are pregnant or nursing or who plan to become pregnant within a year: king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish, ahi tuna, and bigeye tuna. Basically, when in doubt, go with the smaller fish.
It is possible to get omega-3 fatty acids from non-fish sources, such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans, but these omega-3 acids are considered inferior to those found in fish because they are in the form of omega-3 fat ALA, rather than omega-3 fats EPA and DHA. It is also possible to get omega-3 EPA and DHA through supplements.
A Word to Those Who Are Struggling to Get Pregnant
If you are under 35 and have been trying for a year of timed intercourse and have not become pregnant, you need to see your doctor. If you are 35 or older, don’t wait longer than six months. And while it is a good idea to start with your gynecologist, don’t spend too much time there without success. Time is not on your side, so get to a specialist (a reproductive endocrinologist) sooner rather than later.
If you are trying to get pregnant, how do you plan to eat more of these three foods? Share some ideas in the comments!
Image Credit: Biella "Gabriella" Coleman; U.S. Department of Agriculture