Nutrition and Fertility: An Overview for Men

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.