What to Eat to Get Pregnant: The Conception Diet

Can what you munch on affect your fertility? We asked the experts.

You know the phrase fake it 'til you make it? Well, it applies to your confidence and to your pre-pregnancy/trying to conceive diet. "Eating as if you're already pregnant can actually help prime your body for conception," says Sarah Krieger, R.D., a nutritionist based in St. Petersburg, Florida, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here's how to deliciously dine your way to a happy, healthy pregnancy.

Boost your fruit and veggie intake

woman eating salad

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A study by the Harvard School of Public Health of nearly 19,000 women found a higher incidence of ovulatory disorder in women who consumed more trans fats, carbs, and animal proteins. The antidote? Make sure half your plate at every meal is composed of fresh fruits and vegetables. "Watermelon and asparagus, in addition to other raw fruits and vegetables, give the body a rich supply of glutathione, which is important for egg quality," says Alisa Vitti, integrative nutritionist and author of WomanCode: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source "Kale is another a powerhouse vegetable because it contains elements necessary for estrogen metabolism." Vitti suggests juicing kale and other greens if you're not a fan of raw veggies. "I love recommending patients make fresh, mostly-vegetable juices with a few fruits like goji berries, which contain phytochemicals that are beneficial for fertility." Can't stomach any form of the raw stuff? That's okay; just watch how you prepare it. "All of the water-soluble vitamins found in pretty much every fruit and vegetable are destroyed with heat and water," Krieger says. To combat nutrient loss, roast vegetables in high heat for short time with no water or microwave them with a small amount of water. Save the water from boiled veggies to use later in soup.

Extra credit eats: Indulge in healthy, plant-based fats in moderation. Nuts, avocados, olive oil, and grapeseed oil can reduce the inflammation in the body, which helps promote regular ovulation and general fertility. Some good fats may even assist women who truly struggle with infertility. "Studies have shown that consuming a certain quantity of monounsaturated fats in the form of avocados during the IVF cycle increased the success rate by three and a half times, as opposed to women who don't eat good plant-based fats during that period," Vitti says.

Opt for lean protein

Chicken, turkey, pork, and beef trimmed of fat are great sources of protein, zinc, iron -- all important building blocks for a healthy pregnancy. Steering clear of blubbery bits helps ensure you don't pack on excess weight, which disrupts estrogen levels and may also help you avoid organochlorine pollutants. These are chemicals that lurk in animal fats and are linked to conception delays, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health. The exceptions to the skinny rule? Coldwater fish like salmon, canned light tuna, and sardines. They're an excellent source of DHA and omega-3 fatty acids; they also help develop the baby's nervous system and cut your risk of premature birth. You can eat them a couple of times a week without worrying about mercury levels, Krieger says, but it's best to avoid other varieties, such as shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel. Eggs, too, are another potent protein source. "They get a bad rap from cholesterol, but the yolk has excellent stores of protein and choline, a vitamin that helps develop brain function in babies," she says.

Extra credit eats: If lean meats are gold, veggie protein is platinum. One study showed that the risk of ovulatory disorders is cut in half when 5 percent of your total calorie intake is derived from plant proteins. The Harvard Public Health study also found that infertility was 39 percent more likely in women with the highest intake of animal protein. Beans are super sources, as are nuts, seeds, and other legumes, such as lentils and chickpeas.

Choose whole grains

Barely refined grains are superb sources of fertility-friendly B vitamins, vitamin E, and fiber. "Some of my favorites are buckwheat, which contains d-chiro-inositol, a compound that improves ovulation," Krieger says. The problem with more highly refined grains is that they can spike blood sugar levels, which affect insulin, messing with ovulatory function. Compose a quarter of your plate with more complex carbs, like brown rice. For some women, particularly those with hormonal disorders like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), cutting back on gluten may be advised. "Gluten has been shown to create an inflammatory response in the body, which heightens C-reactive protein and sends signals that it's not an ideal time to conceive," Vitti says. "It makes implantation more difficult and is also known to inhibit ovulation."

Extra credit eats: Break out of your rice and pasta rut and sample more diverse grains like amaranth, millet, and quinoa. They'll help keep you fuller longer and maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

Reconsider your dairy intake

Low-fat dairy is a smart source of protein and calcium, but a high intake of low-fat dairy has been shown to raise the risk of ovulatory infertility, compared to high-fat dairy. Before you bust out the Chunky Monkey, look at ways you can swap one serving per day sensibly, perhaps by adding whole milk instead of skim to your tea. If you're having continued trouble conceiving, you may want to consider limiting dairy altogether. "We're being exposed to dairy in mass quantities that's more hormonally driven, meaning the production of cow dairy has become very chemically manipulated," Vitti says. "These excess hormones may disrupt the conversation that the brain is trying to have with the endocrine system, particularly your ovaries." Just make sure you consult you doctor about the best ways to supplement your calcium intake if you temporarily ditch dairy.

Extra credit eats: Boost your intake of yogurt, ideally homemade or Greek-style. Why? The probiotic microbes may be instrumental in boosting your future kid's health. A study conducted on mice at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that females who ate yogurt versus junk food diets gave birth to larger litters. It also boosted semen quality in their male counterparts.

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