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Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Whether we’re craving salt, sugar, a cold beer or a perfectly cooked steak, every guy knows how to satisfy his own cravings.
Here’s the thing though: if you’re having some problems in the bedroom, you might want to satisfy someone else’s cravings and nutritional needs — your dick’s.
These days when ED pops up (or rather, doesn’t pop up), doctors and knowing friends name-drop a certain little blue pill as the quickest pathway to righting the ship.
Yes, foods can help to treat erectile dysfunction — they do it by improving cardiovascular health, increasing blood flow and boosting your body’s production of essential hormones.
It’s really impressive that by switching a few things up in your meal routines, you can make yourself and your erections healthier and stronger.
Below, we’ve outlined how foods do it, which foods to eat and some other ways to address ED once you’re done with your meal.
Before we get into the specifics of using food to treat ED, it’s important to put the soon-to-come advice in context. We’ll skip the lecture on how erections work — you figured that out on your own.
Instead, we’ll start with our first ED fact — that erectile dysfunction can vary in severity. Most of us might assume that it’s either up or down, but ED is more nuanced than that.
Some men experience mild ED — they can mostly get hard, but occasionally struggle to get all the way hard. Others have such severe ED that they’re unable to get any erection, at any time.
Food can help both types of men and those in-between, but will have the most effect for men at the milder end of the spectrum.
If you have mild to moderate ED, making changes to your diet and lifestyle may make it noticeably easier for you to get an erection.
If you have severe or persistent ED meanwhile, it’s best to think of diet as one aspect of treatment on a shortlist of several useful ones.
We’ve talked more about the other options (including medications for ED) in our full guide to erectile dysfunction symptoms, causes and treatments.
But you can look at that later. For now, let’s take a peek at your pantry.
The reason the following foods are helpful isn't because they're delicious or sexy (you wouldn’t say that about protein powder, for instance), but because they contain supplies of the critical building blocks our bodies need to produce a healthy erection. Another great thing about these foods is that you may already have some in your kitchen right now. Many of the foods that have sexual benefits are staples, so you won't need to find obscure ingredients or look up "tiger nuts benefits sexually".
Some may help with blood flow, others may support your testosterone, but the following foods can all help your erection if you’re willing to incorporate them into your diet:
Spinach, lettuce and other nitrate-rich vegetables
Oysters and other shellfish
Proteins like meat, dairy and nuts
Cocoa, chocolate and other flavonoids
Tomatoes, watermelon and other sources of lycopene
The foods of the Mediterranean diet
Now let’s look at why these foods are what your erection might be craving.
Your dick isn’t Popeye, but guzzling spinach might have the same effect on your erection that it always had on his muscles before saving Olive Oyl.
That’s because spinach, lettuce and similar vegetables are rich in nitrates, natural chemical compounds that have a vasodilating effect.
Nitrates affect a process called the nitrate‐nitrite‐nitric oxide pathway, in which nitrates are recycled in blood and tissue to produce nitric oxide — an important molecule for your vascular health and blood flow.
And most vegetables (especially the green leafy ones) contain nitrates. Research published in PLOS shows that green, leafy vegetables such as parsley, spinach and beet leaves tend to have the highest concentration of nitrates, while root vegetables and fruiting vegetables (like bell peppers) contain lower amounts.
By the way, these leafy greens are also high in folic acid, which may offer additional benefits for erectile health.
Oysters are considered an aphrodisiac, but they’re associated with sex for more than the familiar slurping noises.
Your favorite blue points and other shellfish are actually rich in zinc — an essential mineral linked to higher levels of testosterone.
As the primary male sex hormone, testosterone plays a key role in your sexual functioning. When a man’s testosterone levels are low, he may feel less interested in sex and experience issues like erectile dysfunction.
Zinc can be found in a wide variety of foods, including:
Fortified breakfast cereals
And zinc is also commonly available as a supplement. Oysters just contain by far the highest levels of zinc of any common food — and are the best source to consume over cocktails.
Protein will help you get swole, but sources of protein are also sources of L-arginine — a common amino acid that may help your penis get swole too.
A 2003 study published in Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that a combination of L-arginine and pycnogenol (a type of bark from the Pinus pinaster tree) helped men affected by ED regain normal sexual performance over the course of several months.
L-arginine is found in:
Poultry like chicken or turkey
Seafood like salmon (which gets bonus points for its omega-3 fatty acids)
Dairy like milk or cottage cheese.
Nuts like pistachios, almonds and walnuts
Protein powders and other supplements for athletic performance and general well-being
Most of us view chocolate as a treat rather than a medicinal food — at best, we may fill up on it during the holidays, and keep a supply on hand for when our partner is moody.
But dark chocolate may offer ED treatment benefits through a compound called a flavonoid, which is a type of naturally-occurring plant chemical with antioxidant effects.
Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a higher intake of foods rich in flavonoids is associated with a reduced risk of developing erectile dysfunction.
Tea and tea leaves
Whole grains like oats
Fruits like oranges, blueberries, apples and peaches
Vegetables like carrots and chili peppers
While eating chocolate in excess obviously isn’t a good idea if you’re trying to keep weight off, eating one or two small pieces of dark chocolate each day is unlikely to hurt and it might help you to maintain healthy blood flow for erections.
What do the most popular fruits of stage comedy performances (watermelons and tomatoes) have in common? Aside from making a great mess when thrown, they may also promote boners when consumed.
Tomatoes, watermelon, guavas, papaya and other fruits are all great sources of lycopene — an important plant-based nutrient with antioxidant properties. There may also be benefits guava leaves sexually, which we explore in this guide.
Lycopene is also associated with improved vascular function generally, and the prevention of certain cardiovascular health issues.
While very little research is available on the potential effects of lycopene on sexual performance in humans, some animal research has found that lycopene may play a role in improving erectile health.
One 2012 study found that lycopene restored erectile function in male rats with ED, and another animal study found that lycopene may have certain benefits for cardiovascular health — an important component of erectile function.
Full disclosure: animal studies don’t always translate for humans.
But the big picture is that many fruits and vegetables are also rich in other nutrients and compounds that may help to treat ED.
Watermelon, for example, contains the amino acid L-citrulline, which is linked to a variety of vascular health benefits.
In a 2017 scientific review, researchers found that L-citrulline supplementation can increase nitric oxide levels, reduce blood pressure and improve flow to blood vessels.
They may prevent you from achieving home ownership, but avocados are rich in dietary fiber and healthy fats that can contribute to better cardiovascular health and blood flow.
There’s no direct scientific research on avocados and erectile dysfunction specifically, but these effects could be building blocks of improved fertility and sexual wellness.
Consider the cholesterol question. Research found that avocados may help lower levels of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, a form of cholesterol that can clog arteries and affect blood flow.
Avocados also contain a bit of zinc (remember, it’s associated with an increased level of testosterone production), and small amounts of vitamin E and selenium, both of which are linked to improvements in sperm motility, semen quality and male fertility. Curious to know more about avocado benefits sexually? Check out this guide for more information about this superfood.
Perking up your sleepy daytime hours might also perk up your penis, sir.
A study published in PLOS One in 2015 analyzed the relationship between coffee drinking and erectile dysfunction by looking at 3,724 men aged 20 and above. These guys were surveyed about their eating and drinking habits and erectile health.
The study found that men who consumed the least caffeine were more likely to report ED than men who consumed the equivalent of one to two cups of coffee per day.
That said, a different study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2018 found no difference in ED risk between men who consumed the highest amount of coffee (four or more cups per day) and the lowest amount (zero cups per day).
Who should you believe? We’re not sure. But erectile health and sexual performance don’t seem to suffer from an extra shot of espresso, so caff up, dude.
No, it’s not one specific food, but hear us out. The Mediterranean diet consists of fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds.
It uses olive oil as its source of fat, and includes protein sources such as fish, poultry, dairy products and eggs in low to moderate amounts. In other words, it combines a lot of the stuff we’ve already mentioned, plus much more.
A 2017 review in the Central European Journal of Urology found that adherence to a Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of developing ED, specifically by improving metabolism, increasing antioxidants, and raising erection-promoting arginine levels.
The Mediterranean diet also emphasizes limiting simple sugars, salt, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats and heavily processed or fatty meats — things you should moderate anyway for your well-being.
So maybe whip up a little salmon and a fresh salad dressing to go along with those oysters? It’s your kitchen, not ours, but by now you should understand what the best choices are.
Eating a handful of the wrong snack isn’t going to make your penis fall off (unless that snack is leprosy-flavored goldfish or something) but we have to admit that a pattern of unhealthy eating can contribute to various circulatory and metabolic syndromes that may lead to erectile dysfunction.
For your health, you should avoid, limit or moderate saturated fats, sugar, alcohol and a few other things.
You probably have no idea what makes a fat saturated, and that’s fine, because most people don’t.
Saturated fats are fats that are solid at room temperature, like lard, dairy and other animal-based products. They have a higher amount of “bad” (artery-clogging) cholesterol than unsaturated fats like olive oil, nuts, fish and vegetable oils.
Consuming saturated animal fats, trans fats and cholesterol in excess can negatively impact your heart by contributing to atherosclerosis, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Atherosclerosis is a condition in which fatty deposits accumulate along artery walls, causing the arteries to narrow and increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke.
You should also avoid fatty foods when taking Viagra, but that’s another story.
Sorry to tell you this, but a sweet tooth can lead to a soft penis. According to the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), over-consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and other sugary foods is linked to weight gain and an increase in body mass index.
Obesity is directly linked to erectile issues, which makes sugar an indirect contributing factor for these same problems.
Not only does excess sugar consumption contribute to obesity, but it also leads to a cycle of blood sugar spikes and crashes which can affect your ability to achieve and maintain an erection.
When you eat sugary foods, your blood sugar quickly spikes as the glucose hits your bloodstream. Your pancreas then kicks into high gear, producing insulin to bring your blood sugar back down to normal.
The more sugar you eat, the more frequently this cycle happens and the more likely it is that your sexual health will be affected.
In addition to affecting your ability to stay hard, sugar consumption can mess with your leptin levels, which could impact your sex drive. When you consume food, your body produces another hormone besides insulin, called leptin.
Leptin is known as the hunger hormone because it sends a signal to your brain when you are full, so you will stop eating. When your leptin levels get messed up, you may overeat, which could impact your sex drive and ability to get an erection.
In addition to foods, you’ve gotta keep your eye on your drinking, man. Excessive alcohol consumption can inhibit blood flow, reduce sensation and revoke your erection privileges for the evening.
One study by the Indian Journal of Psychiatry showed that 72 percent of men who are dependent on alcohol had one or more sexual dysfunction disorders, including premature ejaculation, low sexual desire or ED.
Other foods that can impact your sexual function include those shown to reduce testosterone levels. We’ve previously covered how low testosterone can affect your interest in sex, but some foods that may have a negative effect on your testosterone levels include:
Processed meat and foods high in fatty acids
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You are what you eat, but your erection is what you eat, drink (we're looking at you, energy drinks), smoke and do with your life. So eat better, but also do better at taking care of your erections.
Although making changes to your diet and lifestyle can improve your sexual performance and make ED less severe, the most effective way to treat erectile dysfunction is through the use of medication with clinically proven ingredients. Common erectile dysfunction treatments include:
Vardenafil. The active ingredient in Levitra®, vardenafil can provide relief from ED for slightly longer than sildenafil.
Avanafil. Sold as Stendra®, avanafil is a newer ED medication that’s fast-acting and less likely to cause certain side effects than older medications.
These medications can be found in pill, tablet or mint form, if you’re interested in chewable ED meds.
You can learn more about how these ED medications work, their effects, side effects and more in our guide to the most common erectile dysfunction treatments.
Since erectile health is so closely linked to your general health, maintaining good habits and a healthy lifestyle can often help to improve your sexual performance.
Try the following changes to habits and lifestyle factors to improve your sexual performance and reduce your risk of ED:
Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity and ED are closely linked with each other — in fact, research shows that having a body mass index (BMI) in the obese range triples your risk of erectile dysfunction. To reduce your risk of dealing with erectile dysfunction, try to maintain a healthy body weight.
Although BMI is far from ideal, the CDC says that aiming for a BMI in the normal range is a good way to limit your risk of developing erectile health issues.
Exercise regularly. Research shows that aerobic exercise is linked to improvements in sexual performance. A review of five studies published in the Ethiopian Journal of Health Science found that men with ED who engage in regular physical activity experience significant improvements in erectile health.
If you smoke, try to quit. Research published in Andrologia shows that smoking is a major risk factor for ED, with the amount of tobacco you smoke closely correlated with your risk of developing erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease. If you smoke, make an effort to quit.
Making other changes to your lifestyle, such as reducing stress and treating underlying medical issues such as high blood pressure or heart disease, can also have a positive impact on your sexual health and performance.
We’ve talked more about good habits and lifestyle changes for improving your erectile health in our guide to natural ways to protect your erection.
Picking the best foods for your sex life is about more than avoiding foods that give you bad gas in the night — it’s about a healthy diet.
Leafy greens, dark chocolate and a dozen half shells are a good start, but you’ve got to look at the big picture for stronger erections (and not the dessert menu). You can also read up on how other foods affect your sex life too, such as the benefits of pineapple sexually.
Remember, ED is one of the most common men’s health issues out there. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, an estimated 30 million men in the United States are affected by some level of ED.
If you want to beat it with diet, keep the following in mind:
YES, adding certain foods to your diet can help to improve your heart health, promote optimal blood flow and make it easier to get an erection.
AND over the long term, improving your diet and habits can also have a huge positive impact on your life . It can also help certain health conditions like ED due to obesity, too little exercise, or another physical health issue.
HOWEVER, it’s important to put the effects of an erection-friendly diet in context. Eating more spinach is generally a good thing for your erectile health, but improving your diet won’t cause your ED to immediately disappear. Similarly, there may be some celery benefits sexually but the research is iffy.
SO, you may need more help. Currently, the most effective way to treat ED is through the use of medications like sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®) and others.
We offer many of these ED medications online, following a consultation with a healthcare professional who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
They’ll be able to work with you and provide information about ED medications and other techniques that you can use to treat erectile dysfunction and improve your sexual performance.
Listen to your stomach when you’re hungry, but make sure to see if your penis is asking for help too — what’s an extra salad when it comes to having great sex?