Male Fertility Foods To Avoid &
What Foods to Eat Instead

Written by: Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN

Edited by: Dr. Will Haas, MD, MBA

Last updated: March 23rd, 2021

Picture of sperm and pregnancy test

Approximately ⅓ of all infertility cases are due to male-factor concerns. 

So clearly, the man in your life should be paying close attention to how certain foods can support or hinder fertility just as much as you are. 

And although there are numerous “fertility-boosting” foods that men should be consuming (e.g., folate-filled leafy greens, lycopene-rich tomatoes, and selenium-packed Brazil nuts), there are also several items that they should cut out to help both of you in the baby-making department. 

Why Should Men Care About Their Diet?

When it comes to men’s health issues, infertility is typically not top of mind. 

In fact, very few people know that the average man’s sperm count has dropped steadily over the past 40 years. No big deal though… healthy men have lots of sperm, right? 

Well, a closer look at the data reveals that male sperm count has declined by more than 50% between 1973 and 2011. Clearly, times are changing. 

Unfortunately, no one knows for certain why sperm counts are falling so quickly. Some of the suspected causes included stress, obesity, pesticides, and other environmental toxins. Medically reviewed studies also suggest that dietary patterns likely play a big role too.

How Does Diet Affect Male Fertility?

There’s a lot of information out there about how supplements can help fight infertility. And while there may be some evidence to support things like coenzyme Q10, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin D, our actual diets may be one of the most important lifestyle factors to consider. 

Following a pro-fertility diet, one filled with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients can reduce the damage that free radicals and low-grade inflammation can have on our bodies. Moreover, eating a healthy diet can also support hormonal health and combat erectile dysfunction. 

It’s important to remember that improving fertility may involve making several lifestyle changes over time, but one of the best places to start is in the kitchen!

Which Foods Should Men Avoid To Support Their Fertility?

Sperm holding foods to eat for male fertility

At OvulifeMD, we believe one of the quickest ways to enhance your efforts to conceive is by removing fertility-threatening foods. It might also be the easiest way to convince your counterpart to make some important dietary changes! 

Here’s our shortlist of the foods men should minizine (and in some cases eliminate) in order to increase their fertility: 

Processed Meats

Processed meats include meat that has been modified from its original form — think bacon, sausage, ham, corned beef, and beef jerky. And although these foods can be quite delish, they are not the best choice when it comes to male fertility. 

In a clinical study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that processed meat intake was inversely related to sperm morphology. In fact, compared with those in the lowest quartile of processed red meat intake, men in the highest quartile had 23.2% fewer morphologically normal sperm.

Fortunately, unprocessed red meat, as well as total meat intake, was unrelated to indicators of semen quality and sperm health. 

So sticking to fresh red meat options like grass-fed ground beef or a high-quality steak (with appropriate portion sizes) is a much better choice when the goal is to increase sperm quality. 

Trans Fats

Trans-fatty acids, or trans-fats, are fats that are formed through an industrial process whereby hydrogen atoms are added to vegetable oil to create a semi-solid food product. 

Trans fats are considered harmful to cardiovascular health, especially trans-fats that come from unnatural sources (e.g., hydrogenated oils in processed foods). 

However, what’s often overlooked is the impact that trans-fats can have on testosterone levels and sperm count. 

In a group of healthy young men, it was found that those who consumed the highest amounts of trans fats had 15% lower levels of testosterone than those with the lowest intake.

Additionally, when the dietary intake of trans-fat from the same group was reviewed in a different study, the highest intake was also associated with a 37% lower total sperm count, which has been attributed to reduced testicular function. 

Interestingly, intake of trans fatty acids was primarily derived from eating french-fries and commercially baked items. Something to keep in mind if you ascribe to the popular infertility superstition about those McDonald’s “potatoes”. 

Some easy steps to take to reduce trans fats:

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    English muffins instead of biscuits.

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    Skip the frosting on desserts like cupcakes and cookies.

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    Avoid popcorn unless it is clearly labeled as trans-fat-free.

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    Stick to baked fried fries instead of the fried variety.

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    Do not cook with lard – choose healthy cooking oils instead.

Foods Stored In BPA-Lined Cans

We know that neither you nor your partner is going to actually eat the can, but food cans are commonly lined with Bisphenol-A (BPA).

You’ve likely heard about this man-made phytoestrogen as it’s found in many plastics, including certain food containers. And when it comes to cans lined with BPA, this plastic often finds its way into our meals. 

As we discussed in a post all about endocrine-disrupting chemicals, BPA can be particularly harmful to female fertility… and there’s concern that the same might be true for male fertility too. 

However, it’s important to note that not all researchers agree on just how harmful BPA may be for things like sperm health. With that said, it’s a fairly easy thing to minimize in your foods to support sperm production and more healthy sperm in general.

So next time you shop for canned foods or items stored in plastic containers, opt for those that are stored in BPA-free containers. To play things really safe, reach for glass containers to minimize your exposure to BPA (and other plastic chemicals) altogether. 

Full Fat Milk

If you can’t fathom a world where you have to forego a tall glass of milk to accompany your cookies, don’t fret. You can certainly enjoy your milk (and the occasional cookie) on your fertility journey, but with one caveat… 

Men should aim for lower fat or even fat-free versions of milk and other dairy products instead of those full-fat options to prevent any negative effects on sperm health.  

When looking at data from the Rochester Young Men’s Study, an analysis of sperm and diet from 189 reproductive-aged men, showed that high-fat dairy products (e.g., whole milk, cream, and cheese) were associated with decreased sperm motility and abnormal sperm shape. This was also confirmed in a more recent systematic review of several observational studies

It’s important to note that this is actually the complete opposite of what the scientific literature suggests when it comes to female fertility. Make sure to review the facts about the best form of dairy to consume as a woman here

And if your man is a smoker, you may want to cut out his cheese intake while trying to get pregnant. Admittedly it’s somewhat random, but in one study, cheese intake was linked to low sperm concentration and motility among male smokers.

Excessive Alcohol

Many experts advise that women should completely abstain from alcohol when trying to conceive… But what about the male-factor? 

Well, the evidence seems to suggest that having the occasional alcoholic drink is unlikely to affect male fertility. Of course, the keyword here is occasional. 

In a study published in Fertility and Sterility, excessive alcohol intake was linked to negative changes in testosterone and estrogen as well as reduced semen volume, lower sperm counts, motility, and the number of morphologically normal sperm. 

And in case you’re wondering if these were just an isolated set of findings, they have been replicated in other quality studies too. 

Beyond the issue of reproductive health, it’s important to point out that regular alcohol consumption is directly associated with an increased risk for liver damage – something that can negatively affect your man’s overall health and wellness.

Ultimately, the once-in-a-while beer when watching the game or the special occasion whiskey does not appear to create any major fertility challenges for men. However, we generally recommend that men cut out (or at least minimize) alcohol 2-3 months before trying for a baby. 

Caffeine 

Certain coffees, teas, sodas, and energy drinks can contain a ton of caffeine, depending on the variety. And while many people love their morning cup-of-joe, unfortunately, excessive caffeine intake may work against male reproductive goals

Based on results from a recent systematic review article, here are some findings to consider:

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    Caffeine-containing soft drinks were associated with a decrease in semen volume, semen concentration, and total sperm count.

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    Caffeine intake was associated with breaks in sperm DNA.

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    Coffee consumption was associated with a prolonged time to pregnancy.

Ultimately, the occasional caffeinated beverage is unlikely to negatively affect fertility among men, However, downing multiple cups of coffee a day along with caffeinated soda should be avoided when trying to conceive.

Illustration of the top foods to avoid for sperm health and male fertility

Food Men Should Eat To Promote Sperm
Count & Health

Sperm holding foods to avoid for male fertility

After taking care to reduce fertility-threatening foods, it’s important for men to consume items that can boost their fertility and sperm quality too. 

There are many great fertility-boosting foods men can choose from, but one of the best changes to make is to increase his intake of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids.  

If we circle back to the study on meat in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that men with the highest intake of fish produced 60 million more sperm than those with the lowest intake. These findings held true even after adjusting for other fertility-boosting nutrients like iron and vitamin B12. 

And in case your man is thinking that he can just take some fish supplements instead, researchers did not find a difference in total sperm count or sperm morphology among those who consumed an omega 3 supplement and those who did not. 

Curious about what other foods we recommend to increase sperm count? Check out our post on the top 5 foods for male fertility

Final Thoughts

Dietary choices can play a pivotal role in male infertility, and thus your overall success towards a healthy pregnancy. 

And while certain foods may boost your man’s sperm count, balancing out his diet by limiting potentially detrimental foods can help bring him one step closer to fatherhood. 

So as far as fecundability is concerned, a high intake of full-fat dairy, alcohol, caffeine, trans-fat, and processed meat can negatively influence the chance of pregnancy.

Just remember, every little change makes a difference!

With Love & Empowerment,
Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN

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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