We focus a lot on nutrition for women and mother-figures before, during, and after pregnancy. But there’s more to the baby equation than just the egg. Sperm health - count, motility, and morphology (shape and size) - is critical to conceiving a healthy baby.
So we’re turning to the other side of the equation today, answering the question so many of you have - what can you or your partner do to improve sperm health naturally? And as you might expect, the answer begins with how you nourish yourself. Certain nutrients have been shown to support sperm health and quality and to increase sperm count.
Many of these nutrients derive their beneficial effects from their antioxidant properties. Sperm is particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress. In fact, it is estimated that oxidative stress and decreased antioxidant capacity in semen contribute to between 30% and 80% of infertility cases.
Oxidative stress happens when the body has a build-up of free radicals (atoms with unpaired electrons that seek to find a pair by stealing from other atoms and causing a chain reaction of free radical damage). Free radicals originate from a variety of sources, like exposure to air pollutants and industrial chemicals. While we can reduce our exposure to free radicals (and we recommend you do!) they’re a constant factor in our modern day lives.
One of the best ways to manage oxidative stress is by consuming antioxidants (and other nutrients known to reduce oxidative stress).
Here are 10 foods to focus on for improved sperm health:
Strawberries are packed with Vitamin C, just one cup has almost 100mg. Research has shown that Vitamin C can improve sperm motility, morphology, and count. Note that studies generally test higher doses, at 2,000mg per day. Since this can be tough to achieve through food, a Vitamin C supplement may be helpful.
2. Fatty fish
Fatty fish are good for sperm health thanks to their Omega-3 fatty acids. Some of the best options include wild-caught salmon and sardines. If fish isn’t a favorite, walnuts are another good source (although with lower amounts of Omega-3s). An Omega-3 supplement can be another wise choice to support optimal Omega-3 intake.
Oysters are extremely high in Zinc, a nutrient that research has shown to be critical to healthy sperm production and motility. Zinc reduces oxidative stress by participating in the synthesis of antioxidant enzymes. It's important to note that Zinc is not stored in the body, so it must be consumed regularly to continue to reap its benefits. Oysters are by far the best source of Zinc, but no need to consume them daily. A 3oz. serving has over 74mg - over 600% of your daily value.
4. Pumpkin seeds
If oysters aren’t your thing, pumpkin seeds are another great source of Zinc. Just ¼ cup has about 8mg of Zinc. The daily requirement for men is set at 11mg, but higher amounts, up to 30-40mg daily has been shown to be safe and effective. Eat them on their own, throw them on a salad or bowl, or mix them into trail mix or granola. Choose raw, organic pumpkin seeds for optimal nutritional value (we like Go Raw brand). Consumption of animal protein or a high quality supplement with a well-absorbed form like Zinc Bisglycinate can help you get to optimal levels.
5. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is a rich source of the amino acid L-arginine, which has been shown to support sperm health. Dark chocolate’s primary ingredient, cacao, is also a rich source of antioxidants. When choosing your chocolate, darker is better, as it has more benefits and less sugar. These varieties are identified by a percentage - 85% is a great option. Note that cacao processing is known to result in heavy metals (most often cadmium and lead) in the final product, so be sure to purchase high quality chocolate from a trusted source
6. Leafy green and cruciferous vegetables
Leafy greens and cruciferous veggies like spinach, kale, broccoli, and brussels sprouts, are full of Folate which can help produce strong, healthy sperm. In fact, a 2014 study showed that men who supplemented with Folate in addition to certain antioxidants had a lower frequency of chromosomal defects. Note, we always recommend Folate instead of Folic Acid for men and women.
Pomegranates are rich in antioxidants and research has suggested that pomegranate can cause surges in testosterone, improve sperm quality and increase sex drive and mood in both sexes. Note that most studies have been performed in rats and mice, but clinical studies on humans are in process. Pomegranates are one fruit in which many of its benefits extend to the juice as well.
8. Brazil nuts
Brazil nuts are an excellent source of Selenium which can help boost sperm motility. Getting Selenium through diet or supplementation is important, as it is an essential mineral and cannot be synthesized by the body. You don’t need much, each nut has 70-90mcg, so just 1-2 each day can provide a benefit.
Tomatoes are one of the best food sources of the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene has been linked to male fertility and it has been found to significantly improve motility. Lycopene is more available in cooked tomatoes and it is a fat-soluble antioxidant, so opt for tomato puree or sauce for added benefit, and add some olive oil to help absorption.
10. Grass-fed beef
Beef is a great source of a variety of nutrients needed for healthy sperm production, including Vitamins B6, B12, E, and Zinc. Choose grass-fed beef, which is higher in several nutrients, including Omega-3 fatty acids and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). It is also generally an indicator of an animal that is more humanely raised, with proper care and without the use of antibiotics and hormones.
11. (BONUS!) Water
It sounds simple, but semen is water based, so ensuring adequate hydration can help increase ejaculate and improve sperm production. Just be sure to stick with plain still or sparkling water, not drinks with added sugar or caffeine.
Worst Foods for Sperm Health
In addition to foods to focus on, there are a few things you should avoid or limit in your diet.
1. Unhealthy fats
Unhealthy fats like trans fats and processed seed oils are detrimental to the body in many ways, including reproductive health. In fact, research has shown that consumption of trans fats can “profoundly reduce sperm counts.” In addition, processed oils like canola, soy, and corn are extremely inflammatory throughout the body and contribute to, rather than combat oxidation. Heating these processed oils can cause further damage in the body. Avoid trans fats and processed oils at all costs, and stick to olive, coconut, and avocado oils, or try grass-fed ghee or butter.
We all love the little boost we get from caffeine, but there is pretty compelling evidence that it can benefit your future babies if both men and women reduce caffeine consumption while trying to conceive (and in the weeks leading up to the time you start trying). One study found that both male and female consumption of more than two caffeinated beverages a day was associated with an increased risk of miscarriage.
Studies have shown a negative impact on sperm health with alcohol consumption, but this seems to be one to limit, not outright avoid (unless you avoid it for other personal or health reasons of course!). That is because a systematic review and meta-analysis of 75 studies on the topic concluded that semen quality did not seem to be made worse by occasional alcohol intake, whereas both sperm volume and morphology were negatively affected by daily consumption.
4. Diet drinks
Research shows that aspartame, the sweetener used in most diet sodas, is linked with lower sperm count and can contribute to sperm DNA damage.
What if it’s hard to get all these nutrients in?
We get it, life is busy, food and soil is depleted of nutrients, and there’s a whole lot of other things to think about as you’re planning for a baby. Solution? Supplementation! Our Men's Multi was developed specifically to contain the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants needed optimal for sperm health.