Eating plant based, or vegan foods, is said to have many benefits, both for the planet and the person consuming it. But what about fertility?
Here we look at whether or not a plant based diet is good for fertility, plus some vegan meals you can incorporate into your diet.
Is a plant based diet good for fertility?
Firstly, it’s common to confuse a plant based diet with a vegan one. Following a vegan diet means you do not eat any animal based product including fish, poultry, dairy and honey. Plant based doesn’t necessarily completely eliminate all animal products but rather focuses on the consumption of plants.
It’s also important to note that being vegan does not automatically make you healthier, in some cases it can make you unwell. This may depend on any individual intolerances you have or the vegan foods you choose to eat.
In general, if you eat more fruit, vegetables and whole grains it will do wonders to your body and boost your fertility. You will consume more antioxidants, fibre and B vitamins, which includes folate, key in preventing neural tube defects. For protein you are more likely to consume nuts, seeds and legumes giving you nutrients such as zinc, magnesium and selenium.
Following a vegan or plant based diet might mean you decrease the amount of sugar you eat including cakes and biscuits, instead moving to alternative foods like dates and chocolate chia seed pudding - in which case a vegan diet is good for your fertility. However, if you are a fussy eater and just consume processed vegan food then your body could miss out on key nutrients like B12 and Calcium in which case your fertility would decline.
Having antioxidant rich foods like fruit and vegetables increases sperm quality by reducing the damage that free radicals have on sperm membranes and DNA. Furthermore, diets high in omega 3 fats, found in chia seeds and flax seeds, have shown to increase sperm motility and health.
Swapping saturated fat to polyunsaturated fat such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds is a great tip for male fertility.
Furthermore, having a vitamin D supplement may help too as vitamin D receptors have been found in the testicles and sperm. Observational studies have found that men with low vitamin D produce poor quality sperm. Make sure that when you buy plant based milk that it has vitamin D added into it.
Studies have shown that non haem iron (iron from plant based sources) have more fertility benefits than haem iron (from animal sources) however this study was observational and was conducted with women so we can’t be certain the same results occur in men.
Iron deficiency is very common and can lead to decreased libido and oxidative sperm damage. Up your intake by adding some dried fruit and nuts to your breakfast and cooking a tofu thai green curry. It’s important to remember that the tannins in tea, coffee and wine can reduce iron absorption so keep a two hour gap between drinking tea, coffee and wine and iron rich meals. However, adding some ingredients that contain vitamin C like tomato juice or drinking orange juice with your meal enhances iron absorption.
A study conducted by Harvard School of Public Health looked into 18,000 women and the impact of diet on their fertility. They found that ovulatory infertility was 39% increased if women consumed lots of animal protein especially red meat and chicken compared with women who included more plant based protein in their diet like beans. So if you consume more than one portion of red meat a week, you could benefit from reducing it down by swapping in lentils and tofu.
Furthermore, other studies have found that the risk of infertility increases in women who do not consume the recommended intake of fruit and vegetables. Furthermore, women who ate fast food four times a week had an increased risk of infertility of 16%.
If you consume more fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, you are more likely to hit the 30g of fibre a day needed which will improve your bowel movements and hormone levels. Plus fruit and vegetables contain a lot of antioxidants which help to balance hormones.
Studies show that to tackle ovulatory infertility it is best to consume plant based protein like legumes, lentils, tofu instead of animal protein like red meat. Plus protein helps to keep us full and therefore will play a role in weight management which is also key when trying to conceive a baby.
Best vegan foods to eat for fertility
- Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables such as sweet potatoes and blueberries.
- Chickpeas - they are high in iron which is crucial for enhancing fertility and they are a great source of protein.
- Tomatoes - which contain lycopene that is key for male fertility. Try adding tomatoes to your salad or make a pasta sauce.
- Seaweed which is high in iodine, the building block for hormones and therefore is key in conception. You could have a sprinkling of seaweed on your soup or salad.
- Nutritional yeast - this has a nutty taste and is great on pasta and soups. It is an excellent and easy way to get some B12 into your diet which often plant based eaters are deficient in. It is also important for the production of red blood cells and keeping the nervous system healthy.
- Bulgar wheat - a great source of low GI carbohydrates. Higher intakes of grains increases sperm motility and concentration, giving you a slower release of blood glucose into the bloodstream which will keep the fertility hormones balanced.
- Olive oil - it is recommended to swap saturated fats with monounsaturated fats such as nuts, avocado and olive oil.
To conclude, if following the vegan diet will increase your fruit and vegetable intake then it may be a good idea to boost your fertility and reduce the time it would take to get pregnant. But do make sure to include a variety of foods and plant based protein so you won’t risk deficiency and avoid processed vegan meals.
If you’d like personalised advice about how nutrition can affect your fertility, book a one to one appointment with a registered fertility nutritionist here at Naytal. Our team of friendly experts will provide a tailored nutritional assessment and help you to improve your diet for your best chance of conceiving.
Melissa, Naytal Nutritionist
Melissa is a registered nutritionist who is passionate about creating sustainable and enjoyable health and wellbeing plans for women and their families.