When we think about trying to conceive, there tends to be a strong focus on the woman prepping her body for pregnancy… In reality, it takes two to make a baby, and science is starting to reveal just how much of an impact the male’s lifestyle choices can have on the health of his sperm.
Worldwide, the quality of semen has reduced significantly in the last 40 years, by up to as much as 50-60% by some accounts!1 This is happening primarily in more developed, industrialised countries, pointing to modifiable lifestyle factors playing a key role in the decline of male sperm health.
Diet has been shown to affect semen quality, with some foods really jumping out as superheroes for male sperm health. Whilst it is always important to consider the entire dietary pattern and focus on variety, let’s take a quick look at three of the foods that have been shown, by the science, to improve semen health.
FRUIT & VEG
No surprises here! Rich in fibre and antioxidants, fruit and veg really are winners in the baby-making arena! Many fruit and vegetables also give you great bang-for-your-buck with other well-known fertility nutrients, like folate, potassium, and magnesium.2
Aim to get at least 5 serves of veg, and two of fruit, every day…A good tip is to get some kind of veg in your breakfast so that you’re not left trying to do all 5 serves in one dinner! All it takes is a handful of spinach in your smoothie, or some grated carrot in your bircher!
Packed with semen-boosting nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and selenium, seafood is definitely one food group to add into your weekly meal rotation if you’re thinking of trying for a baby soon. Ecosapentanoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are essential omega-3 fatty acids, and they play an important role taming inflammation and reducing oxidative stress. Numerous studies have shown that consuming fish and other seafoods has been shown to improve semen quality.2
If you’re not a big fan of eating a whole chunk of fish, why not try a fish curry, or fish cakes, with loads of tasty spices and herbs (also great anti-inflammatory foods!) to balance out the flavours?
Nuts for nuts? All potential immature jokes aside, nuts have some top quality, RCT-level evidence demonstrating that men who eat nuts have improved sperm quality.1,3 Nuts are nutrient powerhouses, brimming with fibre, unsaturated fatty acids, tocopherols, minerals, phytosterols, and polyphenols. Men who eat a mixture of nuts have been shown to have improved sperm count, motility (ability for sperm to get moving), morphology (sperm size and shape) and vitality (% of live sperm) compared to those who eat no nuts.3 One study even recognised a decrease in DNA fragmentation in the sperm of men who ate nuts!3
Nuts are an easy one to add in to your diet, as long as you have no allergies, of course! Try filling up a big jar with a mixture of unsalted nuts and grabbing a handful as a quick snack!
Very close runners-up prizes can be awarded to whole grains, which feature a huge variety of sperm-supporting vitamins, minerals and fibre, and low-fat dairy products, which seem to have a positive affect on sperm motility and concentration.1
If you can focus on increasing these foods in your diet, and crowding out the less sperm-pleasing ingredients like saturated fats and soft drinks, your swimmers (and your future baby) will thank you!
1. Salas-Huetos, Albert, Emma R. James, Kenneth I. Aston, Timothy G. Jenkins, and Douglas T. Carrell. "Diet and sperm quality: Nutrients, foods and dietary patterns." Reproductive biology 19, no. 3 (2019): 219-224.
2. Salas-Huetos, Albert, Mònica Bulló, and Jordi Salas-Salvadó. "Dietary patterns, foods and nutrients in male fertility parameters and fecundability: a systematic review of observational studies." Human reproduction update 23, no. 4 (2017): 371-389.
3. Salas-Huetos, Albert, Rocío Moraleda, Simona Giardina, Ester Anton, Joan Blanco, Jordi Salas-Salvadó, and Mònica Bulló. "Effect of nut consumption on semen quality and functionality in healthy men consuming a Western-style diet: a randomized controlled trial." The American journal of clinical nutrition 108, no. 5 (2018): 953-962.