When a couple is trying to conceive, the focus often falls on the female. After all, it’s the woman who is going to be carrying the child for 9 months!
But there’s definitely truth to the saying, “it takes two to tango”, especially when it comes to getting pregnant. In fact, according to recent data, men may contribute to infertility up to 50% of the time.
When we step back and look at ALL cases of infertility, one-third of cases are caused by male infertility, one-third by female reproductive issues, and another one-third by both male and female factors combined.
And although it’s well known that lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet can affect a man’s overall health and wellness, it’s less commonly recognized that these factors can also impact his reproductive health (both sperm count and testosterone levels included).
As an extension of our mini-series on Decoding the Fertility Diet, we decided to lay the groundwork for evaluating what a fertility diet for men should look like. More specifically, we’ll review the top foods to increase male fertility, semen quality, and overall sperm count.
Fish and seafood are excellent sources of healthy fats, protein, and a variety of natural vitamins and minerals as mentioned in our prior series on decoding the fertility diet. Some varieties even provide natural antioxidants.
Turns out, fish and seafood consumption may actually be linked to improved fertility outcomes for both men and women…
A study examining 501 couples trying to conceive found that couples who consumed eight or more servings of seafood per menstrual cycle (typically 28 days) got pregnant faster than couples who ate only one or fewer servings per menstrual cycle.
Another study evaluating 155 infertile men found that fish intake was related to improved fertility parameters including higher sperm count and sperm morphology (or the number of healthy sperm).
Bottom line: Seafood consumption has little downside for men and should be considered when couples are trying to conceive. Aim for 2-3 servings per week of omega-3 rich fish.
Tomatoes are an excellent addition when building a fertility diet for men.
Tomatoes are loaded with many natural nutrients. One nutrient, in particular, lycopene, is a specific antioxidant that has been suggested to support male fertility.
One interesting study suggests among men showed a positive relationship between daily consumption of tomato juice and sperm motility.
To get the most bang for your buck when it comes to tomatoes and lycopene, cook your tomatoes with a little bit of fat like olive oil. The cooking process helps break down the cells of the fruit (yes, tomatoes are a fruit!) and allows for an easier absorption process. The fat helps your body absorb the antioxidant as well.
Tomatoes are also a great source of Vitamin C and folate, two other antioxidants that may help support male fertility parameters.
Bottom line: Sneak in a few servings of tomatoes every week. Yes, marinara sauce counts (as long as you get the good kind without the added sugar and a load of other ingredients you can’t pronounce).
Reaching for a handful of walnuts each day can be a welcomed addition to a man’s routine to support his fertility.
Walnuts are a natural source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and provide natural antioxidants to help combat oxidative stress that can harm sperm count and other important parameters of sperm quality.
In one study, men were either given a nut-free Western-style diet or a Western-style diet supplemented with 60 grams/day of a mix of almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts (equivalent to approximately 2 handfuls a day). The authors concluded that including nuts in a regular diet significantly improved men’s sperm parameters.
In fact, men who ate nuts daily saw a 16 percent increase in sperm count along with improvements in sperm vitality, motility, shape, and size. They also observed a reduction in damaging DNA fragmentation.
Another study focused on the intake of walnuts only and found that eating 75 grams of walnuts per day for 12 weeks improved sperm vitality, motility, and morphology (in a group of healthy, young men who consumed a Western‐style diet).
Bottom line: Including walnuts in your daily life is a simple thing to do. Add walnuts to your yogurt, oatmeal, or smoothie in the morning to give yourself a nutritious boost to start your day. Even if you decide to include them regularly, eating just a few walnuts every week is a good idea to support male fertility.
What’s the deal with Brazil nuts?
We know you’ve seen Brazil nuts pop up in social media posts on foods for male fertility.
It all comes down to selenium. And although many foods provide selenium, the Brazil nut is a selenium powerhouse. A single Brazil nut contains 68 – 91 micrograms (mcg) of selenium, meaning that just one nut per day can provide the daily recommended adult allowance of 55 mcg. (They also happen to be rich in vitamin E too).
The next logical question arises…
Who cares how much selenium is in Brazil nuts?
Well, it’s because selenium is an antioxidant that’s essential for spermatogenesis (i.e., sperm production) and male fertility as a whole.
With that said, there are not a ton of scientific studies looking directly at the consumption of Brazil nuts as a way to increase sperm count, but we do know selenium is an important factor for male reproductive health.
Bottom line: It’s a good idea to make a point to eat a few Brazil nuts at least twice a week to help meet selenium needs. Try it dipped in chocolate – it is divine!
Leafy greens like spinach and kale are excellent sources of folate among other nutrients.
As you recall from a prior post, folate (as well as supplemental folic acid) is a nutrient that is key for females who are trying to conceive due to the nutrient’s role in reducing the risk of having a baby with neural tube defects.
But, did you know that folate can also play a role in male fertility?
Folate in men acts as an important antioxidant that helps protect sperm from free radicals. In fact, low folate status has been associated with sperm DNA damage and lower sperm counts. Data also suggests that men undergoing IVF who had adequate folate status had better fertility outcomes.
Bottom line: Don’t skip the green leafy vegetables when you’re considering foods to boost male fertility. With that said, beets and nuts are also great choices if leafy greens just aren’t your thing.
No discussion of a fertility diet for men is complete without also discussing men should limit and/or avoid altogether.
While the data isn’t 100% clear on whether alcohol and caffeine need to be completely eliminated to support male fertility, it is wise to refrain from including them in your diet/lifestyle while trying to conceive.
Let’s take a quick look at the research…
In a review paper published in 2018, the researchers confirmed the conflicting data on alcohol intake when trying to conceive.
On the other hand, a study evaluating chronic drinkers and fertility parameters suggested a negative relationship. Researchers look at who men drank intermittently compared to those who drank at minimum a 6 oz serving of hard alcohol (e.g., whiskey) ≥ 5 days/week for ≥1 year. The outcome…
Male reproductive hormones among regular drinkers were negatively affected, including a reduction in testosterone. Semen volume, sperm count, motility, and the number of morphologically normal sperm were significantly decreased as well.
Let’s shift gears for a moment.
When evaluating caffeine, data suggest a negative effect of caffeine-containing soft drinks on semen count, volume, and concentration.
And when it comes to coffee, men consuming this beverage have been associated with requiring a longer time to achieve successful pregnancy in some, but not all, studies.
Finally, caffeine, in general, has been related to DNA breaks in sperm – not a good thing when trying to conceive.
Eating for conception isn’t just for women.
Evidence suggests that diet (and other lifestyle factors) can play a huge role in a man’s fertility too!
Making small changes can help support a man’s journey to fatherhood, and there’s no better place to start than a healthy diet.
When looking for the best foods to combat male infertility, remember to always include:
Fish and seafood
Green leafy vegetables
Whenever you’re ready… discover one of the most overlooked nutrition strategies for naturally optimizing fertility (yes – it’s for men too!)
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