Nutrition Articles

Nutrition and Fertility: An Overview for Men

10 Key Nutrients that Affect a Man's Fertility

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When trying to conceive, women aren't the only ones who should be paying attention to what they're eating. What men eat can affect their fertility, too.

Good nutrition can generate valuable dividends, and there is no better time than the present to start. The better a man's nutritional status, the healthier his sperm are and the more easily his partner will conceive. A man's diet should be very similar to a woman's pre-pregnancy eating plan: daily servings of bread, grains and pasta (6-11 servings); vegetables (3-5 servings); fruits (2-4 servings); protein (2-3 servings); and calcium-rich foods (2-3 servings). To find out how many calories you need based on your age, body size and activity level, use SparkPeople's free Nutrition Tracker. Pay particular attention to key vitamins and nutrients, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, calcium and vitamin D, which all have specific roles in the production of sperm.

In addition, here are some other nutrients and foods that can affect male reproductive health:

Antioxidants
All fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, which help keep sperm healthy. At a 2006 meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, researchers reported that the more fruits and vegetables a man ate, the more mobile his sperm were. Where to get it: Fruits and vegetables naturally contain antioxidants. Eating a wide range of produce, in various colors, ensures that you're consuming a variety of antioxidants.  Aim for 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Caffeine
Coffee, tea and soda might give you an energy boost in the morning, but too much caffeine can harm sperm. While Brazilian researchers found that moderate caffeine consumption can give sperm a little extra swimming power, that boost is fleeting, and in the long run, caffeine actually makes sperm more lethargic. Where to cut back: Limiting or reducing caffeine intake from coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks can help boost sperm motility.

Folate (Folic acid)
We've known for a long time that this water-soluble vitamin helps prevent birth defects. That's why mothers-to-be need 400 microgams (mcg) every day. But as recent studies have shown, fathers-to-be need to get enough of it, too.  According to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, men who don't consume enough folic acid are more likely to produce sperm containing either too few or too many chromosomes, which can lead to birth defects and/or miscarriage. Where to get it: Leafy green vegetables, fruit, beans, chickpeas, lentils, and fortified breads and grains are all good sources of folic acid.

Selenium
Consuming too much or too little of this trace mineral can harm sperm levels. Men should get 55 mcg daily. Where to get it: Selenium is found in Brazil nuts (544 mcg in 1 ounce), Tuna (63 mcg in 3 ounces), beef (35 mcg in 3 1/2 ounces), turkey (32 mcg in 3 1/2 ounces) and enriched breads and cereals (4-15 mcg per serving).

Soy foods
Preliminary research at Harvard University has shown that eating more than one serving of soy foods (such as tofu, tempeh, soy milk or soy-based meat analogs) a day or more can reduce male fertility, especially in obese men. The researchers aren't sure why the two are linked, but soy can increase estrogen activity and interfere with male hormones. While researchers said that the findings were not substantial enough to cut out soy foods completely, they did suggest that men who were trying to conceive could limit their intake of soy foods. Where to cut back: Soy is found in lots of processed foods these days, including protein bars, protein powders, and even "diet" snack foods. Tofu, edamame, and soy beverages are also high in soy.

Zinc
Some research has found that a lack of zinc can reduce sperm count and affect testosterone levels. Vegetarian men need to be sure to get enough of this key nutrient, but meat eaters usually don't need to worry about it, since meat is  high in zinc. which is found in beans, yogurt and nuts.   Where to get it: Beans, yogurt and nuts are high in zinc. Learn more about adequate zinc intake.

Future dads need to follow the same advice as their female counterparts: Eat right, exercise regularly, and take care of themselves!

Becky Hand, a licensed and registered dietitian, reviewed, approved and contributed to this article.

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Member Comments

  • This might be a coincidence, but as soon as my kids' dad started drinking pineapple juice (of which he never drank prior), we got pregnant right away...both times! :)
  • I have to admit, the reason I hit the link is because of that eye candy at the top. Sorry for objectifying you bro'. Anyway please, more male models.
  • Respectfully suggest this article be reedited for accuracy and clarity. The soy section needs correcting, and the zinc section is somewhat redundant.
  • Yes, the soy comment is misleading as it is written and does not make any sense. Eating soy can cause problems for men.
    Interesting to see an article linked to male nutrition and fertility - a nice change.
  • I would interpret that sentence as meaning one does not have to eat even one serving of soy for the harmful effects.
    Really makes one wonder if we should be drinking soy milk and using other soy products. Three of our grandchildren drink nothing but soy milk and those of us who are lactose intolerant depend on these other milks. Right now I have both almond and soy milk in fridge.
  • PSALM22
    Agree with Mary Jean - the sentence as written does not make sense.

    Also, isn't it time to take another look at the article that pushes how good soy is?
  • Bad mistake in the article - "eating less than one serving of soy foods" - this quote should actually say "eating MORE than one serving of soy..."
  • LADYDRIVEN
    Hhmm, i'm gonna let my hubby have a look at this! Cant have too many healthy sperm now can we?

About The Author

Stepfanie Romine Stepfanie Romine
A former newspaper reporter, Stepfanie now writes about nutrition, health, fitness and cooking. She is a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher who enjoys running, international travel and all kinds of vegetables. See all of Stepfanie's articles.