Food and nutrients are vital components to getting your body its best chance for making a baby, but fertility diets aren’t just something that only women follow. As a matter of fact, what guys eat (or don’t eat) makes a big difference in their fertility, too.
Some foods have been shown to potentially boost sperm count and quality, while other foods can actually have the opposite effect. For those who aren’t already aware, men are considered to have a low sperm count if their sperm count is less than 39 million sperm cells per ejaculation.
That may seem like a huge number, but if you consider the great distance they need to reach, it’s actually not that many.
It may surprise you to learn that recent studies show that the average man’s sperm count has decreased by 59% over the last 40 years. The reasons behind the decline in sperm counts are currently unknown, but obesity is likely at least one factor.
The types of food that people eat is very often the root for many health issues, and several studies indicate that eating certain foods may be harmful to sperm. Unfortunately, sperm health, and how nutrition affects it, is not something most men give much thought to.
One way to help improve sperm health is through supplementation. Although there are a number of supplements that increase sperm count you can use, it’s also just as important that men assess their diet to reduce the chances of it negatively affecting their fertility.
The good news is that there are several foods that may help to improve sperm quality. Keep in mind, however, that any concerns you might have regarding your sperm count or male fertility issues should be addressed with your doctor, who can perform a full semen analysis.
The Top 8 Best Foods to Increase Sperm Count & Fertility
There are several foods that can boost sperm count and a few of them are listed below. There are also some foods you should be avoiding if you want to keep your sperm healthy and your fertility at its best.
Here are 8 foods to support sperm count and fertility that men should include in their diets when trying to conceive:
1. Foods Rich in Zinc
Zinc is a vital nutrient necessary for the production of healthy sperm cells, and may increase testosterone, sperm count and sperm motility. According to research, a deficiency in zinc can result in a decrease in sperm health and function, thereby reducing fertility.(1)
Some foods that are great sources of zinc include:
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Red Meat
2. Foods Rich in Vitamin C
Vitamin C is one of the most abundant antioxidants in the semen of fertile men, and it contributes to the maintenance of healthy sperm by protecting the sperm from DNA fragmentation caused by free radical damage. Studies show that including foods that are high in vitamin C improves sperm count, motility, and morphology.(2)
Vitamins C and E are both essential antioxidants that work together to protect the body’s cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Some foods that are excellent sources of vitamin C include:
- Kiwis, Strawberries, and Oranges
- Bell Peppers
Packed with protein, adding eggs to your diet is a great way to increase sperm count and fertility. Eating eggs can improve sperm motility and protect them from damage caused by free radicals.
Many of the nutrients found in eggs, including vitamins D, B6, B12, copper, iron, and zinc, have been shown to help produce stronger and healthier sperm. Eggs are also rich in vitamin E, which promotes testicular health.
4. Green Leafy Vegetables
Folic acid is critical for healthy sperm development. Green vegetables that are a rich source of folic acid (including spinach, asparagus, brussels sprouts, and romaine lettuce) have been shown to help with the production of stronger and healthier sperm.
Increased levels of folic acid also decrease the number of abnormal sperm cells in the semen, thereby raising the likelihood of successful penetration of the egg by the sperm.
One study involving 250 men showed that those who ate greater amounts of fruits and vegetables, particularly green leafy vegetables, had higher concentrations of sperm and better sperm motility compared to those men who ate less of these foods.
Another green vegetable having positive benefits for sperm health is asparagus. As it turns out, asparagus doesn’t just make your pee smell funky, it can also increase sperm production.
One study found that men who supplemented with asparagus adscendens root (AARR) for one month saw an increase in sperm cell production. And because it’s another food high in vitamin C, it helps fight against free radicals and also protects testicular cells, which can also lead to improved sperm count, motility, and sperm quality.(3)
6. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate? Yes. It’s packed with the amino acid L-arginine, which has been shown to increase sperm count, volume, and quality over time.
7. Fatty Fish
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, including salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, and herring, can help increase the quality and quantity of sperm cells. Omega-3 fatty acids may also improve blood circulation and increase semen volume.
In one study, participants who ate larger amounts of fish were shown to have better sperm motility. Other research wasn’t conclusive, however.
While the benefits for sperm health associated with eating fish are likely tied to their higher amounts of omega-3’s, the specific role fish plays in sperm health is not currently clear. Consuming fish can be beneficial if it is eaten as an alternative to processed meats.
Bananas are rich in vitamins A, B1, and C, which support the body in producing strong and healthy sperm cells. Your sperm count also is dependent on these vitamins.
Bananas also contain a beneficial enzyme called Bromelain. Bromelain helps prevent inflammation in the body and can enhance sperm count and quality.
Nuts in general are great sources of protein and healthy fats. Healthy fats are necessary for the production of sperm cell membranes.
Another food high in omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts also help increase the number of sperm by improving blood flow to the testicles. The L-arginine contained in walnuts leads to an increased sperm count. They also contain antioxidants which help to remove toxins from the bloodstream.
One fairly recent study involved 117 male participants between the ages of 21 and 35, half of which were instructed to eat approximately 18 walnuts every day for 3 months. When researchers compared the sperm samples before and after the study, they found major improvements in sperm health for the group that ate walnuts.
10. Brazil nuts
Brazil nuts are a good source of selenium, which is essential for sperm function. Selenium contributes to the shape and motility of sperm cells, meaning that selenium helps sperm to not only reach a strong and healthy shape, but also helps them to swim – both of which play important roles in conception.
A 2011 study of nearly 700 men looked at the effects of selenium combined with vitamin E for a period of 100 days. Researchers noticed a 52% improvement in the size, shape, and motility of sperm cells of the participants, and nearly an 11% increase in pregnancy rates among the men’s partners.(4)
Selenium is also an antioxidant that can help protect sperm from damage caused by free radicals within the body. Recent research on infertile couples found that the male partners had lower levels of selenium and anti-oxidative activity in their sperm cells.(5)
7 Foods to Avoid for Healthy Sperm
While you’re including these healthy and nutritious superfoods into your diet, you should keep in mind of which foods you should be avoiding as well. Here are 7 foods that men who are trying to conceive should cut back on, or eliminate altogether.
1. Trans fats
Artificial trans fats (or trans fatty acids) are manufactured in a way that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils in order to make them more solid. Trans fats increase the “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and decrease the “good” (HDL) cholesterol.
Consuming trans fats raises your chances for developing heart disease and stroke. It’s also associated with a greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t end there. One recent study observed a link between an increased consumption of trans fats with a decrease in sperm counts.
Trans fats are used in a wide variety of baked, fried and processed foods, such as cakes, cookies, crackers, doughnuts, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, and also in margarines and other spreads.
You can identify trans fats by checking the nutritional facts label for ingredients listed as “partially hydrogenated oils.”
2. Soy products
Foods made with soy contain phytoestrogens, which are estrogen-like compounds that come from plants. Research shows that men who eat soy products can also experience a decrease in sperm concentrations.(6)
In fact, one Harvard study found that men who ate the most soy had the lowest sperm counts. And it doesn’t take a lot of soy to see these negative effects — even consuming as little as one portion every other day was enough to show a decrease in sperm count.
When the study was concluded, it showed that those men who consumed the most soy had an average sperm count 41 million less sperm cells per cubic milliliter compared to men who ate the least amount of soy.(7)
3. Processed meats
Processed meats like hot dogs, ham, bacon, sausage, canned meats, and others, can decrease your sperm count. While these types of food can be delicious, when it comes to your health – and sperm production – they are best avoided.
Several studies associate eating processed red meats with a decrease in sperm count and changes in sperm motility. It’s unclear exactly how these foods affect sperm, but it doesn’t appear to be in a good way.
Interestingly, this same research did not find any link between consuming chicken and decreased sperm health.
Research indicates that moderate consumption of caffeine appears to have little-to-no impact on sperm count or quality, but for men who really love their coffee, the higher amounts of caffeine could have a negative effect. One recent study showed that men who drink more than four cups of coffee per day have a greater risk for developing abnormally shaped sperm cells.
In fact, studies have linked caffeine consumption by both men and women to an increased risk for miscarriage in the weeks leading up to conception.
Having an occasional 1-2 alcoholic drinks is okay, but consuming more than 14 drinks a week can decrease testosterone levels and negatively impact sperm count. In fact, research indicates that drinking five or more drinks within a two-hour period has harmful effects on sperm as well.
6. High-Fat Dairy Products
Full-fat dairy can contain estrogen and lead to a lower sperm count. In a study examining the effects of diet on sperm, it was shown that high-fat dairy products such as whole milk, cream, and cheese were linked with diminished sperm motility and abnormal sperm shape.(8)
One reason could be due to steroid injections that are often given to dairy cows. Rather than cow’s milk, reach for the almond milk instead.
7. BPA and Pesticides
These are some of the most problematic substances on the list, because even though they’re not actually foods, they still find their way into the foods we eat. And they’re everywhere.
Both pesticides and BPA act as xenoestrogens—chemicals that imitate estrogen. In the same way that phytoestrogens from soy can have negative effects, xenoestrogens can cause disruption to sperm concentration.
BPA (bisphenol A) is found in the cans and packaging of most processed foods, where it gradually seeps into the foods we eat. BPA has been linked to many illnesses, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Recent research showed that men exposed to higher levels of BPA had more than four times the chance of having decreased sperm counts and more than twice the risk of having decreased sperm motility.(9)
Pesticides, as well, end up in our food after being used on fruits and vegetables, but they can also end up in meat and fish because of contaminated water supplies.
On top of that, some of the same chemicals found in pesticides can also be transferred to food from using non-stick cookware.
Changing your diet and eating habits is not something that comes easily. However, when your main goal is to bring a baby into the world, eating right and adopting a healthier lifestyle should be thought of as a satisfying responsibility, not a chore.
Jacob Rastani is the editor in chief of The Sperm Count Report, and is in charge of reviewing all editorial content for the website, social media, and video platforms. He has over 12 years experience as a senior editor national news websites, where he oversaw production of content relating to health and fitness, medical news, medicine, and fertility and reproductive health.