Fertility issues can be emotionally draining, leaving you with feelings of frustration, depression, and hopelessness.
Fortunately, advances in fertility treatment can significantly increase the chance of conception, but they tend to be expensive and are often uncovered by insurance.
Alternatively, you can optimize your chances of natural fertility by making changes to your diet and with the help of certain supplements.
This article explains what to eat and avoid to enhance egg quality, provides a 3-day sample women’s fertility diet, and discusses which supplements may help improve fertility.
Causes of infertility in women
Infertility is the inability to conceive after one year of frequent, unprotected sex.
It’s a common issue, affecting 15% of couples in the United States and at least 180 million worldwide (1).
- polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- thyroid problems
- increasing age
- celiac disease
- pelvic adhesions or scar tissue from a surgery
- damaged or blocked fallopian tubes
- elevated prolactin, preventing ovulation
Infertility can also occur as a result of being underweight, having an eating disorder, or from excessive exercise (4).
Smoking, heavy alcohol use, excessive caffeine use, and environmental toxins also decrease fertility (5).
As such, there can be, and regularly are, multiple causes of infertility.
The treatment for female infertility depends on the underlying cause, but making changes to your diet can help optimize egg quality thereby boosting fertility.
The impact of diet on female fertility
Normal female fertility relies heavily on egg quality.
Egg quality is the ability of an egg to successfully mature, become fertilized, and support healthy embryo development and pregnancy.
When eggs are of higher quality, the chances of one implanting in the lining of the uterus and developing into an embryo are much higher.
While there are various factors that influence egg quality, diet plays a key role.
However, there is no single best fertility diet for females.
But by emphasizing certain foods and limiting others, you can enhance your egg quality by balancing fertility hormones, lowering inflammation and oxidative stress, and supporting regular menstrual cycles.
And even if your doctor has recommended an assisted reproductive treatment like intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF), making dietary changes can help increase the effectiveness of these treatments (6).
Foods to enhance egg quality
Filling up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins and fats can optimize egg quality and improve your chances of getting pregnant.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
These nutrients help combat excessive oxidative stress and inflammation, which can decrease fertility.
For example, one study found that higher intakes of beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A) and vitamin C from supplements were associated with a shorter time to pregnancy among females with unexplained infertility (7).
The best dietary sources of these nutrients include:
- Beta-carotene: apricots, carrots, cantaloupe, mangos, red peppers, spinach, and sweet potatoes
- Vitamin C: broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, oranges, kiwifruit, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, and sweet peppers
Fruits and vegetables are also rich in fiber and other beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols that also have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, so it’s best to include a variety of fruits and vegetables of different colors in your diet.
Like fruits and vegetables, whole grains are rich in nutrients like antioxidants.
Dietary fiber is another important component of whole grains, which helps support gut health, immune function, and healthy blood sugars.
Fiber — along with the other nutrients in whole grains — also helps reduce oxidative stress, which can negatively affect ovarian functions (8).
One study found that whole grains like brown rice and whole-grain bread and pasta were associated with a reduced risk of ovulation disorders and infertility (9).
Examples of whole grains include:
- brown rice
- whole-grain bread and pasta
Healthy proteins are low in saturated fat and rich in other nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Some types like fatty fish and eggs also contain healthy sources of fat that have anti-inflammatory properties.
Healthy sources of protein include:
- beans, peas, and lentils
- skinless, white-meat poultry
- meats that contain the word “loin” or “round”
- cottage cheese
- unsweetened soy milk
Unless you are vegetarian, you should aim to consume a mix of both animal- and plant-based proteins.
Healthy fats are rich in unsaturated fats like mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
These fats tend to have anti-inflammatory effects and are also rich in antioxidants like vitamin E, which can help improve fertility (7).
Healthy sources of fats include:
- whole eggs
- extra-virgin olive oil
- seeds and nuts
- fatty fish like salmon, herring, and mackerel
Omega-3 fatty acids — namely eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — are particularly beneficial for improving fertility owing to their anti-inflammatory properties.
Fatty fish are the best sources of these fats.
Certain seeds and nuts such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts contain a different type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
Your body can convert some ALA to EPA and DHA, but only in small amounts, so it’s best to get your omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish (12).
Otherwise, you can purchase omega-3 fatty acid supplements like fish oil or vegan-friendly forms sourced from algae.
Foods to limit
Alcohol and foods rich in refined carbohydrates, added sugars, and saturated fats can increase insulin resistance and oxidative stress and promote hormonal imbalances that can decrease female fertility.
Refined carbohydrates and added sugars
Excess consumption of refined carbohydrates (carbs) and added sugars can increase insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance not only promotes weight gain but it can decrease fertility by causing hormonal imbalances and increasing oxidative stress (13).
For example, an observational study found that a diet rich in refined carbs and added sugars was associated with ovulation disorders that cause infertility (9).
Examples of foods with refined carbs and added sugars to limit include:
- sweeteners like honey, sugar, and syrups
- some breakfast cereals
- condiments like barbeque sauce and dressings
- white flour, bread, rice, and pasta
- pastries, cakes, and cookies
- dairy desserts
- candy and chocolates
- sugary beverages like soda, sports drinks, and flavored milk
Saturated fats tend to be pro-inflammatory, which can negatively impact fertility.
Foods with saturated fats to limit include:
- bakery products like biscuits, pastries, and cakes
- dairy desserts like ice cream
- processed meats like bacon, deli meats, and sausage
One study found that women who consumed high amounts of saturated fats had lower anti-müllerian hormone (AMH) concentrations, indicating a low egg count (14).
The saturated fat from dairy products like cow’s milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, and minimally processed red meat is less of a concern than the saturated fats from processed meats, bakery products, and desserts.
For example, one study showed that high-fat dairy foods may actually decrease the risk of anovulatory infertility, which happens when an egg doesn’t release from your ovary during your menstrual cycle (15).
Heavy alcohol use depletes and inhibits the absorption of vitamins vital for reproduction, such as various B vitamins and zinc.
It also increases oxidative stress thereby decreasing egg quality.
Although moderate alcohol use — one drink per day or less — hasn’t been consistently shown to affect fertility, a review of 19 studies involving nearly 100,000 women found that alcohol consumption reduced the probability of achieving a pregnancy within one month or menstrual cycle (17).
Specifically, the researchers found that women who consumed any amount of alcohol were 13% less likely to become pregnant within one month than women who didn’t drink at all.
As such, it may be best to abstain from drinking if you’re trying to become pregnant, and of course, during pregnancy.
3-day sample women’s fertility diet
Here’s a 3-day sample women’s fertility diet rich in foods that can improve egg quality:
- Breakfast: overnight oats topped with fruit and nuts
- Lunch: avocado egg salad
- Snack: veggies and hummus
- Dinner: pan-seared mackerel, brown rice, and roasted carrots
Day 2 (vegan option)
- Breakfast: oatmeal topped with berries and almonds
- Lunch: garbanzo bean salad
- Snack: chia pudding
- Dinner: sweet potato tofu bowl
- Breakfast: cottage cheese toast with tomato and cucumber slices
- Lunch: grilled chicken salad
- Snack: Greek yogurt parfait with walnuts and berries
- Dinner: baked salmon, quinoa, and sauteed brussels sprouts
Female fertility supplements
Although it’s best to get most of your nutrients from food, supplements can be a convenient, cost-effective, and safe way to optimize your nutrition and boost fertility.
Folate or folic acid supplementation is recommended when you’re trying to get pregnant to help prevent major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine.
However, taking folate may also increase fertility.
The recommended dose for folate is 400 mcg per day.
This product from Doctor’s Best contains the recommended dose of folate along with vitamin C as an antioxidant.
Antioxidants play a critical role in neutralizing oxidative stress and preventing cellular damage that not only adversely affects health but also decreases fertility.
Although supplementing with individual antioxidants like vitamin C and E has been shown to enhance fertility, it may be best to supplement with a blend of antioxidants and others nutrients that can enhance fertility (7).
Studies have shown that women who supplemented with a product called FertilityBlend for Women for three months were significantly more likely to become pregnant than those who were given a placebo (20, 21).
The FertiltyBlend for Women product contains vitamins E, B6, and B12, as well as various other ingredients that support egg quality.
It also contains the recommended amount of folate to enhance fertility and prevent neural tube defects.
You can find this product on Amazon.
The bottom line
Female fertility issues may be caused by various factors that affect egg quality.
Fortunately, making changes to your diet can improve egg quality and therefore your chances of becoming pregnant.
To optimize egg quality, you should increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins and fats, while limiting or avoiding alcohol and foods rich in refined carbs, added sugars, and saturated fats.
Along with diet, taking certain supplements like folate or an antioxidant blend that contains folate can increase your chances of becoming pregnant.