8 Plant-Based Foods That May Help to Boost Fertility
Look, loading up on lentils and seaweed won’t magically transform you into a fertility goddess. Fertility is complicated, both partners are involved, and eating a seaweed-rich diet is no replacement for consulting with a reproductive endocrinologist who can run diagnostic tests to determine what may be impacting your ability to conceive.
But that’s not to say what you put into your body can’t make a huge difference, and many times your doctor will tell you to change your diet and nix alcohol before you move to more invasive forms of assisted reproductive technology. Some fertility clinics even have a nutritionist on-staff to help guide women through making such diet changes. “Factors that can impact fertility include age, body weight, smoking status, stress, alcohol consumption, exercise, environmental stressors, and you guessed it... diet!” says Tiffany Ma, RDN. “Although improving one's fertility health includes this long list of factors, adopting a diet rich in whole foods is a place to start, more specifically, fruits and vegetables,”
What’s more, eating a plant-based diet rich in fruits and vegetables may help you maintain a healthy weight, a key metric contributing to fertility. “Being able to maintain a healthy weight is one of the most significant factors that will determine a couple's ability to conceive, and diets that are high in fruits and vegetables are associated with decreased risk of weight gain and healthy weights,” she continues. Below, nutritionists reveal their favorite fruits, veggies, and other plant-based foods to enhance fertility.
1. Cooked tomatoes
Vegan pizza or pasta night, dearest parents-to-be! “When tomatoes are cooked, you can more easily absorb the food’s lycopene content,” shares Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian in the New York City area. “So aim to incorporate foods like tomato sauce and tomato paste into your diet. Research shows that lycopene may be helpful for male fertility.
Looking to conceive? As previously highlighted, turn to sources of iron. “Vegan eaters have to take special care to ensure they are getting in enough iron through plant-based sources,” notes Trista K. Best, MPH, RD, Balance One. “This is also important from a fertility standpoint. Iron [supports] healthy egg production and ovulation and is lost at a significant rate during menstruation.“ Summer’s the perfect time for a daily spinach salad, so don’t delay.
“Seaweed is a powerfood when you're preparing for pregnancy. Seaweed is rich in iodine, a mineral that is vital for a healthy conception because it is a building block for hormones,” offers Grace Goodwin Dwyer, MS, MA, RD, LDN. “People who eat plant-based diets need to pay particularly close attention to iodine since this nutrient is mostly found in animal foods (like meat, eggs, and dairy). Seaweed is the exception, with some species being as high as 2000% of your daily iodine needs in just one gram.”
Try cutting up strips of seaweed as a garnish on salads or sprinkling seaweed onto soups or chilis. There are also many snack varieties on the market, but make sure you pick one with a clean ingredient list and no icky additives. If you’re not into seaweed, Dwyer recommends using iodized salt since it’s fortified with iodine or making sure you’re getting adequate amounts in your prenatal vitamin.
“There is an abundance of micronutrients that women should pay attention to when looking to conceive, but one that should be on the high priority list is iron. An eating regimen rich in iron lowers the risk of ovulatory infertility, which is one cause of infertility,” explains Ma. “Luckily enough, iron-rich foods are widely available for plant-based eaters, with lentils being able to provide...37% of the recommended daily value in just one cup.”
Need some more convincing? “In 2007, Harvard researchers published The Fertility Diet, showing that in an 8-year study of nearly 18,000 women, following the eating pattern below resulted in a 66% lower risk of ovulatory infertility and a 27% lower risk of infertility from other causes,” says Megan Wong, Registered Dietitian at AlgaeCal. “This eating pattern included having less animal protein and more vegetable protein, more fiber, and more vegetarian sources of iron. Lentils tick off all three of these boxes.”
For inspiration, check out The Best Vegan Lentil Recipes for Easy Protein-Packed Meals.
5. Nutritional Yeast
Time to load up on everybody’s hippie health store favorite, “nooch yeast.” “Nutritional yeast is another fertility superfood for vegans because many brands are fortified with vitamin B12,” says Dwyer. “Like iodine, B12 virtually only occurs in animal-based foods, so vegans are at risk of not getting enough. Some studies have shown that people with vitamin B12 deficiency have difficulty becoming pregnant or staying pregnant.
6. Hulled Barley
This cereal grain rec from the grass family is for both men and also women. “When it comes to grains, hulled barley fits perfectly into The Fertility Diet. It’s a whole grain, is ranked as low on the glycemic index scale, and is high in fiber (all key recommendations from The Fertility Diet),” says Wong, who points out that a half-cup of uncooked hulled barley packs an impressive 17.3 grams of fiber. Bonus: Barley may also improve sperm quality. “In this 2012 study, it was found that a higher intake of grains was linked to improved sperm motility and concentration.”
FYI, per Wong, the pearl barley you may be used to buying isn’t actually a whole grain, but it’s still a great source of many nutrients, including fiber.
“Quinoa, and other whole grains [see hulled barley above], should be a go-to for any vegan wanting to boost fertility. Whole grains balance and control blood sugar. Spikes in blood sugar can cause important hormones associated with fertility to become unbalanced,” explains Best. “Rapid and frequent fluctuation in blood sugar can also lead to insulin resistance, which is a condition that also negatively impacts fertility.”
8. Maca Root
“This root vegetable is often seen in powdered form in a supplement that you can add to smoothies,” says Gorin. “It may help enhance fertility and sexual function.” Try adding maca powder to this Super Green Chia Seed Protein Smoothie.