What to Eat When Trying to Get Pregnant, According to a Dietitian

by Jill Hickey, RDN

Diet culture is alive and well in 2023. From keto to cleanses, we’re still being fed a steady stream of advice on how to eat and when to eat. When you’re trying to conceive, the pressure to do everything right only increases. Dozens of different “fertility diets” claim to help you get pregnant faster, or have a healthier baby, but offer little to no evidence or sustainable guidance. 

Why are fad diets a bad idea when trying to conceive? Why should we always prioritize  moderation over elimination and restriction? Why does what we eat play such a large role in your fertility? Most importantly, which nutrition plan will actually boost your fertility? Good news: it’s much simpler than you think! 

Here are the top tips on what you should eat while trying to get pregnant:

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle” covertly used to sell restrictive changes that are actually just another diet. And while lifestyle changes are a part of optimizing your health, the most important thing to focus on is making sure those changes are realistic, manageable, and sustainable. That’s why restrictive fad diets like keto, paleo, and cleanses aren’t ideal for your wellbeing in the long run. 

True food sensitivities aside, eliminating certain foods (or entire food groups) from your diet is typically manageable in the short-term, but not long-term. A good fertility-friendly nutrition plan starts with balance and inclusion. In order to maintain that balance, you should start by basing your meals around three main food groups. 

#1 Complex Carbohydrates

Think lentils, legumes, quinoa, barley, bulgur, oats, winter squash, farro, and fresh or frozen fruits and veggies.

Carbohydrates are what power the human body and are the main source of energy our body needs to function. However, like with most things, the type we choose and how much we put in our bodies matters. Complex or whole grain choices (as opposed to their refined alternatives) are loaded with fiber which helps fill you up, slows the absorption of glucose into your bloodstream, and provides your body with lots of micronutrients like B vitamins (including folate) that will be beneficial to you and your baby.

Adding 1/3 to 1/2 cup of whole grains or starchy veggies with each meal can help give your body the energy it needs to fuel your brain, ovulation, baby, and more. Serve it as a side dish or add it to your salad (they taste good cold too) to help make a more balanced meal.

A diet without complex carbs (i.e. Keto or Whole 30) leaves you missing out big time on important nutrients and energy your body needs.

#2 Healthy Fats

It’s important to include fats – the heart-healthy kind, like omega 3s and monounsaturated fats. Think low-mercury fish (like salmon), nuts (like walnuts), nut butters, olive oil, and avocado.

Choosing more mono and polyunsaturated fats can improve insulin sensitivity and decrease inflammation. They can also improve cholesterol levels, which can reduce time to pregnancy.

The rich and creamy taste and textures they often bring to a meal can help increase your satiety, which means we’re less likely to overeat too.

How to include healthy fats in your diet? Drizzle olive oil on veggies to boost flavor, sprinkle nuts or avocado slices on salad for extra crunch and texture, or spread nut butter on an apple for a nutrient-dense snack.

While fat is fat, and all are equally high in calories (which can add up if we’re not mindful), not all fats are equal. If we lose focus on the healthier choices, we often allow trans fats in – which have been shown to increase the likelihood of infertility. Trans fats contribute to more insulin resistance, increased inflammation, and do a number on our arteries, all of which are the opposite of what we are aiming for on your quest for fertility and overall good health.

#3 Protein

Protein is paramount and super important for cellular growth, development, repair, and metabolism. What are the best sources of protein? That depends on your dietary restrictions and preferences. Some examples include chicken, turkey, beans, cheese, eggs, nuts, and low-mercury fish.

In a renowned study cohort, known as the Nurses’ Health Study, researchers found that getting more protein from plant sources (rather than animal sources) had positive impacts on ovulatory infertility. Pairing starchy grains with a protein can help slow the absorption of glucose into your bloodstream, which is great for glucose and insulin control.

Keep your servings in check (3 ounces of meat is equivalent to a deck of cards), choose lean cuts of meat, trim the fat from the edges, and include plant-based choices like lentils, legumes, nuts, and seeds often. Following a high-protein diet typically means consuming higher amounts of saturated fats and cholesterol, if your protein is coming from animal sources. 

Beyond the three pillars of a balanced meal (complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and lean protein), keep the following tips in mind: 

Eat the Rainbow

Do your best to have a variety of colors on your plate – at as many meals as possible. Including colorful fruits and vegetables can help keep you satiated while providing a variety of vitamins and minerals beneficial for fertility.

For example, vitamin C rich sources (i.e. broccoli, kale, oranges, peppers) can help with iron absorption, and vitamin A rich sources (i.e. spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, eggs) can help with vision and cellular growth, egg quality, and embryo development. These are all good things, especially if you’re trying to prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy and baby.

Don’t Forget the (Whole) Milk

Many people think they should avoid full-fat dairy, but research has shown it actually has a positive effect on ovulatory infertility. That means enjoying a serving or two a day of whole milk, full-fat yogurt, cottage cheese, and even ice cream can not only be delicious, but helpful to fertility.   

Equally beneficial is the calcium and vitamin D you will be getting from that dairy to keep your muscles, bones, and heart healthy. Higher vitamin D levels are also associated with better egg quality and healthier pregnancies. Not a dairy milk drinker? There are many lactose-free alternatives and fortified almond or nut milks to help you get the calcium you need. 

It’s not always feasible to completely avoid certain foods, but here are a few things to try to limit whenever possible:

  • Highly processed foods

  • Refined carbohydrates (like white bread)

  • Simple sugars

  • Trans/hydrogenated fat and limiting saturated fats (they can be inflammatory, and eating less of them has been found to be beneficial for pregnancy, not to mention healthier for your heart in general)

  • Unknown ingredients (i.e. artificial sweeteners, environmental contaminants, BPA)

Whether you are trying to conceive on your own or with the help of fertility treatment, all these little changes help give you the best chance at a healthy pregnancy. Prioritizing holistic, sustainable nutrition and lifestyle shifts will only increase your chances of success!


Jill Hickey is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Illume Fertility who works with clients facing polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), infertility, and other fertility-related health challenges.

Leave a comment
Stay up to date
Register now to get updates on promotions and coupons.

Shopping cart