Looking to conceive? Better your odds by getting more protein from plant-based sources like beans, nuts and seeds.That’s the suggestion of a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology examining how dietary patterns may affect fertility.

Harvard researchers followed 18,555 married women (average age 32) for eight years as part of the Boston Nurses’ Health Study as they attempted to become or became pregnant.Those who ate the most animal protein were 1.4 times more likely to report infertility — a 44% increased risk.In fact, just one extra serving of red meat, chicken, cold cuts, etc.per day increased infertility risk by 33%.

You may surmise this would be because meat-eaters tend to weigh more — and indeed, excess pounds predispose women not just to infertility, but a host of pregnancy-related woes ranging from miscarriage to pre-eclampsia to gestational diabetes.But the meat infertility risk held even when weight and calories were kept constant.A more direct cause may be how metabolizing animal protein affects levels of a certain hormone which is a marker for infertility. Also, women who eat the most veggies are 50% less likely to have persistent HPV infections, which can increase the risk of infertility.

Preliminary research indicates other potential pregnancy-related benefits of a plant-based diet, which may reduce the risk of endometriosis. Fruit and vegetables tend to have more folate, which can decrease the risk of neural tube defects.Less beef may also benefit male fertility: One small study found that men who eat more meat and full-fat dairy were more likely to suffer poor sperm quality.

Bonus: Radishes for reproductive health? One animal study found that radish extract helped protect against a naturally occurring fungal toxin known to undermine male fertility.

 Published July 1, 2011