Male Fertility: What's Food Got to Do with It?

Nutrition and Fertility: An Overview for Men

By Stepfanie Romine, co-author of "The SparkPeople Cookbook"

When trying to conceive, women are not 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 a woman will conceive. His diet should be very similar to a woman's pre-pregnancy eating plan. However, the calorie intake will be altered based on his age, sex, body structure and activity level. By using the recommendations below, he will be providing his body with adequate nutrition and also supplying the key nutrients such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, calcium and Vitamin D. These nutrients have been identified as having specific roles in the production of sperm.

A man's daily diet should include bread, grains and pasta (6-11 servings daily); vegetables (3-5 servings daily); fruits (2-4 servings daily); protein and meat (2-3 servings daily); and dairy (2-3 servings daily).

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

Antioxidants: All fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants, which help keep sperm healthy. At a 2006 meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, researchers reported that the more produce a man ate, the more mobile his sperm were.

Fruits and vegetables naturally contain antioxidants. Eating a range of produce, in various colors, each day ensures a variety of antioxidants are consumed.

Caffeine: Coffee, tea and soda (in moderation) can provide an energy boost in the mornings; however, 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 lethargic. Limiting or reducing caffeine intake can help boost sperm motility.

Folate/folic acid: This nutrient helps prevent birth defects. Mothers-to-be need 400 micrograms (mcg) of the key nutrient every day, and as recent studies have proved, fathers to be need to get that much, too.

According to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, men who don't consume much folic acid have increased risks for sperm containing either too few or too many chromosomes, which can lead to birth defects and/or miscarriage.

Leafy green vegetables, fruit and beans, chickpeas and lentils, plus fortified breads and grains, are all good sources of folic acid.

Selenium: Too much or too little of this nutrient can harm sperm levels. Men should get 55 mcg daily.

The trace mineral 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 half a serving of soy foods (such as tofu, tempeh, soy milk or soy-based meat analogs) a day or more can affect 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 recommend cutting out soy foods completely, they did suggest that men who were trying to conceive could try cutting back on soy foods.

Weight loss: Your partner might consider slimming down if you're trying to conceive. According to a study presented to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, men who are obese (a BMI of 30 or higher) were 40% more likely to have sperm abnormalities and were 60% more likely to have lowered sperm counts. Researchers say the excess fat can raise the temperature of the testicles.

Zinc: Some research has found that a lack of zinc can reduce sperm count and affect testosterone. Vegetarian men need to be sure to get enough of this key nutrient, which is found in beans, yogurt and nuts. (Meat is high in zinc, so omnivorous men don't usually need to worry about adequate zinc intake.)

Future dads need to follow the same advice that moms-to-be do. Eat right, exercise regularly, and take care of themselves!

More helpful advice for parents:

BabyFit is a sister site of, the country's largest health and fitness website. Learn more--and get a free fitness and diet plan.