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9 Foods to Eat Now if You Want to Get Pregnant

author image Patricia Bannan, MS, RD
Patricia Bannan, MS, RD, is a freelance writer, frequent guest expert on news shows and author of "Eat Right When Time Is Tight." She is passionate about helping people reach their health and wellness goals.

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9 Foods to Eat Now if You Want to Get Pregnant
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Trying to get pregnant? Maybe you should consider a date night to the grocery store. While no one ever got pregnant from a salmon salad, research shows what you eat can affect your ability to conceive. “Keeping your body healthy by eating good-for-you foods while trying to conceive is especially helpful because your nutrient intake affects everything from your energy level to your hormones,” says Holley Grainger, M.S., RD, lifestyle and culinary nutrition expert and mother of two. Maintaining a healthy weight is also important. An estimated 30 percent of infertility diagnoses are due to weight extremes, according to the National Infertility Association. Being either overweight or underweight can cause infertility, largely because of the resulting hormone imbalances. Whether you’re just starting to try to get pregnant or you’ve been trying for a while, consider adding these nine fertility-boosting foods to your diet now.

1. Plant Protein
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Protein is an important part of a healthy diet, but according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), many Americans rely too much on animal protein (such as poultry and beef) to get their daily protein. Experts at the Harvard School of Public Health found that replacing a serving of meat each day with vegetable or dairy protein -- such as legumes, nuts or tofu -- can boost fertility. The Harvard researchers looked at nearly 19,000 female nurses who were actively trying to get pregnant and found that infertility was 39 percent more likely in women with the highest intake of animal protein. But women who ate a lot of plant protein were substantially less likely to have trouble trying to conceive. “Be sure to include plenty of lean protein in your diet, including vegetarian sources like beans and lentils,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, M.A., RD, Washington, D.C.-based dietitian and health fitness specialist.

Related: 13 Surprising Vegetarian Sources of Protein

2. Whole-Milk Products
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Full. Fat. Dairy. Yes, sometimes dietary advice can be decadent. Researchers found that participants in the Nurses’ Health Study were less likely to have ovulatory infertility if they consumed at least one serving of whole milk or dairy foods, such as yogurt or cottage cheese made from whole milk, each day. Skim and low-fat dairy products had the opposite effect on fertility. Experts aren’t sure why, but they theorize that removing fat from milk might change the balance of sex hormones, which could hinder ovulation. For women trying to get pregnant, Harvard researchers recommend having a serving of full-fat yogurt or drinking a glass of whole milk every day, temporarily trading in skim milk and low- or no-fat dairy products for their full-fat versions. However, the study is not a license to finish that pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in your freezer. It’s important to maintain a healthy weight in order to get pregnant.

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3. Iron-Rich Foods
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It’s important to fill your body’s iron reserves before you get pregnant. When you bleed every month it’s a constant source of iron depletion. Plus, once a woman gets pregnant, she often loses iron to the baby, which can put her at risk for postpartum anemia -- a condition that zaps energy by causing red blood cells to fall below normal levels. “The Nurses’ Health Study II reported that fertility can be improved by eating foods rich in iron, particularly vegetarian sources like beans, lentils, spinach and fortified and enriched cereals and grains. Non-vegetarian sources of iron include beef and other meats and poultry,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, M.A., RD, Washington, D.C.-based dietitian and health fitness specialist. If you don’t eat enough iron-rich foods, talk to your health care provider about taking a multivitamin with iron. It’s also a good idea to test your blood for anemia at your preconception checkup. “Get the most out of your iron-rich foods by adding a squeeze of lemon to sauteed spinach or diced peppers to a bean soup. These foods are high in vitamin C and improve the body’s ability to absorb iron,” adds Scritchfield.

Related: 11 Nutrients American’s Aren’t Getting Enough Of

4. Grain Products
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While you’re usually told to eat whole grains, if you’re trying to get pregnant, also including some refined grains in your diet can help boost your folic acid levels. To reduce neural tube defects, in 1998 the FDA mandated that all enriched (or refined) grain products be fortified with folic acid. “Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps the body make healthy new cells. If a woman has enough folic acid in her body at least one month before and during pregnancy, it can help prevent major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, M.A., RD, Washington, D.C.-based dietitian and health fitness specialist. The USDA recommends healthy adults consume about six ounces of total grains per day and that at least half of those grains (three ounces) are whole grains. In addition to grain products, you can get folic acid from foods like beef liver, boiled spinach, black-eyed peas and fortified breakfast cereals.

Related: 13 Powerful Grains and Seeds

5. Herbal Tea
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The research on how much caffeine can affect fertility is mixed. While many experts advise that low to moderate caffeine consumption (less than 300 milligrams a day, or about two 8-ounce mugs of coffee) is fine and won’t get in the way of you getting pregnant, other experts say that’s too much. A recent meta-analysis published in the European Journal of Epidemiology found that a dose as low as 100 milligrams per day of caffeine was associated with a 14 percent increase in risk of miscarriage and a 19 percent increase in the risk of stillbirth. The American Pregnancy Association says that caffeine can also hinder your body’s ability to absorb calcium and iron and recommends cutting it out. Whether you’re looking to cut out caffeine or just want to reduce your daily intake, herbal teas are naturally caffeine-free and can be a great substitute for a caffeinated brew. Plus, from lemon ginger to citrus lavender to coco caramel, they come in an endless array of tasty flavors.

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6. Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
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Red, orange, yellow and green: Mix up the colors of your produce to ensure you get a variety of nutrients for optimal health. Fruits and veggies of all colors contain phytonutrients, plant compounds that work together to protect your health. These phytochemicals include antioxidants (like flavonoids and carotenoids) that give produce its color and keep you healthy, which will increase your ability to get pregnant. “Eat the rainbow while focusing on specifically what is in season for maximum nutrient content. Colorful fruit and vegetables like pumpkin, pomegranate, kale and peppers provide antioxidants and are like natural multivitamins that offer a wealth of nutrients. Adding these foods to your diet is as easy as tossing extra veggies into scrambled eggs or premade pasta sauce, blending an extra serving of fruit into a smoothie or munching on veggie sticks with hummus for a snack,” says Holley Grainger, M.S., RD, lifestyle and culinary nutrition expert.

Related: 5 Tricky Fruits and How to Eat Them

7. Olive Oil
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Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat that helps increase insulin sensitivity and decrease inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation can interfere with ovulation, conception and early development of the embryo. In addition to including olive oil in your pre-pregnancy diet, it’s important to cut out trans fats, which are found in many baked goods, fried foods and processed foods. Trans fats decrease the body’s ability to react to insulin, which can make you more prone to irregular ovulation. “A study conducted at Harvard showed improved fertility in women eating less trans fats, sugary and refined carbohydrates and low-fat dairy. Replace these with plant-based fats like olive oil, whole grains and full-fat dairy,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, M.A., RD, Washington, D.C.-based dietitian and health fitness specialist.

Related: 18 Fat-Rich Foods That Are Good for You

8. Wild Fish
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Wild fish like salmon, shrimp (from Alaska or Canada), tilapia and catfish are low in mercury and rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help to regulate reproductive hormones and increase blood flow to the reproductive organs. Nutritionists recommend wild fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids for those trying to get pregnant. “Omega-3 fats are essential. I recommend eating wild fish a few times a week for docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) or taking a high-quality supplement that supplies 1,000 milligrams each as well as one tablespoon per day of ground flaxseed, which supplies the third omega-3 ALA,” says Susan B. Dopart, M.S., RD, CDE, author of “Healthy You, Healthy Baby.” Stay away from high-mercury fish sources like shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, which the United States Environmental Protection Agency warns against if you’re trying to get pregnant.

Related: The 9 Safest Seafood Options

9. Prenatal Vitamins
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In addition to focusing on optimizing your dietary choices, a supplement can help you ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need on a daily basis. “It’s important to prepare your body’s nutrient stores as adequately as you can before you become pregnant. Despite our best efforts, we don’t always get all of the nutrients we need from our diets. To cover your bases, look for a complete multivitamin that provides folic acid (400 micrograms) and DHA (200 to 300 milligrams). Both are important before, during and after pregnancy. Start taking prenatal vitamins around three months before trying to get pregnant to make sure your body’s stores are ready to go at conception. For anyone who might be experiencing nausea or difficulty taking pills, I recommend Vitafusion gummy prenatal vitamins (with 50 milligrams of DHA),” says Rebecca Scritchfield, M.A., RD, Washington, D.C.-based dietitian and health fitness specialist. Nature Made and Nordic Naturals brands also carry a prenatal vitamin with DHA and are third-party certified. Susan B. Dopart, M.S., RD, CDE, author of “Healthy You, Healthy Baby,” also recommends taking vitamin D, depending on one’s blood level (the amount can range from 2,000 to 5,000 international units per day).

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What Do YOU Think?
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Have you changed your diet or lifestyle to try to get pregnant? Would you include any of these foods in your diet to help you get pregnant? Leave a comment below and let us know. Share your experience on how certain foods or lifestyle changes affected your fertility -- maybe your knowledge will help others!

Related: 12 Health Trends That Are Not Healthy

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