10 Foods to Avoid When You’re Trying to Get Pregnant
Thousands of perfectly healthy women struggle to get pregnant. New research suggests that poor food choices could be one of the main culprits. In fact, many scientists are now suggesting that by making simple dietary changes a woman can significantly increase her fertility.
The converse is also true: Certain food choices have been shown to decrease a woman’s chance of getting pregnant.
Fortunately—unlike factors that are beyond your span of control, i.e. genetics or age—what you choose to eat or not eat is something you can control to help improve your chances of becoming pregnant, without any kind of medical intervention.
Here are the ten foods or food types are known to negatively impact fertility that should be avoided:
- Red meat
Red meat contains a lot of iron, which has been shown to increase fertility. However, it also increases the amount of ammonia in the body, which can inhibit the implantation of the egg in the uterus. Red meat can also be detrimental for men. Red meat increases acidity and slows sperm activity. Sperm performs better in alkaline conditions.
If you want to get pregnant, you should consider getting your iron and protein from other sources.
- GMO Foods
GMOs are foods that contain organisms that have been genetically engineered in a laboratory to enable them to withstand herbicides and/or to produce an insecticide. There is a growing body of evidence connecting GMOs to fertility rates in men and women. In fact, studies indicate that sperm counts among the world’s population have declined significantly since the 1970s, and point to GMOs as a potential culprit.
According to a 2015 article appearing in Consumer Reports, “The vast majority of corn, soy, canola, and sugar beets are grown in the U.S. are now genetically engineered, and they are often used as ingredients in processed foods.”
In the U.S. alone, it has been estimated that GMOs are in 80% of conventional processed food. Furthermore, U.S. law does not mandate GMO labeling, making it exceedingly difficult to ascertain whether the foods we are buying at the grocery store contain them.
The Non-GMO Project is one of a handful non-profit organizations that maintains a list of food and products that have been independently verified as GMO-free. For more information, go here.
- Non-organic foods
The term “organic” refers to the process by which farmers raise agricultural products, such as vegetables, grains, dairy products, fruits and meat. Almost all non-organic foods should be avoided as they contain added hormones and antibiotics. Both of these can contribute to increased estrogen levels in the body, and therefore affect a woman’s ability to get pregnant. This includes non-organic milk and conventionally raised chicken. Stay away.
- Bad Carbs
Carbohydrates come in two types: Complex (“good”) carbs and simple (“bad”) carbs. Simple carbs are those that have been refined and processed to strip out the fiber and nutrients. Our bodies absorb simple carbs much more rapidly than complex carbs, causing spikes in blood sugar. The pancreas responds to blood-sugar spikes by producing and releasing insulin into the blood stream.
Studies have found that high insulin levels can lead to insulin resistance, which can cause or exacerbate Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)—a disorder of the endocrine system affecting ovulation that is one of the leading causes of female infertility.
High blood sugar impacts hormone levels which also inhibit fertility.
Many of the foods we buy at the grocery contain bad carbs. This include:
- Grain products such as white rice, white flour, breakfast cereal, pasta, and baked goods;
- Sweetened dairy products such as ice cream, sweetened yogurt, low-fat milk;
- Snacks such popcorn, chips, candy, cookies, granola bars and pretzels;
- Condiments such as ketchup, barbecue sauce, low-fat salad dressings, and honey mustard;
- Sweeteners such as refined sugars, corn syrup, honey and maple syrup; and
- Beverages such as soda, sweet tea, pasteurized juices and beer.
- Foods containing trans-fats
Trans fat is also known as partially hydrogenated oil and is found in numerous food products, such as baked goods, most cakes, cookies, pie crusts and anything else made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Trans-fats are also in French fries and anything else that is fried or battered. Like bad carbs, trans-fats cause blood sugar spikes and high insulin levels.
- Low-Fat, non-fat and lite Foods
This category includes skim milk, 2% milk, and reduced fat dairy products. “We found that the more low-fat dairy products in a woman’s diet, the more trouble she had getting pregnant,” said Walter Willett, M.D., a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.
The category also includes packaged foods labeled as “Lite,” “Low-Fat,” or “Non-Fat”. Typically, packaged foods which have been altered to reduce or eliminate fat are highly processed and tend to be high in sugar, i.e. bad carbs.
- Certain Types of Fish
Fish are rich in Omega-3, which is crucial for a woman’s reproductive health. But not all fish are good for you if you are trying to get pregnant. The types of fish to stay from are farm fish and fish high in mercury. Here’s why.
Farm fish are fish that have been raised commercially. They tend to be loaded up with antibiotics and hormones. They also contain lower levels of Omega-3 than non-farm-raised fish. Steer clear. The types of fish most typically farmed are salmon, carp, tilapia, and catfish.
High levels of mercury have been linked to fertility issues in both men and women. Additionally, mercury can hang around inside the body for a year or more, and can harm a fetus’s developing brain and nervous system, so avoiding it will increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy.
Fish with the highest mercury levels are marlin, orange roughy, tilefish, swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and ahi and bigeye tuna. Avoid them.
- Foods high in caffeine
Heavy caffeine consumption—the equivalent of more than 2 full cups of coffee a day—has been associated with fertility problems. Caffeine also interferes with the body’s ability to absorb iron, which is known to increase fertility. This doesn’t mean any coffee (or chocolate!), but you should probably cut back if you’re drinking more than a couple of cups per day.
You don’t have to cut out all alcohol if you want to get pregnant, but if you are drinking more than moderately, you should ease up. A study by researchers in Denmark found that alcohol intake had a significant effect on the fertility of women over 30 who drank more than seven drinks a week.
Soy foods have been shown to contain estrogen-mimicking properties that negatively impact a woman’s hormonal balance and, therefore, ability to get pregnant. If you want to get pregnant, you may wish to avoid processed soy foods such as soy milk, soy burgers, soy protein powder, soy chips, soy meats, and soy cheeses.