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Foods to Avoid when Trying To Conceive

Some foods are thought to hinder your chances of conceiving so for the best possible chance of pregnancy you may want to limit them or cut them out.

Here's how to separate the myths from the facts when it comes to fertility foods.

Refined sugars

Refined and processed sugars can be damaging for health and wellbeing and it's probably no great surprise to know they can disrupt your fertility too. The way your body first processes refined sugars is different from the way it processes natural sugars. Because refined sugar is digested quickly, you don’t feel full after you’re done eating, no matter how many calories you consumed. The fibre in fruit moves slowly through your stomach, which may help you feel full longer. BUT once the sugar passes through the stomach and reaches the small intestine, it doesn’t matter if it came from an apple or a soft drink.

Eating lots of sugary foods spikes your blood sugar every time you eat them and it's also a factor in releasing stress hormones. Constant spikes in your blood sugar lead to insulin being released from your pancreas. The more sugar you consume, means the pancreas pumps out more insulin to get blood sugar into cells. Over time, cells stop responding to all that insulin—they've become insulin resistant. The pancreas keeps making more insulin to try to make cells respond. Eventually, the pancreas can't keep up, and blood sugar keeps rising. If your insulin levels are consistently high, it can lead to insulin resistance. The latter often goes hand in hand with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a condition that can make infertility more likely.

The big problem is that insulin isn't all that different from reproductive hormones from a chemical viewpoint. This can be confusing for your body and it tricks it into thinking that hormone levels are high. This can interfere with ovulation and makes it more likely that testosterone levels will become more dominant. This is another risk factor for PCOS.

The empty calories from sugar can easily encourage weight gain and the associated knock-on effect of premature ageing for both egg and sperm cells. If the glucose in the blood is not used by the muscles and brain for fuel, it is stored in the liver and as fat.

Refined sugars can lurk in some surprising places, including bread, sauces, and dressings.

Get your sugar fix from natural sources such as fruit rather than candies, cookies, and other refined sugars. And swap white bread and pasta for whole-grain options to get more complex carbs into your diet. Even though ultimately, sugar is sugar, the fibre in fruit and veges, and the lower Glycemic Index of wholegrains will slow down the insulin response.

Mercury- rich fish

Eating lots of fish that contains high amounts of mercury can have damaging effects on health. From a fertility perspective, it can affect oestrogen levels and sperm quality.

A few examples of this are large predatory fish such as shark, swordfish and catfish.

But you can happily eat salmon, sardines, trout, and anchovies a few times per week without having to worry about how the mercury content may affect your chances of getting pregnant.


In moderation, soy probably won't stop you from conceiving, especially if it's organic. But in high amounts, soy can disrupt the delicate balance between progesterone and oestrogen.

In one study, men who ate soy products had lower sperm count.

The major issue is genetically modified soy, which has been linked to hormone changes, infertility, and erectile dysfunction. Avoiding GM soy is a great move, along with making sure that any soy you do eat is organic.

Soy is high in phytic acid, a substance that prevents absorption of essential minerals calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc, in your intestines. These minerals have many important functions in your body, including when you get pregnant, such as building the skeleton and teeth of your baby, maintaining balanced blood sugar (crucial for gestational diabetes risk), brain development of your baby.

Traditionally fermented soy products, like miso or natto, are some of the few soy foods that are fermented enough to significantly reduce phytic acid.

Processed meats

Eating lots of processed meats can potentially reduce male and female fertility.

In one study, men whose diet included processed meats often had lower sperm quality and for women, it can be linked to ovulation problems.

In another study, men who ate a lot of processed meat were less likely to fertilise an egg during IVF treatment, especially compared to men who ate more chicken.

Researchers aren't sure yet if there's a definite link between eating processed meat and fertility problems but any possible connection may be down to the fats and chemicals.

Cutting back on how much processed meat you eat can help keep ovulation regular and healthy.

Soda and other caffeinated drinks

Caffeinated drinks can affect hormone balance, especially oestrogen. The more you drink, the more likely you are to have problems with fertility. Female fertility doesn't seem to be affected by caffeine intake below 200 milligrams a day. Consider limiting your caffeine intake to one or two cups of coffee a day.

It's not just about coffee, sodas can also contain a good amount of caffeine.

Both regular and diet varieties of soda can have adverse effects on fertility, according to studies.


Some studies have shown that drinking alcohol can decrease both female and male fertility - even if you only have five drinks or less each week. Drinking alcohol regularly can lower testosterone levels and reduce sperm quality. Alcohol can also have an indirect effect on conception by reducing the absorption of zinc, which is a crucial mineral for fertility. Health experts recommend you and your partner both try ditching alcohol while you're trying to conceive.

Trans fats

Foods that are rich in trans fats can have negative effects on fertility. According to this study, women who consumed just 2% of their daily calories from trans fats had a 73% higher chance of experiencing infertility that's linked to ovulation problems. Trans fats are found in fried foods and processed foods, including fries, cookies, pastries, cakes, and candy bars.

The Bottom Line

If you are considering trying to conceive and you are concerned about the impact of your diet and lifestyle may be having on your fertility consult your healthy care provider.

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