Achieving optimum fertility is an ultimate goal for couples who want to conceive and give birth to healthy babies. When your body is capable enough to conceive, there are other inevitable factors in the immediate environment which can compromise your chances of conceiving and having healthy newborns. These factors can include things you are putting into your body like processed foods and alcohol as well as exterior environmental factors such as pollution, second hand smoke and pesticides. To help ensure you are doing all you can to create a healthy environment for a baby to grow; I have compiled a list of the most important nutrients when it comes to fertility and which foods can best supply these nutrients. I have also included a short list of things best to avoid. Before we begin, it should be noted that the following foods are best taken in their original whole food form and that for the most part, processed and refined foods should be avoided (try to follow the 80/20 rule; try to eat a whole foods diet at least 80% of the time, but also remember that it probably won’t be possible all the time!). Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options are well represented.

1) Essential Fatty Acids – especially Omega 3 and 6. Essential fatty acids support male fertility by helping the health and viability of sperm. They are also important for female fertility as they assist healthy hormone balance, blood flow and the development of the fetus. These can be found in highest concentration in fatty fish (salmon, herring, sardines…many of the others are too high in mercury to mention), flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds (or any of their oils), coconut oil and avocados. It is recommended that if you’re not having at least 3 servings of salmon/fatty fish per week that you supplement with omega 3 fish oil (Nordic Naturals is a great brand as well as Ascenta NutraSea)

2) Antioxidants – Free radicals are unstable molecules. They can be caused by many factors, including internally by our own body systems such as our metabolism, and also externally by pollution and things like cigarette smoke. Antioxidants such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids, flavonoids and selenium (just to name a few!) help to protect the body from the destruction these free radicals can create in our bodies. According to Dr. Marc Goldstein from the Cornell Institute for Reproductive Medicine, free radicals can cause damage to sperm and affect male fertility.

Vitamin A (retinol), also synthesized by the body from beta-carotene, protects dark green, yellow and orange vegetables and fruits from solar radiation damage, and is thought to play a similar role in the human body. Carrots, squash, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, kale, mangos, oranges, seabuckthorn berries, wolfberries (goji), collards, cantaloupe, peaches and apricots are particularly rich sources of beta-carotene, the major provitamin A carotenoid.

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a water-soluble compound that fulfills several roles in living systems. Important sources include citrus fruits (such as oranges, sweet lime, etc.), green peppers, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, black currants, strawberries, blueberries, seabuckthorn, raw cabbage and tomatoes.

Vitamin E, including tocotrienol and tocopherol, is fat soluble and protects lipids. Sources include wheat germ, seabuckthorn, nuts, seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, kiwifruit, unrefined vegetable oil, and fish-liver oil. Alpha-tocopherol is the main form in which vitamin E is consumed. Recent studies showed that some tocotrienol isomers have significant anti-oxidant properties.

Carotenoids are found naturally in red algae and animals higher in the marine food chain. It is a red pigment familiarly recognized in crustacean shells and salmon flesh/roe. In fruits and vegetables it is found in butternut squash, carrots, orange bell peppers, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, spinach, kiwifruit and red peppers, tomatoes, watermelons, yellow corn and kiwifruit.

Flavonoids are present in many berries, as well as in coffee and tea (although the caffeine is counterproductive!).

Selenium which can be found in Brazil Nuts, Sunflower Seeds, Fish (tuna, halibut, sardines, flounder, salmon), Shellfish (oysters, mussels, shrimp, clams, scallops), Meat (Beef, liver, lamb, pork), Poultry (chicken, turkey), Eggs, Mushrooms (button, crimini, shiitake), Grains (wheat germ, barley, brown rice, oats) and Onions.

3) Zinc is extremely important for the quality, motility, number and fertilizing ability of sperm, as well as being important for the production of the male hormone testosterone. Zinc is also essential for female fertility, as it is needed for ovulation and for fetal growth and immunity. It can be found in high concentration in protein foods. Thus, you may assume that most foods high in zinc are protein-rich as well. The best sources of zinc include beef, lamb, pork, crabmeat, turkey, chicken, lobster, clams and salmon.  If you are a vegetarian, you will most likely intake less zinc that those who have meat-based diets. Good zinc food sources aside from meats are dairy products such as milk and cheese, yogurt, nutritional yeast, peanuts, beans, whole grain cereals, brown rice, whole grain bread, potatoes, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds. Of all these vegetarian zinc foods, pumpkin seeds are one of the most concentrated non-meat foods. Check out the recipe for Maple Cinnamon Pumpkin Seed Butter in the recipe section…it’s delicious!

4) Calcium is essential for sperm function and motility, which is the ability of the sperm to move spontaneously and actively. Calcium is very important for triggering the development of the embryo and the development of fetal bones. Calcium rich foods include dairy (full fat, non-homogenized is ideal), sesame seeds, almonds, dark leafy greens/broccoli (cooked to get max calcium out of them), molasses, beans (especially white beans), tofu/tempe, and oats. With regards to dairy, I recommend trying to find the products with the least amount of processing such as raw cheese (L’ancetre is an excellent brand available most health food stores as well as at superstore), and non-homogenized yogurt (saugeen country is my favourite but jerseyland organics is also good).

5) Vitamin B – The B-complex family of vitamins are necessary to produce the genetic materials DNA and RNA. Together with vitamin B12, folic acid works to ensure that your baby’s genetic codes are intact. All of the B vitamins are essential during the pre-conceptual period. Research has shown that giving B6 to women who have trouble conceiving increases fertility and vitamin B12 has been found to improve low sperm counts. Some B Vitamin rich  foods include eggs, peas, spinach, raw nuts and seeds (sunflower seeds and walnuts are very good choices!), avocados, bananas, beans and legumes, lentils, blackstrap molasses, brown rice (and other whole grains), cabbage, cantaloupe, corn, dulse (and other sea vegetables), plantains, potatoes, soybeans (including miso, tofu and tempe), asparagus, dates, figs, apricots, raisins, yogurt, brussels sprouts, mushrooms and watercress just to name a few!  You might want to consider adding a nutritional yeast to your diet such as Redstar. Its great sprinkled on cooked vegetables!

Best Avoided…

Some things that might be beneficial to avoid while you are trying to conceive would include alcohol, caffeine, xenoestrogens (mainly coming from pesticides and the plastic industry), and smoking or being around anyone who smokes. See notes below…

Alcohol will affect both you and your partner. In fact, drinking any alcohol at all can reduce your fertility by half – and the more you drink, the less likely you are to conceive. One study showed that women who drank less than 5 units of alcohol a week (equal to five glasses of wine) were twice as likely to get pregnant within six-months compared with those who drank more. Research has also shown that drinking alcohol causes a decrease in sperm count, an increase in abnormal sperm and a lower proportion of motile sperm. Alcohol also inhibits the body’s absorption of nutrients such as zinc, which is one of the most important minerals for male fertility. As difficult as it may seem, you should eliminate alcohol from your diets for at least three months in order to give yourself the best possible chance of conceiving.

There is plenty of evidence to show that caffeine, particularly in the form of coffee, decreases fertility. Drinking as little as one cup of coffee a day can halve your chances of conceiving. One study showed that problems with sperm: sperm count, motility and abnormalities, increase with the number of cups of coffee consumed each day. Once again, it’s important to eliminate all caffeine-containing food and drinks for at least three months before trying to conceive.

Xenoestrogens are essentially environmental oestrogens, coming from pesticides and the plastic industry. When you are trying to conceive, one of the most important things you need to do is to balance your hormones. It is extremely important to avoid anything that might cause an imbalance, and one of the main culprits is the xenoestrogens. One of the best ways to eliminate an excess intake of xenoestrogens is to buy organic produce for the pre-conceptual period.

Smoking has definitely been linked with infertility in women. It can even bring on an early menopause, which is a particularly important consideration for older women who may be trying to beat the clock. Smoking can decrease sperm count in men, making the sperm more sluggish, and it can increase the number of abnormal sperm. With men, the effects on fertility are increased with the number of cigarettes.

Other Important Factors

Aside from nutrition, regular exercise and relaxation are also very important for optimum health and therefore, optimum fertility. It doesn’t need to be strenuous exercise, even walking 3 times per week is beneficial. Try to reduce any major stressors in your life and if you don’t already have one, consider starting up a yoga and/or meditation practice. Yoga will not only help you relax, but will help to keep you fit as well! Most of all, enjoy the experience…you are in the process of creating a miracle after all!



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