The Top Fertility Diet Myths Debunked

Written by: Carly Fenimore, MS, RD, LDN

Edited by: Dr. Will Haas, MD, MBA

Last updated: May 31st, 2021

Woman Confused About Fertility Nutrition

Everyone seems to have a nutrition tip or trick aimed at getting you pregnant, right?

But as you already know, not all of those theories and recommendations have actually been proven to help your efforts to conceive. 

As a registered dietitian, I encounter many fertility-related nutrition myths on a daily basis. So let’s review some of the nutrition tips that truly make a difference for your fertility and overall health and wellness.

Myth #1: Your Prenatal Vitamin is All You Need

Yes, it is true that a prenatal vitamin is vitally important to cover nutrient inadequacies. It’s a great way to ensure you’re getting all the essential micronutrients that promote fertility along with the growth and development of your baby. 

Unfortunately, the contents of many prenatal vitamins vary. In the United States, supplements (including prenatal vitamins) are not tightly regulated. This means that the actual presence of specific nutrients, as well as the stated amount of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, can vary greatly. 

Additionally, many ‘proprietary blends’ do not reveal their actual ingredients and in what amounts. So, we recommended choosing a prenatal with content transparency. Third-party testing also is helpful when determining if you are wasting your money or if the contents have validity. Companies such as USP and NSF provide designated seals for tested supplements. 

Bottom line: A prenatal vitamin can be a great insurance policy for your reproductive health. But for many reasons, they may not be sufficient to fully optimize your chances of getting pregnant and giving birth to a healthy baby. 

And just as an aside… choline is a commonly overlooked b-vitamin missing from many prenatal vitamins in sufficient amounts (upwards of 200-300mg). Just like folic acid, it’s important for proper cognitive and nervous system development, so you don’t want to miss it! 

Myth #2: Fat-Free Milk is Better Than Whole Milk for Your Fertility

Several studies have shown positive results for your fertility when consuming full-fat dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. 

More specifically, intake of full-fat dairy may reduce the risk of ovulatory infertility according to data from a study on over 18,000 women conducted by Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Jorge Chavarro and colleagues showed that women who consumed more than one serving per day of full-fat dairy had a reduced risk of ovulatory infertility compared with women who ate full-fat dairy only once per week.* 

And despite many reports of dairy being a pro-inflammatory food, growing research suggests that it might actually have anti-inflammatory properties. A systematic review in 2017 and again in 2019 revealed that those who consumed dairy showed decreases in inflammatory markers.

However, milk consumption is not for everyone. While people with lactose intolerance can choose lactose-free milk, those with allergies to the milk proteins whey and casein should avoid cow’s milk and seek out alternatives. 

Bottom line: Low-fat dairy products are not superior to the full-fat variety, and in some cases, may even hurt your efforts to conceive. 

* If you’d like to learn more about this topic, visit our post all about dairy and your fertility.

Myth #3: A Gluten-Free Diet is Guaranteed to Improve Fertility

This is NOT necessarily true for all women trying to conceive. 

For individuals with gastrointestinal conditions such as celiac disease, the inflammation caused by ingesting gluten-containing foods can certainly impact fertility if left untreated.*

A study of 11,000 women who were diagnosed with celiac disease was shown to have decreased fertility for the two years prior to their diagnosis; however, their fertility issues resolved following diagnosis and treatment. For the general population without these gastrointestinal issues, eliminating gluten may not be necessary. 

The focus when weighing the decision to eat gluten-containing items should be centered on whole grain and higher fiber foods (brown rice, oats, quinoa, etc.) that can aid in decreasing inflammation and promote gut health. These are much preferred when compared with items with high amounts of added sugars like cookies, cakes, and pies. 

Bottom line: Gluten is a highly debated topic, especially when it comes to your fertility. However, the current research does not support the recommendation that all women TTC should remove this carbohydrate source from their diets.

* The Celiac Disease Foundation has a great symptom assessment tool to help you decide if you might be at risk for celiac disease. Make sure to check out their website for more information. 

Myth #4: Avoid Fish Due to High Mercury Levels

Not all fish are bad!

There are definitely several different types of fish that are known to contain high levels of mercury (swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, shark, and tuna). For these types of fish, it’s definitely recommended to eat less than 6 ounces per week, and perhaps even abstain while trying to conceive altogether. 

Fast Fact: Mercury in seafood is often found bound to selenium which can help mitigate its impact on your health. 

Luckily, not all fish contain mercury… And in these instances, the potential benefits are significant enough to warrant NOT avoiding fishing altogether. 

There have been many studies conducted evaluating the benefits of fish for fertility, specifically polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. A 2011 study showed women undergoing assisted reproductive technology (ART) who had higher intakes of omega-3 had improved embryo quality. Additionally, the advantages of these healthy fats continue in pregnancy. In a study of 12,000 mother-infant pairs consuming more than 12 ounces per week of fish was strongly linked to children with higher IQ scores and communication skills.

Bottom line: There’s no need to completely avoid fish when TTC. Instead, avoid those that contain higher levels of mercury, and preferably consume those with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring). 

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Myth #5: Cut Out Caffeine When Trying to Conceive

Depending on how much caffeine you typically consume, you might be okay to continue your normal routine! Of course, if you’re a 6 cup a day kind of gal, you might need to reduce your daily consumption. 

The myth around eliminating caffeine when TTC is largely centered around the link between caffeine intake and the risk of miscarriage. It is true that caffeine intake of over 200mg per day has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage once a person is pregnant. So that’s where the need to reduce your caffeine intake may come into effect.  

As far as the impact on getting pregnant, data presented in our article on caffeine revealed no association between caffeine consumption and infertility, including ovulatory infertility. Additionally, moderate caffeine intake has not been associated with negative outcomes for those undergoing fertility treatments such as IUI and IVF.

Before leaving this myth behind, it’s important to highlight that caffeine can come in various forms (coffee, tea, carbonated beverages, etc.) all of which can contain various other ingredients like sugar. And as we’ve discussed previously, sugar can negatively impact your chances of conception when compared to the presence of caffeine alone

We know what you might be thinking… What about the male-factor? 

A systemic review of 28 articles and inclusive of 19,967 men showed impacts on men have been seen with decreases in semen volume, count, and concentration in those who consumed caffeinated sugar-sweetened sodas as well as associations in instances of breaks in the DNA of sperm. No impacts were seen, however, in semen measures from men who consumed caffeine from coffee, tea, or cocoa beverages. 

Bottom line: You do not need to completely cut out caffeine when trying to conceive unless you feel inclined to do so. Women who are at increased risk of miscarriage should consider abstaining, or at the very least stay below the recommended amount of 200 mg per day. Remember not all sources of caffeine are equal, especially if they contain other additives like sugar. 

Myth #6: Pineapple Cores Help Implantation

It’s touted that pineapple cores may be helpful during conception… and much of this attention arises from the nutrient bromelain contained within pineapples.  

Bromelain is an enzyme extract derived from the stems of pineapples, although it exists in all parts of the fresh pineapple. It is believed to have both anti-inflammatory properties as well as blood-thinning properties. It’s thought that thinner blood accumulates more easily along the wall of the uterus than thicker blood, thereby enhancing embryo implantation.

Unfortunately, there are no studies connecting the theory behind pineapple cores and embryo implantation. It has been suggested that bromelain can cause uterine contractions and actually prevent implantation; however, the research around these claims is conflicting. However, if you are taking blood-thinning medications, discuss any plans of consumption of high levels of bromelain-containing foods with your practitioner. 

Bottom line: If you enjoy pineapple, consuming it in moderation is completely safe. However, its claim of improving implantation has not yet been proven in scientific studies. So it’s your call on whether or not to include pineapples in your fertility diet.

Myth #7: Going Keto Boosts Your Fertility

Despite its popularity, data surrounding the keto diet and fertility is extremely limited. When searching PubMed using the phrase ‘ketogenic diet and fertility’, there are only 6 entries at the time of this writing.

Theoretically speaking, a ketogenic diet could be beneficial for fertility just by virtue of its ability to assist with weight loss. We know that weight loss of as little as 5-10 percent can be significant in improving hormonal imbalances and reducing rates of spontaneous abortions and miscarriages

With that said, there are a number of potential shortcomings of the keto diet as it relates to fertility. Some of the primary fertility-nutrition related concerns include a restriction of folate-rich foods as well as foods rich in antioxidants. 

Bottom line: Aside from a few studies pertaining to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), data is severely lacking when it comes to the ketogenic diet and fertility. 

Top 7 Fertility Diet Myths

Final Thoughts

The impacts of nutrition on fertility are fascinating and the benefits can be life-changing for your health and your fertility. But you don’t have to go at it alone or take everyone’s advice to heart, especially when it comes to healthy eating. 

Seeking out information from registered dieticians and other qualified practitioners who specialize in fertility is key to receiving correct guidance. You can also ease your anxieties by listening to that voice of reason and consulting reliable sources of information that are backed by scientific evidence – it can make all the difference : )

And of course, remember food is medicine!

With Love & Empowerment,
Carly Fenimore, MS, RD, LDN

Whenever you’re ready… join other women trying to conceive and start incorporating the right pro-fertility foods into your diet today.

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