Did you know that eating ice cream can help women get pregnant—but pigging out on sweets can put young men’s fertility at risk? Guys who hope to be dads should also rethink that double cheeseburger with a side of fries. A Harvard study presented at the American Society of Reproductive Medicine’s annual meeting in October linked a “Western” diet that’s heavy on red meat, refined carbs, and sweets—including sugary drinks—to poorer-quality sperm in men ages 18 to 22, while another new study found that guys who binged on trans fats (typically found in cookies, cakes, pastries, crackers, and fried foods) had lower sperm motility, meaning that their swimmers were less likely to reach their partner’s eggs.
Surprisingly, a study of nearly 500 women, published in the November issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility, found no connection between a Western diet and female fertility. However, the Spanish researchers also found that certain foods do boost women’s baby-making powers. Here’s a look at six foods that can help couples conceive:
Both the Spanish study of women and the Harvard study of men show that a diet that’s high in fish improves fertility. In the Spanish study, about 17 percent of the women who rigorously followed a Mediterranean-style diet that included fish reported problems getting pregnant, compared to 26 percent of those who loosely followed this diet. The researchers theorize that a Mediterranean diet may indirectly influence ovulation by improving the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which in turn helps regulate the balance of reproductive hormones.
Another key component of the fertility-boosting Mediterranean diet is whole grains, which include amaranth, barley, brown or wild rice, flaxseed, oats, quinoa, and spelt. They’re also known as “slow carbs” because these fiber-rich foods are digested much more slowly than refined “fast” carbs. A six-year study of 18,000 Harvard nurses found that those ate the most fast carbs—particularly white rice, cold breakfast cereal and potatoes—were 92 percent more likely to experience ovulatory infertility than those who ate the most slow carbs, according to a Daily Beast article the researchers wrote about the findings.
Women who consume full-fat dairy foods—including a small dish of ice cream, full-fat yogurt, or glass of whole milk daily—could be more likely to find themselves eating for two. Conversely, drinking skim milk appears to promote ovulatory infertility in women (the culprit in 25 percent or more cases of infertility), the researchers who conducted the nurses’ study reported in the Harvard Health Newsletter in 2009. However, both men and women should avoid trans fats, which could bust their baby-making odds, studies suggest.
Fruits and vegetables.
Research also shows that a diet rich in fruits and veggies—which are also a crucial part of the Mediterranean-eating pattern—can help improve your chances of becoming a parent. However, researchers aren’t sure which ingredients in these nutritional powerhouses help promote fertility. The Spanish researchers believe that the healthy antioxidants fruits and vegetables contain may be the explanation, while the Harvard researchers point out that extra iron from such plants as spinach, beans, pumpkin, beats and tomatoes may improve women’s baby-making prospects.
Unsaturated vegetable oils—including olive oil—are good for both your heart and your fertility. These healthy fats—along with those from nuts, seeds, and cold-water fish like salmon—help increase insulin sensitivity, and reduce inflammation, two trends that help boost the chances of getting pregnant.
While women who are trying to get pregnant have long been advised to take folic acid supplements to protect against neural tube birth defects, a study reported a possible link between a folate-rich diet and healthier sperm in men. The study found that guys with the highest intake of folate had lower rates of sperm with abnormal chromosomes—20 percent less than men with a low-folate diet. That’s a great reason for reach for folate-rich choices like liver, citrus fruits, leafy green veggies, and whole grains—and help the baby you hope to conceive get off to healthy start in life.