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For Couples Trying to Conceive, Eating Right Plays an Essential Role

Photo: Courtesy of Eric Prouzet

Maintaining a nutritious diet and healthy exercise regimen is always a good idea, but it’s especially important when you’re trying to have a baby.


“Nutrition can make a difference in fertility, research shows,” said Isabel Maples, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Plus, it can set you up for a healthier pregnancy and establish some good eating habits for raising a healthy family.”

Start with the pros

Couples hoping to welcome a bundle of joy may want to reach out to a food and nutrition expert for advice. Doing so can help them from becoming overwhelmed by the changes they may need to incorporate. 

“There are many reasons a couple might have trouble getting pregnant, but a healthy diet can help to normalize blood sugar and circulating insulin levels, improve sperm count/movement and improve ovulation and hormone levels,” Maples explained.

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Finding folates

While folic acid doesn’t affect fertility, experts suggest all women take a prenatal vitamin or mineral supplement, or even a regular multivitamin or mineral supplement, for at least a month before trying to conceive. 

“Low levels of folic acid can affect early development of the brain and spine,” Maples pointed out. “This spinal/brain development of the neural tube happens just three to four weeks after conception, typically before women realize they are pregnant, so improving folate levels early is critical.”  


Food sources of folic acid include dark leafy greens such as spinach, arugula, and kale, and green veggies like asparagus and brussels sprouts. Whole grain and fortified cereals are other options, along with dried beans, peas, and lentils.

Pump the iron

Adding foods rich in vitamin C to meals will help the body to absorb more iron. Think tomatoes and orange juice. Stock up on fruits and low-fat or fat-free dairy and limit your intake of added sugars. 

“Choose leaner cuts of meat, moderate portion sizes, and diversify protein intake by also choosing protein from eggs, nuts, seeds, quinoa, and low fat or fat free milk and yogurt. Choose less solid fat and avoid trans fats in foods,” Maples advised.  

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Get moving

Try to include moderate-intensity physical activity for at least 30 minutes each day. Regular physical activity helps reduce stress, and improve blood flow and heart health.

“Exercise regularly, but not excessively, especially if body weight is very low, such as a BMI under 18.5,” said Maples. “Increasing muscle mass may help. If one has too little muscle and more fat, it can change hormones, which affect fertility. Increase muscle mass with weight-lifting, resistance bands, yoga, pilates, yard work, and gardening.”Maples adds, “Couples trying to conceive can feel a lot of pressure to control everything, including diet. A registered dietitian nutritionist can help them make sense of it all.

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