Infertility affects around 1 in 6 couples throughout their reproductive lifetime. Problems with ovulation account for approximately 18-30% of infertility cases (1). Other causes of female infertility include poor egg quality, fallopian tube damage and disrupted endometrial function (2). Studies have shown however, that nutrition does have an impact on fertility. While there are numerous factors that affect fertility, nutrition is one that is relatively easy to control. If you are wondering what foods you can eat to support your fertility, check out these five foods to support fertility.
Five Foods to Support Fertility
A 2007 study out of Harvard University followed nearly 18,000 women without a history of infertility on their journey to becoming pregnant. The study found that nutrition and physical activity was associated with a decreased risk of infertility (1). Here are some foods they found to be associated with fertility:
- Multivitamin supplement: Okay so this isn’t technically a food, but the study found that women who took multivitamin supplements at least three times per week had a reduced risk of ovulatory infertility. They found that folic acid may contribute to this affect (3). Canada’s Prenatal Guidelines already advise women who are planning to become pregnant to take a multivitamin containing at least 400 mcg of folic acid (4).
- Vegetable protein: The study suggests that replacing some animal protein, particularly chicken and red meat, with plant-based sources of protein may reduce risk of infertility (5). Examples of plant-based protein sources include beans, peas, tofu, and nuts.
- Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat: In the study, eating unsaturated trans-fat (found in some animal products) in place of carbohydrates, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats was associated with an increased risk of infertility (6). Try replacing some sources of unsaturated trans-fat in your diet with olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and cold-water fish such as salmon and sardines (these fish are low in mercury as well).
- Slowly digested carbohydrates: Carbohydrates that are rich in fibre are more slowly digested and can help control blood glucose and insulin levels. Rapidly digested carbohydrates (such as white bread, candy, potatoes, etc.) can cause these levels to spike which has been associated with infertility (7). Foods that contain slowly digested carbohydrates include whole grains, vegetables, whole fruits, and beans.
- Full-fat dairy: The study suggests that eating moderate amounts of full-fat dairy products instead of low-fat is beneficial for fertility (1). However, a different study looked at this correlation in another population and did not find an association between full-fat dairy and improved fertility (8). While it may be premature to recommend full-fat dairy products to improve fertility, dairy still offers beneficial nutrients to the prenatal diet. Examples of full-fat dairy include whole milk, whole milk yogurt, regular cheese, and ice cream.
The Bottom Line
Eating a well-balanced diet including taking a multivitamin supplement, vegetable protein, mono and polyunsaturated fats, whole grains and full fat dairy is a relatively easy way to promote fertility. Please note, incorporating these foods into your diet will not treat or cure infertility. If you have concerns about your fertility, talk to your health care provider, including your Dietitian.
- Chavarro, J. E., Rich-Edwards, J. W., Rosner, B. A., & Willett, W. C. (2007). Diet and lifestyle in the prevention of ovulatory disorder infertility. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 110(5), 1050–1058. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.AOG.0000287293.25465.e1
- Showell, M. G., Brown, J., Clarke, J., & Hart, R. J. (2013). Antioxidants for female subfertility. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 8, CD007807. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD007807.pub2
- Chavarro, J. E., Rich-Edwards, J. W., Rosner, B. A., & Willett, W. C. (2008). Use of multivitamins, intake of B vitamins and risk of ovulatory infertility. Fertility and Sterility, 89(3), 668–676. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2007.03.089
- Health Canada. (2011, August 20). The Sensible Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy. Government of Canada. Retrieved August 30, 2020 from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/healthy-pregnancy/healthy-pregnancy-guide.html#a1
- Chavarro, J. E., Rich-Edwards, J. W., Rosner, B. A., & Willett, W. C. (2008). Protein intake and ovulatory infertility. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 198(2), 210.e1-210.e7. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2007.06.057
- Chavarro, J. E., Rich-Edwards, J. W., Rosner, B. A., & Willett, W. C. (2007). Dietary fatty acid intakes and the risk of ovulatory infertility. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(1), 231–237. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/85.1.231
- Chavarro, J. E., Rich-Edwards, J. W., Rosner, B. A., & Willett, W. C. (2009). A prospective study of dietary carbohydrate quantity and quality in relation to risk of ovulatory infertility. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63(1), 78–86. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602904
- Wise, L. A., Wesselink, A. K., Mikkelsen, E. M., Cueto, H., Hahn, K. A., Rothman, K. J., Tucker, K. L., Sørensen, H. T., & Hatch, E. E. (2017). Dairy intake and fecundability in 2 preconception cohort studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 105(1), 100–110. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.116.138404