The 3 Biggest Myths About Eating to Boost Fertility, Debunked by Experts
They might mean well, but second-hand advice (or hot tips in the depths of a Reddit forum) are breeding grounds for misinformation and confusion. When you're considering changing your eating habits, taking supplements, or adding herbs to your wellness routine in hopes of boosting fertility, what's truly important is getting advice straight from trusted experts.
With that in mind, we asked Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, a dietitian and author of The Better Period Solution, integrative gynecology functional medicine doctor Anita Sadaty, MD, and reproductive endocrinology and infertility doctor Rashmi Kudesia, MD, to set the record straight about three major myths many people believe when it comes to the connection between food and fertility.
Myth 1: Adding just one particular herb or ingredient to your routine boosts fertility
"There is a tight correlation between the foods we eat and its impact on fertility," says Beckerman. "Food holds the power to give the body the 'fertility' green light... Diet and lifestyle adjustments have been shown to boost fertility by almost 70 percent."
That said, "the biggest myth is that a specific food or supplement is going to miraculously improve your fertility," says Dr. Sadaty. Instead, she says that overall diet is more important than just one food or ingredient. "Anything that messes with normal insulin balance will wreck your hormone balance and quality of your ovulation," she says, which is why she often recommends clients limit their processed sugar and carbohydrate intake.
"The most common myth relates to pineapple, which has unofficially become a symbol of the infertility world," says Dr. Kudesia. "However, there is no real scientific evidence behind this approach," she says. So...eat pineapple if you love it, but don't expect miracles.
These are the best foods for fertility (and the worst), according to Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD:
As for what foods and food groups can be helpful, Beckerman says unsaturated fats in particular (like olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados) have been linked to improved fertility. "Nuts such as walnuts are unique because out of all the nuts, they contain the largest amount of omega-3 fatty acids," Beckerman says. "We know that omega-3s help squash inflammation and improve blood flow in the body, which can help keep our reproductive organs in pristine condition. Plus, walnuts contain magnesium that can keep smooth muscles—like the uterus—relaxed, so fertilization can take place in a cool, calm, collected environment." Additionally, she says a diet high in monounsaturated fats (all of which are present in the aforementioned foods) have been linked to a lower risk of ovulatory infertility, aka infertility caused by issues with ovulation.
If you think all this advice sounds a lot like following the Mediterranean diet, you'd be right. Dr. Kudesia says it's not only the best eating plan to follow for heart health, but is a good plan when considering your fertility, too. "The Mediterranean diet is an ideal eating pattern to follow when trying to conceive as it focuses on fresh vegetables, beans and nuts, and unsaturated oils," she says, adding that limiting processed foods, meat, and alcohol also is a good rule of thumb for people wanting to boost their fertility. "This approach works because it maximizes getting protein and the necessary nutrients in the healthiest fashion, reduces inflammation, and limits intake of foods that are metabolically worst for us. For women that may be overweight, this diet could also facilitate [healthy weight management] that may encourage fertility and reduce miscarriage rates," she says.
Myth 2: Seafood is harmful to pregnant women—and to women who want to be pregnant
According to the American Pregnancy Association, it's only necessary to cut out fish with high levels of mercury such as swordfish and king mackerel. Other foods like canned tuna and cooked salmon are still on the table—and important for prenatal health thanks to all of those omega-3s and B vitamins. That's why the FDA recommends women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should eat 8 to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish per week.
Same goes if you're trying to get pregnant. "Women who ate eight servings of seafood or more per cycle have been shown to get pregnant faster than those who rarely ate seafood," Beckerman says. "Opt for organic and wild when you can to prevent the exposure of added hormones."
Here's why you might also want to consider fish oil:
Myth 3: Eating to boost fertility should be strict and regimented
Both Beckerman and Dr. Sadaty emphasize that it's specific nutrients that have been linked to boosting fertility, and it's best to get these nutrients from a variety of foods and not just eat the same exact meals every day. (Good advice to follow all the time, BTW.) "There is not one food that will or won’t allow someone to get pregnant," says Beckerman. "When it comes to food, start to make small changes to your daily routine to make it more fertility-forward, such as adding more plant-based proteins instead of meat proteins, sprinkling nuts or seeds into your morning parfait instead of granola, or eating more seafood."
"Fertility 'superfoods' are typically nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods that boost certain nutrients that will have a benefit toward fertility, but as far as I can tell from the research, specific foods haven't been studied as particularly fertility boosting," says Dr. Sadaty.
When it comes to eating to boost fertility, both experts say what's most important is limiting exposure to inflammation-causing foods, which, as a healthy eater, chances are you're already doing. "Optimizing fertility doesn’t require any high-tech or expensive add-ins," Beckerman says. So while your friends, coworkers, or next-door neighbor may mean well recommending "miracle-working" supplements, there's no need to break the bank trying them all.
Here's the verdict on if fertility is genetic. Plus, why fertility for women means more than just having kids.
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