Nutrition has a direct impact on the potency of your sperm. Research shows that poor eating habits and regular consumption of alcohol, for instance, can lower the quality and quantity of sperm, making conception more difficult. And since infertility is nearly as much a man's issue as a woman's — up to 40 percent of fertility problems can be traced to men — eating healthfully now will boost your chances of conceiving a child.
Conception isn't the only reason to revamp your diet. Additional research shows that dads who drink heavily — the equivalent of two alcoholic beverages a day — in the month before conception have babies who weigh on average 6.5 ounces less than other babies. Low birth weight is a serious medical condition that can affect your child's physical and mental well-being for the rest of his life.
Whether drinking coffee will harm or help your fertility is less clear. Although some research suggests caffeine hampers male fertility, one Brazilian study found coffee drinkers' sperm actually showed an improved ability to swim, which might boost fertility. The safest bet, though, is to limit your coffee to a cup or two a day.
Which nutrients are most important?
Your diet should be every bit as balanced, varied, and nutritious as your partner's. Some specific advice for future dads:
- Eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants. These nutrients help prevent sperm defects and boost its motility (movement). An 8-ounce glass of orange juice contains about 124 milligrams of C. Aim for at least 90 mg a day — more, at least 125 mg, if you smoke.
- Get enough zinc. Several studies show that even short-term zinc deficiencies can reduce semen volume and testosterone levels. Great sources to help you get the daily 11 mg you need include oysters (six medium oysters have a whopping 16 mg), extra-lean beef tenderloin (a 3-ounce serving has 4.8 mg), baked beans (a 1-cup serving contains 3.5 mg), and dark chicken meat (2.38 mg per 3 ounces).
- Fuel up on folic acid. Studies suggest that men with low levels of this key B vitamin — the same one women need to reduce the baby's risk for neural tube birth defects — have lower sperm counts. You may be able to get the daily minimum of 400 micrograms from fortified breakfast cereals, leafy greens, legumes, and orange juice, but taking a folic acid or a multivitamin supplement for extra insurance can't hurt.
- Boost your calcium and vitamin D. Consuming 1,000 mg of calcium and 400 IU (10 micrograms) of vitamin D each day may improve a man's fertility, according to research from University of Wisconsin at Madison. Good calcium sources include skim milk (an 8-ounce glass has 302 mg) and yogurt (1 cup of plain yogurt contains 415 mg of calcium).You can get vitamin D from milk (an 8-ounce glass has 98 IU) and salmon (a 3-ounce serving has 360 IU).
- Cut out (or back on) alcohol. While an occasional drink is generally considered safe, studies show that daily wine, beer, or hard liquor consumption can reduce testosterone levels and sperm counts and raise the number of abnormal sperm in your ejaculate.