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Nutrition has a direct impact on the potency of your sperm. Research shows that having a poor diet and drinking alcohol regularly, for instance, can lower the quality and quantity of sperm and make conception more difficult. And since infertility is nearly as much a man's issue as a woman's – about a third of fertility problems can be traced to men – eating healthfully now can boost your chances of conceiving a child.
Additional research shows that dads who are heavy drinkers risk damaging their sperm. If you drink, have no more than one or two drinks a day.
Whether drinking coffee harms or helps your fertility is less clear. The safest bet is to drink no more than 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. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, research shows that a healthy diet including plenty of fish, vegetables, and whole grains means more active sperm. On the other hand, a diet high in trans fats may lower the number of sperm in semen.
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 motility (movement). An 8-ounce glass of orange juice has about 124 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C. Aim to get at least 90 mg a day – more if you smoke (at least 125 mg).
- Get enough zinc. A lack of zinc can make sperm clump together and contribute to infertility. Great sources to help you get the 11 mg you need daily include oysters (16 mg in six medium oysters), extra-lean beef tenderloin (4.8 mg per 3-ounce serving), baked beans (3.5 mg per 1-cup serving), and dark chicken meat (2.38 mg per 3-ounce serving).
- 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 of neural tube birth defects – have trouble producing healthy sperm. 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.
- Cut out (or cut back on) alcohol. An occasional drink is generally considered safe, but studies show that drinking wine, beer, or hard liquor daily can reduce testosterone levels and sperm counts and raise the number of abnormal sperm in your ejaculate.
- Take a multivitamin tablet every day. A pill is no substitute for a healthy diet, but a multivitamin can help you make sure you're getting the nutrients you need.