July 19, 2018

Study Suggests Bad Diet May Harm a Woman’s Fertility

But fertility experts say eating well is no ‘magic bullet’

Study Suggests Bad Diet May Harm a Woman’s Fertility

Can a bad diet hurt a woman’s chances of conceiving? A 2018 Australian study suggests that eating too much fast food and not enough fresh fruit will make it harder for women to get pregnant.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

“Interest in the impact of diet and environmental toxins on fertility is growing,” notes fertility specialist Rebecca Flyckt, MD, commenting on the study.

“I do believe diet can influence fertility. But the problem is separating diet out from factors such as smoking, obesity, poor sleep and lack of exercise — all of which can also influence fertility.”

Female fertility more common

Fifteen percent of all couples have trouble conceiving. In 70 to 80 percent of those cases, it’s because the woman has one of these issues:

How the study worked

In the study, midwives asked 5,628 women at their first post-delivery visit about their intake of fruit, leafy greens, fish and fast foods in the month before they conceived.

Then investigators looked at how long (with one year as the endpoint) it took the women to get pregnant.

The less often the women consumed fresh fruit, and the more often they consumed fast food, the longer it took them to conceive, they found.

Why fruit and not veggies?

The fact that eating leafy greens and fish had no impact on the time it took women to conceive in this study surprised Dr. Flyckt.

“I wouldn’t run out and buy a grocery cart full of only fresh fruit to improve your fertility,” she says. “Vegetables are good for you, too.”


Other studies have found the Mediterranean diet — which incorporates fresh veggies, fruit, healthy fats and whole grains — beneficial for fertility.

Study limitations

While this study showed a relationship between fast food, fresh fruit and fertility, it failed to show cause and effect.

That’s because the women were asked to look back and recall what they ate.

“Any study based on recall is subject to bias,” says Dr. Flyckt. “The women who conceived easily might assume, ‘It must have been my good diet,’ while those who struggled might assume, ‘It must have been my terrible diet.’”

To prove cause and effect, you’d need a prospective study measuring how changes in behavior influence fertility going forward, she says.

The researchers acknowledged that this study did not look at the impact of vegetables other than leafy greens, or the possibility of male infertility.

‘Good, clean living’ helps

Still, “this study reinforces what many fertility specialists see in clinical practice: that good, clean living translates to better outcomes,” says Dr. Flyckt.

For men and women who hope to conceive, she recommends:

  • Eating a healthy diet with fresh fruit and veggies
  • Avoiding fast food, processed foods, and sugary sweets and sodas
  • Avoiding alcohol, cigarettes and drugs
  • Getting good and consistent sleep
  • Going outdoors and exercising your body

Begin making these lifestyle changes about three months before you start trying to conceive, she advises. “It takes 90 days for the egg that a woman ovulates in any given month to start the process of maturing,” explains Dr. Flyckt.

No magic bullet

This study is one more vote against fast food’s deleterious effects on the body, and one more vote in support of a healthy diet, she says. But it’s important to keep the influence of diet in perspective.

“Many of us working in the field wish there were a diet that could help our patients conceive. But going vegan, gluten-free or ketogenic, or giving up dairy, is not a magic bullet,” she says.

Many who struggle to conceive need treatment for real, identifiable medical problems.

“A healthy diet is a helpful addition to treatment. But we wouldn’t want patients to waste six or nine months trying out a diet if it means they’ll delay treatment,” says Dr. Flyckt.

Related Articles

Female swimmer in the water at edge of a pool
December 1, 2023
Can Exercise Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer?

Physical activity and weight management can minimize your chances of getting the disease

Two people standing in the cold.
November 29, 2023
10 Colds Not To Catch This Winter

The flu, RSV, COVID-19, pneumonia and more typically circulate during cold weather months

Parent breastfeeding baby on bed, against the headboard.
November 27, 2023
Looking for Foods To Increase Your Milk Supply? Think Big Picture

No single food will increase your milk, but an overall healthy diet will help

Parent uses manual baby aspirator to open up nasal passages of baby.
November 22, 2023
Prevent Phlegm in Your Baby’s Throat With a Nasal Aspirator

Keeping your baby’s airways clear of mucus helps with breathing and feeding

Two different vaccines and needles displayed in foreground.
November 22, 2023
Which Vaccines Can You Get at the Same Time?

Getting routine vaccinations together can save you time and may be more effective

Muffins and sweetbreads with frosting on trays at bakery.
November 22, 2023
13 Foods That You Didn’t Know Contain Dairy

Be sure to check the labels of common foods like canned tuna, bread, hot dogs and chocolate

Toddler drinking from a cup while at the table during dinner.
November 21, 2023
Toddler Drinks — What Does the Research Say About These Products?

They aren’t unhealthy, but they’re probably a waste of money

person drinking coffee at computer at night
November 15, 2023
Is It Bad To Drink Coffee Late at Night?

Depending on your sensitivity to caffeine, a late-night cup may be just fine

Trending Topics

group of hands holding different beverages
November 14, 2023
10 Myths About Drinking Alcohol You Should Stop Repeating

Coffee won’t cure a hangover and you definitely shouldn’t mix your cocktail with an energy drink

Person applies moisturizer as part of their skin care routine after a shower.
November 10, 2023
Korean Skin Care Routines: What You Need To Know

Focus on the philosophy — replenishing and respecting your skin — not necessarily the steps

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
November 8, 2023
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try