Whether you are planning to get pregnant soon, working through fertility treatments, or have suffered multiple miscarriages, focusing on egg quality during the preconception period is critical for all women trying to conceive. In this article, we’ll discuss the best fertility diet to improve egg quality.
Why Does Egg Quality Matter?
Contrary to men who continuously generate sperm, women are born with all the egg cells they’re ever going to have, and this number slowly declines with age. The quality of your remaining eggs also decline which can increase the risk of fertility issues and miscarriage.
While you cannot change the number of eggs you have, you can influence egg quality. Three to four months before ovulation, an egg cell (also called a follicle) matures and grows dramatically in size. The growing follicle requires nutrients and energy from the surrounding environment. By improving your diet and lifestyle during this approximately 90 day time period before ovulation, you can improve egg quality and increase your chances of a healthy and successful pregnancy.
Fertility Diet to Improve Egg Quality
Research largely supports a Mediterranean-inspired diet for optimal fertility. Many aspects of this diet may also improve overall egg quality. The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, and lean protein.
Protein + Fat + Carbs
Eating for blood sugar balance is one of the biggest components of a fertility diet. When you eat a meal containing carbohydrates, your pancreas releases a hormone called insulin to lower blood sugar levels back to normal. A poor diet high in added sugar and refined carbs will eventually cause your cells to stop responding properly to insulin. This is known as insulin resistance and can increase blood sugar levels and overall inflammation in the body. High blood sugar is a big problem for egg quality and fertility because it disrupts the balance of other reproductive hormones.
By following a simple formula of protein + fat + carbs at every meal and snack, you can properly balance your blood sugar levels. Aim to fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, leafy greens, bell peppers, and more. Then, fill one quarter of your plate with fiber-rich carbs, and the other quarter with a high-quality protein. Finally, top off your plate with 1 to 2 tablespoons of healthy fat.
Local to Michigan? Our quick and easy Root Farmacy Meals follow this PFC guideline to help balance your blood sugar levels.
Antioxidant Rich Foods
Antioxidants are molecules that protect your eggs from damage and oxidative stress. Unfortunately, women with conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome have higher levels of oxidative stress and lower antioxidant levels which may result in poor egg quality and fertility problems (1).
To improve egg quality and boost antioxidant levels, include a variety of antioxidant-rich foods in your fertility diet, like fruits and vegetables. Here are a few common foods containing high levels of antioxidants:
- Berries (all kinds)
- Dark leafy greens
- Red kidney beans
- Spices (especially cinnamon, mint, oregano, and thyme)
The more colorful you make your plate, the better!
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes multiple servings of seafood rich in healthy omega-3 fats. Omega-3 is an anti-inflammatory fat that is particularly beneficial for fertility and egg quality. In fact, some researchers have found that women with sufficient omega-3 levels typically have higher-quality embryos and are more likely to become pregnant (2). Furthermore, most fish is rich in fertility-friendly nutrients like vitamin D, vitamin B6, iodine, and selenium.
To optimize omega-3 levels, aim to include two servings of fish every week in your fertility diet. The fish that are the highest in omega-3 (EPA and DHA) but lowest in mercury include: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring.
Caffeine and Alcohol
Drinking large amounts of caffeine (> 400 mg or 4+ cups of coffee) per day may negatively affect fertility and even increase miscarriage risk (3). Plus, excessive caffeine can impact your sleep quality, so try to limit yourself to 1 to 2 cups of coffee per morning.
Heavy drinking is undeniably harmful for general health as well as egg health and fertility. Some studies found reduced fertility in women when consuming more than 14 drinks per week. However, there is less consensus on moderate alcohol consumption and its effect on fertility. Nonetheless, alcohol certainly does not promote egg health or fertility, so it’s best to limit alcohol intake or keep it to the occasional glass of wine to help set a romantic mood.
Take a High Quality Prenatal Vitamin
We believe in a food first approach, and this applies to fertility as well. However, while most women begin taking prenatal vitamins once they become pregnant, we recommend starting a prenatal at least three months before trying to conceive. If you were previously taking the birth control pill, start taking a prenatal as soon as possible, as the pill can deplete your body of many important nutrients needed for egg health and optimal fertility. You can purchase our recommended prenatal vitamin here.
Another supplement, called coenzyme Q10, is critical for energy production inside the “power plants” i.e. mitochondria of your egg cells. If your egg can produce optimal energy, there is a greater chance for it to mature, fertilize, and successfully grow. In fact, one study found that a higher level of CoQ10 inside developing eggs was associated with higher-quality eggs and higher pregnancy rates (4). You can purchase coenzyme Q10 from our Root Shop as well.
Best Fertility Diet for Egg Quality: Summarized
While your overall egg quantity declines as you age, eating a Mediterranean-inspired diet (especially in the 90 days before conception) may improve egg quality and optimize your fertility.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and lean protein. Use the protein + fat + carb formula with lots of colorful non-starchy vegetables to balance your blood sugar and provide an antioxidant boost. Aim to eat at least two servings of fish per week to improve your omega-3 levels and lower inflammation.
Egg quality is particularly important for women in their late thirties to early forties; however, all women should focus on improving their diet and lifestyle in the preconception period to optimize fertility and future pregnancy outcomes.
Need more help? Our functional medicine dietitians offer various 1:1 fertility nutrition evaluations with personalized labs to develop a plan that best works for you. Learn more about our fertility consults.