foods to avoid when trying to conceive

9 Foods To Avoid When Trying To Conceive

If you have been trying to conceive unsuccessfully several months, the chances are that you start to wonder if there is anything you can do to speed things up.

During the 3-4 months leading up to pregnancy the quality of your eggs and his sperm is influenced by all the positive steps you take to be healthy. You can learn more about preconception care here.

This could be taking a preconception multi vitamin and mineral supplement and a good quality fish oil as well as including more green vegetables in your diet.

​Continuing an exercise regime and keeping your body weight in a healthy range are all important for a healthy pregnancy and baby.

​Just as the healthy steps lead to a healthier pregnancy and baby – your not so healthy habits can have a negative effect on the viability of your pregnancy and the health of your baby. Foods such as soy, coffee, alcohol and GMO foods etc. can also make it more difficult for you to conceive.

What to avoid when trying to conceive:

1. ​Caffeine

Caffeine Content- when trying to conceive

Caffeine has similarly been shown to disrupt hormonal balance. Particularly it seems to cause an increase in oestrogen levels in the first half the menstrual cycle. 

Caffeine consumption has been linked to an increase in length of time to conception. It has also been linked to other types of fertility problems such as endometriosis and miscarriage.

For women with endometriosis, high oestrogen levels make the condition worse and may particularly want to completely avoid caffeine when trying to conceive.

Women who drink less than one cup of coffee per day is twice as likely to conceive that those with moderate caffeine intake. The risk of failing to conceive also increases with higher caffeine intake.

Caffeine levels above 50 mg per day has been linked to lower success rate for IVF.

If you are concerned about how much caffeine you have on a daily basis – you can check the table above.

2. Excess Soy or GM Soy Products

soy and trying to conceive

Unless organic, most soy is Genetically Modified (GM). Some form of soy is found in numerous foods including cereals, breads and crackers. Soy is routinely added to most packaged foods either as soy flour, soy protein isolate, soy lecithin or soy oil (often listed as vegetable oil).

In its natural unprocessed form the soybean is a nutritious food often associated with Asian cuisine. Eating non-GM whole soybean (about one serve per day) may well have health benefits.

Higher intake of soy products (1-2 serves per day) have the ability to act on your sex hormones receptors. This can lead to  increased oestrogenic or anti-oestrogenic effect and may interfere with your fertility.

When choosing soy products select foods that are made from whole soybeans. Foods such as natto, miso and tempeh are fermented natural whole soybeans, are fine when trying to conceive. Miso and natto in particular are prebiotics. This means that they support the beneficial bacteria of your digestive tract. You can also buy naturally fermented soy sauce or tamari.

When trying to conceive, there are times when it is better to avoid soy products altogether or only eat in its fermented form and limited amounts:

  • Thyroid conditions – especially if you have an underactive thyroid or Hashimoto’s disease.
  • Children – due to the potential hormonal activity of soy, children should only have limited amounts.
  • Testosterone implicated male conditions such as infertility and sperm abnormalities or prostate problems.
  • Too much soy can interfere with absorption of nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron.

3. Dairy

Dairy and fertility

If you are drinking dairy, chose organic and stay away from the low fat varieties. Low fat dairy products are associated with lowered fertility. However, this doesn’t mean that eating high fat dairy products are good for everybody trying to conceive.

Many people are intolerant to dairy products, which contains IGF-1 (insulin growth factor 1), which is necessary for calves and young children to grow and mature.

In woman with PCOS, consuming dairy products can lead to increased insulin levels. This can stimulate the ovaries to produce more testosterone. This in turn can lead to acne and excess hair growth and problems with ovulation.

Also many women experience excess mucous production, sinus symptoms and bloating or other abdominal discomfort.

​If any of the above sounds like you – you are better off finding your favourite dairy alternative such as almond, rice, oat or coconut milk.

4. Wheat/Gluten​

can i eat gluten when trying to conceive

Many people are intolerant to gluten found in wheat, barley and rye. Oats naturally contain a very small amount of gluten, which usually isn’t a cause for concern.

The problem with many brands of oats is the fact that the oats have been processed using the same machinery, which has also been used to process wheat, rye and barley! And hence cross-contamination is the main problem.

If you want to enjoy oats in your diet make sure to buy ‘wheat free’ oats. Read the information on the packet to make sure that the oats have been processed in a gluten free factory.

Gluten should be avoided by all people with auto-immune disorders and thyroid problems. Gluten increases the level of inflammation in your body which will make auto-immune disorders worse.

All grains are  acid forming in the body. For your body to function at its best, the pH (measured in the urine) should be between 6.4 -7.4. You can buy a pH test kit at most health food stores.

5. Sugar, Soft Drinks & Refined Carbohydrates 

is sugar bad for fertility

We all know that sugar is bad for us!!! However, most of us also recognise that is can be very addictive and not easy to give up. Get into good habits while trying to conceive, well before pregnancy. Too much sugar during pregnancy can lead to gestational diabetes. 

Sugar lowers your immunity, makes you put on weight, mess up your hormones and predisposes you to develop diabetes and cancer. Sugar also makes your body more acidic.

Refined carbohydrates are grains which have been processed and their outer layer of nutrients and fibre have been removed. Because there isn’t any fibre left, they are quickly converted into sugar in your body. Not only, do they act like sugar in your body – they actually need nutrients (which they have to steal from your stores) to be broken down, leaving you even worse off!

The easiest way to cut your sugar consumption is to ensure that you eat at least 3 main protein containing meals per day. You may also like to have up to 2 protein snacks in between to balance your blood sugar levels and get you off the sugar hook.

A main serve of protein = one palm size of grass fed beef, lam, organic chicken, fish or 2 organic eggs.

Vegetarian sources of protein are: Beans, lentils, quinoa, nuts & seeds. Organic, non- GMO soy is acceptable only in small amounts and in fermented form such as miso and tempeh.

6. Trans Fats

should i avoid Trans Fat when trying to conceive

Trans fats lowers your fertility, is bad for your heart, raises your bad cholesterol, lowers your good cholesterol and causes increased inflammation in your body.

Bad fats, such as trans fats is definitely something you will want to avoid when trying to conceive. 

Hydrogenated oils contain lots of trans fats, which can cause ovulation problems. In Denmark, trans fats were banned in 2009, with the added health bonus of an improvement in the fertility rate.

A study by Harvard School of Public Health found that women who had problems conceiving due to very irregular cycles or lack of ovulation, were likely to eat more trans fats than women who ovulated regularly every cycle.

Eating as little as 2 percent (which equals only 4 grams per day in a 2,000 calorie diet) of total daily calories from trans fats, rather than choosing healthy forms of monounsaturated fats such as avocados, almonds, cashews and olive oil, was linked with a 50% increase of ovulation related infertility.

4 grams of trans fats can easily sneak into your diet if you eat fast food, doughnuts, pies, chips etc. It is, however, noteworthy that some fast food outlets have change their practices and no longer use trans fats in their food. So ask the question and read your labels.

Trans fats are most often found in margarine, baked goods, chips and popcorn.

7. GMO Foods​

GMO and trying to conceive

There are mounting evidence that genetically modified (GM) may be a serious health risk to humans and animals and should be avoided until proven otherwise.

The safety of GM foods was never tested on humans before being allowed to be sold to consumers. Several studies (mainly animal) show serious reason for concern. So, for the time being, I suggest that you avoid GMO foods as much as possible. Below you can find further information to help you assess this information for yourself.

Possible Health Risks of GMO Foods

Genetically modified corn and soy have been associated with including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) (2009).

WHO also informs us that: “The Bt corn and soya plants that are now everywhere in our environment are registered as insecticides.” And since 1996, GM plants such as soybeans and corn have had genes from bacteria and viruses inserted into their DNA. Today, GM ingredients are found in an estimated 70% or more of all processed foods in the US!

The six major GMO crops are soy, corn, canola, cotton, sugar beets, and alfalfa.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that having ‘insecticides’ on my weekly menu sounds like a healthy choice. You can read the full article, by clicking the link below.

The health information featured on this page is excerpted by IRT from Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risk of Genetically Engineered Foods, by Jeffrey M. Smith. © Copyright 2010. Institute for Responsible Technology. More information can be found at http://www.responsibletechnology.org

8. Alcohol

should i completely avoid alcohol when trying to conceive

Alcohol decreases fertility and should be avoided in the 3 months leading up to conception, especially for couples who are finding it difficult to conceive.

Heavy drinking is known to effect fertility and increasing the length of time to conception. However, A Danish (1998) study that showed drinking 5 or fewer drinks per week can reduce a women’s chances of conceiving. 10 drinks or more reduces the likelihood of pregnancy even further.


In 2009 a study from Harvard University of 2574 couples about to undergo IVF. It showed that women who drank more than six units of alcohol per week were 18% less likely to conceive. Men drinking the same amount were 14% less likely to become fathers.

The Harvard study also showed that women who preferred white wine and men who drank beer had the most significant reduction in fertility. In men, excessive alcohol consumption can lower testosterone levels, sperm quality and count.


There is plenty of evidence as to why you should avoid alcohol when trying to conceive.

9. ​Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

painkillers when trying to conceive

Avoid using of NSAID’s, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, when trying to conceive, as their regular use can cause ovulation related fertility problems.

Ibuprofen is linked to luteinizing unruptured follicle syndrome (LUF or LUFS), which is a failure of the follicles to rupture at ovulation time and release the mature egg. http://www.fertilityplus.com/faq/nsaids.html

Prenatal use of NSAIDs and aspirin is linked to an increased the risk of miscarriage. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC175811/

About the author 

Henriette Selch ND

Hi there, I’m Henriette and the founder of Perth Natural Fertility. I believe in empowering people to make smarter, healthier choices in their lives. Over the past 18 years, I have helped hundreds of couples improve their health and fertility. In my spare time, I love travelling, reading and spending time with friends and family.

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