In general, a vegetarian diet is considered quite healthy because it helps manage weight, provides many beneficial nutrients, may protect against certain cancers, and has even been linked to a longer life expectancy. But is a vegetarian diet good for fertility?
How a vegetarian diet may affect fertility
For female fertility, the short answer is that if done correctly, a vegetarian diet is at least as healthy as one that involves meat. It increases the likelihood of getting sufficient amounts of several important nutrients and can help prevent weight problems, which are known to affect fertility. A diet filled with a variety of fruits, leafy greens, whole wheats, nuts, and legumes fits very well in a fertility plan. However, there are some considerations that every TTC vegetarian needs to plan for in order to make sure that their diet meshes well with their goal of conceiving.
Mix up the protein sources
Proteins are composed of amino acids, of which there are 20. However, nine of these are considered “essential,” and a food source that includes all nine is considered to be a “complete protein.” Most meat products are complete proteins. On the other hand, very few vegetables, grains, nuts, or legumes are complete proteins, as they generally feature eight or fewer of the essential amino acids (quinoa, soy, and Ezekiel bread are examples of vegetarian complete proteins). Because of this, it’s important for those who are TTC to get their protein from a wide range of sources in order to make sure that they’re getting enough of the nine essential amino acids.
Consider a supplement
Vitamin B12 is a very important nutrient for conception and pregnancy, but it’s found in virtually no plant sources. Some plant milks, some soy products, and some cereals are fortified with B12, and these will list their B12 content in their nutrition information. Many vegetarians, and especially vegans, are at risk of not getting enough B12 in their diets and should consider taking a B12 supplement if they don’t have many B12-fortified products regularly. (And if you are considering taking a supplement, it’s always best to talk to your healthcare provider first.)
Load up on leafy greens: Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and swiss chard are all great sources of many nutrients, including iron, that you may have trouble getting enough of in a vegetarian diet. Leafy greens are a staple of any vegetarian diet.
Check your soy
Soy products contain iso flavones, which may mimic estrogen in the body, and their effects on fertility are not yet fully understood. Most evidence points toward soy being safe for TTC, and it’s almost certainly safe in moderation, but too much soy has the potential to disrupt normal hormone functioning and negatively impact fertility.
Vegetarians also need to make more of an effort to get healthy fats, like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Avocados and coconut oil are strong sources of omegas, as are fortified eggs, but you may want to speak to your healthcare provider about your omegas if you’re a vegan or otherwise unsure if you’re getting enough. You may also want to consider a supplement of calcium and Vitamin D, as these are more difficult to work into a vegetarian diet as well.
And what about male fertility? Obesity is a common cause of male infertility, so sticking to a vegan or vegetarian diet can be a healthy choice in that regard. However, studies conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health and Loma Linda University show that individuals who keep a vegetarian diet may have lower sperm counts as well as sperm with a reduced chance of conception. More research needs to be done, however, when it comes to male fertility and a vegetarian diet.
You can always talk to your healthcare provider if you have any questions about your diet as it relates to fertility and pregnancy.