What to Eat for Healthy Sperm, According to an RD
Gaby Vaca-Flores, RDN, CLE, shares the best foods for healthy sperm to boost male fertility and support men’s overall health.
There are a variety of factors that influence fertility in general, many of which are out of your control, but diet is actually something that could make a difference, particularly when it comes to male fertility. While many know that a nutritious diet is essential for a healthy lifestyle, few know about the relationship between nutrition and healthy sperm.
Science tells us that the foods men eat may influence sperm quality. In this article, we’ll look at the key signs of healthy sperm, followed by exactly what to eat for healthy sperm.
What Does Healthy Sperm Look Like?
Healthy male testicles can create a couple million sperm each day, averaging about 1,500 sperm per second.
Three main parameters, which can be measured by a semen analysis test, define a healthy sperm: count, motility, and shape.
1. Sperm Volume/Count
According to the US National Library of Medicine, normal sperm volume can range from 1.5 to five milliliters per ejaculation. This number differs from actual sperm count, which should vary from 20 to 150 million sperm per milliliter.
2. Sperm Motility
A sperm’s ability to swim is an important marker of male fertility. According to the World Health Organization, a normal reference value for healthy sperm movement is about 60 percent or more motile.
3. Sperm Shape
The shape or morphology of a healthy sperm should look like an oval-shaped, smooth head with a long tail. A well-shaped sperm shouldn’t have visible abnormalities to its head, neck (mid-section), or tail-end structure.
Why Healthy Sperm Is Important
It goes without saying that healthy sperm is an important part of male health. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that healthy sperm does more than just define male fertility. In addition, high-quality sperm can also increase the likelihood of a healthy pregnancy and baby.
But unfortunately, the aforementioned signs of healthy sperm can decline with both age and unhealthy lifestyle choices. In fact, a 2017 review found that sperm count has deteriorated significantly in the last 40 years.
Further, a 2015 review reported decreases in sperm volume of three to 22 percent, and decreases in sperm motility of three to 37 percent, when comparing 30-year-old men to 50-year-old men.
What Foods to Eat for Healthy Sperm
In spite of the stats cited above, diet is a controllable factor for most men to boost sperm health. In other words, by consuming more foods good for sperm, one may be able to improve sperm quality.
Sperm takes about about 74 days to regenerate in the testicles. For this reason, some experts suggest that men looking to conceive should try to be as a healthy as possible for at least three months leading up to conception.
Without further ado, here are some of the best foods for healthy sperm.
1. Cantaloupes, Oranges, Kiwis
Eating citrus fruit and other vitamin C-rich foods have proven benefits for supporting high-quality sperm. Cantaloupes, oranges, and kiwis are high vitamin C fruits to increase sperm count and motility.
One study found that men who took vitamin C supplements had improved sperm count, motility, and shape. Other newer research has shown that the combination of vitamin C and vitamin E could support healthy sperm cell DNA.
2. Dairy or Plant-Based Milk
Dairy and fortified plant-based options (such as oat and almond milk) can boost your daily vitamin D intake. On top of that, there’s an interesting correlation between vitamin D and male health.
Research suggests that poor vitamin D status can increase the likelihood for low testosterone levels. (Testosterone is a sex hormone that stimulates sperm production and has a direct effect on sperm count.)
Conversely, other studies suggest that high vitamin D levels can result in improved sperm motility.
In addition to dairy, good sources of vitamin D include rainbow trout, mushrooms, and egg yolk.
3. Brazil Nuts
According to multiple studies, this tree nut is one of the best foods for healthy sperm quality. Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, a beneficial mineral understood to boost testosterone production. In fact, one study even suggests that selenium can effectively improve all three parameters for healthy sperm.
Supporting healthy sperm is yet another reason for why most men should add more fish to their daily diet.
In addition to salmon’s countless health benefits, studies show that a high intake of omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to increased antioxidant activity in sperm fluid. This protects sperm against harmful free radicals and boosts the three parameters for healthy sperm: count, motility, and shape.
Plant-based alternatives for omegas include chia seeds and nuts such as walnuts, almonds, and macadamia nuts.
5. Guavas, Tomatoes, Watermelon
These brightly pigmented fruits all contain lycopene, an antioxidant from the carotenoid family.
Research suggests that eating four to eight milligrams of lycopene daily (equivalent to one guava) for three to 12 months can improve sperm count and viability. On top of that, it can also help reduce oxidative stress and free radical damage.
6. Animal Liver and Kidneys
A single serving of animal liver or kidneys can cover your daily dose of vitamin B12. This vitamin (also referred to as cobalamin) is surprisingly essential for healthy sperm.
In essence, vitamin B12 works to support sperm health by enhancing the functionality of the male reproductive organs and lessening the damage related to oxidative stress and inflammation. A 2017 review on the effects of vitamin B12 on sperm quality concluded that B12 can not only increase sperm count and motility but also reduce the occurrence of DNA damage.
7. Sweet Potatoes, Red Peppers, Carrots
This array of pigmented veggies packs vitamin A, an important nutrient for healthy sperm.
Vitamin A plays a vital role in spermatogenesis, the process by which sperm is made. So naturally, making sure that you get enough of this vitamin can help with overall sperm health.
A Notes on Zinc and Folic Acid
Foods containing zinc and folic acid are thought to be amongst foods good for sperm. The reason for this is that in vitro, zinc is essential for sperm formation, while folic acid helps create its DNA.
However, a 2020 clinical trial of 2,370 men didn’t find zinc and folic acid supplementation to improve sperm quality.
In turn, foods like oysters and legumes may not be as helpful as once thought for healthy sperm.
One supplement with potential benefits for sperm quality is ashwagandha. In a small 2013 pilot study, people who took ashwagandha supplements for 90 days had a 167% increase in sperm count as well as a 57% increase in sperm motility. Taking ashwagandha can also benefit healthy sperm morphology.
What Not to Eat for Sperm Health
Research suggests that sperm shape can be unfavorably influenced by a traditional, high-fat Western diet. A healthy diet for male fertility is all about prioritizing a balance of healthy fats, complex carbohydrates like whole grains, proteins like poultry, fish, and other seafood, nuts and seeds, vegetables (at least seven to eight servings a day), and fruits (one to two servings of berries especially).
You don’t have to absolutely avoid any certain food at all costs in a balanced diet for healthy sperm, but there are some lifestyle choices you can avoid to benefit sperm health, or particularly when you want to conceive. One of those is marijuana, as 2019 research found that cannabis could contribute to abnormalities in sperm shape, concentration, and motility. The second is excessive alcohol use: In a 2014 study, people who reported drinking more than 25 servings of alcohol a week (more than 3.5 drinks per night) were found to have lower sperm concentration than people who drank more casually, having one to five drinks per week.
The Bottom Line
In sum, there’s something to be said about the relationship between food and sperm health. Now that you know what to eat for healthy sperm, it’s worth noting these foods don’t differ much from those that are generally recommended for a well-balanced diet. In other words, following a diet with enough healthy sperm foods like colorful fruits, fish, nuts, seeds, and the occasional serving of meat can be an easy way to support healthy sperm and male fertility.