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Choosing Fruits and Vegetables Wisely May Help Fertility

Couples who are trying to get pregnant are often advised to improve their overall health with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Should that produce be organic? Maybe, says a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard.


Ovulatory infertility accounts for one quarter or more of all cases of infertility. Ovulatory dysfunction means abnormal/irregular (with ≤ 9 menses/yr) ovulation, or completely absent ovulation (ovulation is the release of an egg from a woman’s ovaries.)

Recently, as part of the Nurse’s Health Study, Harvard researchers have found that increasing intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables improved a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant if she has ovulatory dysfunction, especially when they replaced refined carbs and added sugar sources.

More recently, Dr. Jorge Chavarro, an associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology with the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, has found that fruits and vegetables that contain high levels of pesticide residue may further impede conception. In fact, the woman’s chance of becoming pregnant increased by a whopping 79% if she swapped out high-pesticide produce for one with less.

Prior research has found that pesticides can disrupt hormones in animals, interfering with pregnancy, said Dr. Alan Copperman, the director of reproductive endocrinology at Mount Sinai in NYC. And while this particular study did not focus on male fertility, pesticides have previously been found to lower semen quality as well.

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So should a couple trying to become pregnant go completely organic? Not necessarily.

"I don't think there's any reason to buy organic versions of some of the low-pesticide fruits and vegetables," Chavarro said. "Buying the organic version of a low-pesticide food like oranges or avocados is not the best way to minimize exposure to pesticides. A reasonable approach would limit exposure to high-pesticide fruits and vegetables like apples or strawberries."

A good guide for fruits and vegetables that are more likely to be contaminated with high levels of pesticides is the Environmental Working Groups “Dirty Dozen” list. Each year, the group tests many popular produce selections and ranks them in order of the most to least. Those in the Top 12 are best purchased organic. The “Clean Fifteen” are at the lower end of the list and are safe to buy non-organic.

The “Dirty Dozen” for 2017 are (in order)
1. Strawberries
2. Spinach
3. Nectarines
4. Apples
5. Peaches
6. Pears
7. Cherries
8. Grapes
9. Celery
10. Tomatoes
11. Sweet Bell peppers
12. Potatoes

The Clean Fifteen include:
1. Sweet Corn
2. Avocados
3. Pineapples
4. Cabbage
5. Onions
6. Sweet Peas (frozen)
7. Papayas
8. Asparagus
9. Mangos
10. Eggplant
11. Honeydew Melon
12. Kiwi
13. Cantaloupe
14. Cauliflower
15. Grapefruit

Yo-Han Chiu MD ScD et al. Pesticide Residue Intake and Assisted Reproductive Technology Outcomes JAMA Internal medicine
Original Investigation | October 30, 2017
Harvard University
Environmental Working Group