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Food/Nutrition Columnist Author: Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN - Food and Nutrition Columnist - Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

Food and Fertility – Is There A Connection?

By Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN - Food and Nutrition Columnist -
Sep 30, 2013 - 12:05:31 AM

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( - It is estimated that 10% to 15% of all couples have trouble getting pregnant. Fertility testing and treatment can be both very expensive and create an emotional roller coaster that may eventually affect a couple's relationship. Though many factors affect a woman's ability to get pregnant, improving your diet and your partner's diet may be an easy step that could improve your chances of having a healthy baby.

Your weight matters. Weight issues, both for the mother and the father, are believed to cause 12% of all fertility problems. Weighing too little can interfere with regular ovulation because estrogen is produced by a woman's fat stores. Very thin women often have trouble conceiving. But, weighing too much is also a problem because too much estrogen interferes with fertility, too. Studies have shown losing 5% to 10% of your body weight can improve your chances of getting pregnant. One small study showed losing just 14 pounds dramatically improved pregnancy rates.

Men aren't off the hook if they weigh too much. Heavier men have lower fertility rates. For men, extra weight creates a hormonal imbalance which causes an overall feminizing effect. Sex drive may be reduced due to lowered testosterone. Heavy men are more likely to have a lower sperm count and higher numbers of sperm with DNA damage. Excess fat in the inner thighs and pubic region creates warmer temperatures which can alter sperm production. Both partners need to consider some modest weight reduction to enhance their chances of getting pregnant.

While many babies have been conceived after an all-night party, alcohol and pregnancy is not the best combination. Drinking during the week before conception, by both men and women, is associated with a higher risk for miscarriage. Alcohol is found in the semen shortly after drinking and may cause problems with conception or implantation of the fertilized egg. For women, drinking before conception or early in pregnancy can lead to birth defects, miscarriage and premature delivery. If a couple is serious about conceiving, it may be wiser to avoid alcohol.

It is estimated that 1 out of every 133 people has celiac disease, the inability to digest gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Many women who have trouble conceiving have undiagnosed celiac disease which has been connected to recurrent miscarriages and other pregnancy problems. People with gluten sensitivity can also face fertility issues but to a lesser extent. A trial with a gluten free diet may boost pregnancy success.

Adding more vitamins and minerals to your diet is wise for both partners. Healthy moms make healthy babies. Healthy dads have healthier sperm. Men who eat more fruits and vegetables have better sperm quality. Vitamins and minerals, which act as antioxidants, protect the body against damaging free radicals that can cause problems at every step of the reproductive process from sperm quality, to egg maturation, to the progress of a healthy pregnancy. The following foods are rich in vitamins and minerals and have strong antioxidant capacity. It is smart to include them in your "before baby" diet.

  • Fruits, especially berries
  • Vegetables, eat a variety of color to get a wide array of vitamins and minerals
  • Spices, though used in small amounts they contain powerful antioxidants, sprinkle them into recipes you make
  • 100% fruit juice, green and black tea, and coffee (moms should drink in moderation during pregnancy)
  • Nuts and seeds, eat a handful daily
  • Whole grains, simply switching from white bread to whole wheat is a way to boost this group

Bottom line: Babies are produced with love and good health. These are also the key ingredients to insure they thrive after they are born.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.

Look for:

The Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd ed., 2013

The Calorie Counter, 6th Ed., 2013

The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012

The Diabetes Counter, 4th Ed., 2011

The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011

The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010

The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009

The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008

The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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