The Nurses’ Health Study II revealed that women following a special “fertility diet” had a 66% lower risk of ovulatory disorder infertility, meaning they had an easier time getting pregnant (1).
If you’re thinking of having a baby, eating foods that promote fertility and help prepare your body for pregnancy is a smart idea.
To make it easier, this article includes a free fertility meal planner (PDF below), a sample menu, shopping list, and tips for eating more fertility-friendly foods
Let’s jump in!
How Does Nutrition Affect Fertility?
Studies show that what you eat can have a big impact on your ability to have a baby.
Certain foods and nutrients can help you balance your hormones, manage reproductive disorder symptoms, and boost your chances of getting – and staying – pregnant.
So, what foods should go on your fertility diet meal planner and what should you avoid?
The Fertility Diet
The fertility diet is based on findings from the Nurses’ Health Study II. A total of 18,555 participants said they were trying to get pregnant at some point during the 8 years of this study. Extensive data was collected, which led to connections being made between fertility and diet.
The main recommendations from this study are:
- Avoiding unhealthy trans fats
- Using more olive oil and canola oil
- Getting most of your protein from plant sources like nuts and beans, instead of from meat
- Choosing whole grains instead of refined (white) grains
- Having a serving of full-fat dairy once a day
- Taking a multivitamin with folic acid and B vitamins
- Eating plant foods with iron, like spinach and beans
- Avoiding sugary drinks.. Caffeine and alcohol are ok in moderation but water is your best friend.
The fertility diet also recommends fish “two or three times a week” to get the benefits of omega-3 fats, which are good for you and your baby (Chavarro et al., The Fertility Diet, 2009, p. 103).
A Note About the Mediterranean Diet and Fertility
The Mediterranean diet is also a good choice for fertility (6, 7, 8). It’s very similar to the fertility diet and includes whole grains, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and 2-3 servings of fatty fish each week. They advise against added salt and sugar. In other words, it’s another great option for your fertility meal planner.
Important Nutrients for Fertility: In Depth
Here are some important nutrients that should be on your fertility meal planner:
Folate and folic acid are terms often used interchangeably. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, which occurs naturally in foods.
Folate is crucial for preventing neural tube defects, like spina bifida, which develop in the early weeks of pregnancy. Because half of all pregnancies are unplanned, it’s recommended that all women of childbearing age make sure they’re getting at least 400 mcg of folic acid each day (9).
Research results as to folic acid increasing fertility are somewhat mixed, but still promising.
For instance, one prospective cohort study of 292 women undergoing assisted reproductive technology (ART) found a 20% increase in live birth rates among the women with higher folate intake (10). These women also had higher fertilization rates in general.
Foods Rich in Folate:
Lentils, chickpeas, spinach, Brussels sprouts, fortified breakfast cereals, asparagus, broccoli, and liver.
According to data from the Nurses’ Health Study, there was a 40% lower chance of infertility in women who regularly took iron supplements. Iron from non-heme sources (plant-based sources, like nuts and beans) also increased the likelihood of getting pregnant (11).
It should be noted, however, that more recent analyses from two prospective cohort studies found little connection between total dietary iron or heme iron (animal sources, like meat) consumption and fertility (12).
Because of higher iron needs during pregnancy, it generally remains a good idea to ensure you’re getting enough iron in your fertility meal plan. Women in their childbearing years should aim for 18 mg of iron each day. That number increases to 27 mg of iron daily during pregnancy.
Heme Sources of Iron:
Meat, poultry (like chicken and turkey), fish and seafood, eggs. Liver is an especially good source of heme iron.
Non-Heme Sources of Iron:
Tofu, beans, fortified breakfast cereals, nuts and seeds, lentils, spinach, enriched bread, dark chocolate.
Tip: Increase your iron absorption by pairing vitamin C with your iron-rich foods! For example, drink a glass of orange juice alongside your scrambled eggs, or squeeze lemon onto your spinach salad.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Research results are mixed when it comes to whether they help fertility (15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21). That being said, the research does not show them hurting fertility and omega 3 fats have plenty of other health benefits.
The fertility diet recommends consuming 5-7 ounces of fatty fish 2-3 times a week. You can also get omega 3 fatty acids from plant sources.
Foods Rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids:
Mackerel, salmon, tuna (choose skipjack light tuna, which is lower in mercury), anchovy, halibut, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, chia seeds, canola oil, walnuts and walnut oil
While not explicitly listed in the book called The Fertility Diet, antioxidants should play a prominent role in any fertility meal plan.
Antioxidants fight free radicals that can cause oxidative stress in your body. This oxidative stress can cause inflammation and lead to a number of chronic diseases. It can also negatively impact fertility (22, 23, 24, 25).
Foods Rich in Antioxidants:
Blueberries, raspberries, kale, broccoli, oranges, lemons, pomegranate, kiwi, carrots, pumpkin, tomatoes, black beans, kidney beans, walnuts, almonds, and many more
Another food to consider adding to your fertility meal planner is full-fat dairy. In the Nurses’ Health Study II, there was a significantly greater risk of anovulatory infertility among women consuming low fat dairy products (26).
Women eating full-fat dairy products, on the other hand, experienced a significantly decreased risk of anovulatory infertility. In fact, adding one serving of whole milk a day, without increasing the total number of calories eaten each day, resulted in a 50% decrease in anovulatory infertility (27).
The researchers recommend women who are trying to get pregnant consume 1 to 2 servings of full-fat dairy a day.
Plant-based protein – like that from beans, nuts, and seeds – should play a starring role in your fertility diet meal planner. Take a look at these statistics highlighted in The Fertility Diet (pages 92-93):
- Women with the highest intake of animal protein were 39% more likely to have ovulatory infertility than women with the lowest intake of animal protein
- An additional one serving of red meat or poultry was associated with almost a one-third increase in ovulatory infertility risk
- Adding 25 grams of plant protein in place of 25 grams of carbohydrates reduced the likelihood of ovulatory infertility by 43%. Choosing 25 grams of animal protein in place of 25 grams of carbohydrate, on the other hand, increased risk by 20%.
- Eating 25 grams of plant protein instead of 25 grams of animal protein each day resulted in a 50% decreased risk for ovulatory infertility
- Adding a serving of fish or eggs each day had no impact on fertility.
Sources of Plant-Based Protein:
Beans (black, kidney, navy, pinto, soybeans, garbanzo, etc.), lentils, split peas, quinoa, tofu, tempeh, nuts (almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, etc.), nut butters, seitan, seeds (chia, pumpkin, hemp, etc.)
Complex carbohydrates – such as whole grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, and legumes – are showing promising results when it comes to boosting fertility.
For example, one study on whole grain intake and outcomes of IVF found that women who ate more whole grains had a greater likelihood of achieving implantation and live birth (34).
Data from two other studies show evidence that women who ate higher Glycemic Index carbohydrates – like white bread, white rice, and other simple, refined-grain carbohydrates – had lower rates of achieving pregnancy (35).
The Nurses’ Health Study II also indicated that women who ate more high Glycemic Index carbs were more likely to experience infertility. In fact, these women had a 92% greater likelihood of having anovulatory infertility (Chavarro et all, The Fertility Diet, page 52)!
In other words, choose complex carbs for your fertility meal plan instead of simple carbs.
Examples of Complex Carbs:
Brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole wheat tortillas, whole oats, whole wheat pasta, beans, barley, spelt, whole wheat English muffins, whole grain crackers, beans, lentils, sweet potato, vegetables, fruit (choose whole fruit instead of juice)
Foods to Limit or Avoid
While some foods are good for fertility, others can make it harder to get pregnant. You should limit or avoid:
- Alcohol (limit)
- Added sugar
- Trans fat
- High mercury fish (like swordfish, tilefish, Ahi tuna, marlin, king mackerel)
- Caffeine (limit to moderate amounts)
Creating Your Fertility Meal Planner
You can use this sample meal planner as a guide, but remember, you can make your own fertility meal planner too. You’ll have your own calorie goals and food preferences. You may also have other health concerns (like diabetes) that you need to keep in mind.
Use these tips as a guide when designing your personal fertility meal planner:
- Balance your meals to include a mixture of complex carbs, lean proteins, and colorful fruits/vegetables each time. Don’t make it a habit to eat meals that consist only of one food category and nothing else. Example: Instead of eggs with bacon for breakfast (only protein), consider egg whites (protein) scrambled with spinach and tomatoes (vegetables) and whole grain toast (complex carb).
- Think about your schedule and your typical hunger and fullness levels throughout the day. Does your schedule only allow for a late lunch which means you get hungry mid-morning for a quick snack? Make that a part of your meal plan!
- Include essential nutrients. Pay attention to the list of Important Nutrients for Fertility above and work those into your fertility diet meal plan each day.
- Stay hydrated! Don’t forget about beverages. Plan to drink primarily water as part of your fertility meal plan.
- Choose whole foods over processed foods.
- Use the foods from the fertility meal planner shopping list below to come up with ideas for meals if you’re feeling stuck.
- Remember that meals don’t have to be complicated! Brown rice, baked salmon, and your favorite colorful roasted veggies is easy enough, delicious, and fertility-friendly.
- Make use of leftovers. You don’t need to plan a different meal every day of the week. Eat leftovers at least twice a week to make things easier on yourself.
- Choose healthy cooking methods, like baking or steaming instead of frying.
Sample Fertility Meal Plan – 1 Day Menu
- Breakfast: overnight oats made with whole oats, Greek yogurt, slivered almonds, cinnamon, and your favorite berries
- Lunch: Lentil, bulgur, and vegetable salad with olive oil, lemon juice, and fresh herbs for dressing
- Snack: Fruit kebabs made with mozzarella cheese, grapes, and watermelon
- Dinner: Baked salmon with wild rice and roasted broccoli drizzled with olive oil
Notes: Water should be your beverage of choice. Also, don’t forget about your prenatal vitamin!
Sample Fertility Meal Planner Tool
Use this fertility diet meal planner outline to plan your meals each day:
Breakfast: 1 serving of complex carbs + 1 serving of lean protein + 1 fruit + 1 serving of dairy
Lunch: 2 servings of complex carbs + 2 serving of vegetables + 1 serving of lean protein
Snack: 1 serving of fruit + 1 serving of dairy
Dinner: 2 servings of complex carbs + 2 servings of vegetables + 1 serving of lean protein
How much is a serving?
- 1 serving of complex carbs is: 1 slice of whole wheat bread, ⅓ cup of brown or wild rice or bulgur or farro or other ancient grain, ½ cup cooked oats, ⅔ cup bran flakes, 1 small whole wheat pita, ½ cup corn kernels, ½ small sweet potato.
- 1 serving of protein is: 1 small can of tuna or salmon, 3 oz of cooked lean meat or poultry, 4 oz of fish, 2 large eggs, 1 cup of beans or tofu
- 1 serving of fruit is: 1 medium piece of fruit like an apple or orange, 1 cup of berries or melon, ¼ cup of dried fruit
- 1 serving of vegetables is: 1 cup of raw vegetables, ½ cup of cooked vegetables. Note that peas, corn, and potatoes count as carbohydrates.
- 1 serving of dairy is: 1 cup of milk, ¾ cup yogurt, 1 ounce cheese
Sample Shopping List
Fruits and Vegetables:
- Sweet potatoes
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries)
- Bell peppers
- Collard greens
- Skipjack (light) tuna
- Eggs (rich in choline and protein)
- Lean poultry (chicken, turkey)
- Lentils (a great source of plant-based protein)
- Quinoa (high in protein and fiber)
- Greek yogurt
- Plain yogurt
- Cheese (in moderation)
- Cottage cheese
- Brown rice
- Wild rice
- Whole oats
- Whole wheat pasta
- Whole grain bread
- Whole wheat couscous
Nuts and Seeds:
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Natural nut butters
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Walnut oil
- Spices and herbs (use in place of salt)
- Dark chocolate (at least 70%)
- Prenatal vitamin
A large study of over 18,000 women, known as the Nurses’ Health Study II, resulted in tons of data being available about food and fertility. Several researchers used this data to come up with what is known as The Fertility Diet.
They found that women following a “fertility diet” had a 66% lower risk of ovulatory disorder infertility.
Knowing what foods to eat and whatto avoid is one thing, but putting it into practice can be quite another.
Using the fertility meal planner can help you ensure you’re getting plenty of those fertility-boosting nutrients in your diet. At the same time, you can use it to limit foods that make it harder to get pregnant.
For more personalized information, be sure to contact a fertility dietitian who can go over your specific nutrition concerns.
Meredith Mishan is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with over 12 years of experience working with nutrition clients from around the world. She has a Master of Science degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from Florida International University and is credentialed as a dietitian in both the United States and Israel.