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What Foods Help You Get Hard: 8 Foods For Erectile Dysfunction

Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Reviewed by Kelly Brown, MD

Written by Geoffrey Whittaker

Published 02/02/2021

Updated 03/06/2024

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.

But, making changes to your habits, lifestyle and diet can also improve your sexual performance and make it easier to get and keep an erection.

Yes, foods might be able to help play a role in managing erectile dysfunction — they potentially do so by improving cardiovascular health, increasing blood flow and supporting your body’s production of essential hormones.

It’s impressive that by making dietary shifts, you can make yourself healthier and stronger and maybe your erections as well.

Below, we’ve outlined how foods do it, which foods to eat and some ways to address ED once you’re done with your meal.

Choose your chew

Add a boost to your sex life with our new chewable formats

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 is important for overall health and might help both types of men and those in-between, but will likely 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 can be an important part of making it 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 management on a list of several useful ones.

Either way, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider to discuss the best holistic plan to address your ED. In some cases, dietary changes only have an effect in the long term — meaning you need to shift your diet long-term in order to see a potential benefit (you can’t just eat a food and expect it to correct your ED an hour later). In other cases, diet may only help if you have an actual vitamin or mineral deficiency that’s contributing to your ED, which can be rare.

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.

Choose your chew

Add a boost to your sex life with our new chewable formats

The reason the following foods might be helpful isn't because they're delicious or sexy (you wouldn’t say that about protein powder, for instance), but because they contribute to overall cardiovascular health or 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 production, but the following foods might all play a role in helping 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

  • Avocados

  • Coffee

  • The foods of the Mediterranean diet

Now let’s look at why these foods are what your erection might be craving.

Spinach, Lettuce & Other Nitrate-Rich Vegetables

Your dick isn’t Popeye, but guzzling spinach might have a similar 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, and folic acid deficiency may be associated with ED severity.

Oysters & Other Shellfish

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 testosterone levels.

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 supplementation may play a role in increasing testosterone levels in men who are deficient, meaning it could help you get hard if a zinc deficiency is hindering your testosterone production.

Zinc can be found in a wide variety of foods, including:

  • Crab

  • Lobster

  • Beef

  • Pork

  • Beans

  • Chicken

  • Fortified breakfast cereals

  • Chickpeas

  • Pumpkin seeds

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.

Proteins Like Meat, Dairy, Nuts and Supplements

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.

L-arginine is used to create nitric oxide (we already mentioned how that’s important). But research has noted that men with ED often have low levels of L-arginine 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:

  • Red meat

  • 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

Cocoa, Dark Chocolate, Nuts & Other Flavonoid-Rich Foods

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 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.

Flavonoids are found in many common foods, including:

  • Nuts

  • Tea and tea leaves

  • Cocoa

  • Dark chocolate

  • Whole grains like oats

  • Fruits like oranges, blueberries, apples and peaches

  • Vegetables like carrots and chili peppers

  • Red wine

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.

Tomatoes, Watermelon & Other Lycopene-Rich Fruits

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.

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 diabetes and 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 with 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 may increase nitric oxide levels, reduce blood pressure and improve flow to blood vessels.

Learn about another fruit with potential benefits in our blog on the surprising sexual benefits of mangos.


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 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, zinc deficiency associated with ED severity), 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 two to three 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).

The Mediterranean Diet

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.

And it even includes ingredients like turmeric, olive oil and lemon juice, which might also benefit your general 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.

Choose your chew

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.

Saturated Fats

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 can lead to higher levels of “bad” (artery-clogging) cholesterol in the blood.

Consuming saturated animal fats and trans fats 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.

If your arteries are clogged, reduced circulation could not only affect your heart but also your ability to achieve and maintain an erection.

You should also avoid fatty foods when taking Viagra, but that’s another story.


Sorry to tell you this, but a sweet tooth can eventually 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.


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.

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 oral erectile dysfunction treatments include:

  • Sildenafil. The active ingredient in Viagra, sildenafil (generic Viagra) provides relief from ED for around four hours.

  • Tadalafil. The active ingredient in Cialis®, tadalafil is a long-lasting medication that can provide relief from ED for up to 36 hours.

  • 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.

There are other treatments for ED as well, including the injectable medication, alprostadil, and the recently FDA-authorized, non-prescription topical gel, Eroxon.

Additional Healthy Habits to Improve Sexual Performance

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 healthy 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.

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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 help manage with diet, keep the following in mind:

  • YES, adding certain foods to your diet may 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 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?

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Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Kelly Brown MD, MBA
Kelly Brown, MD

Dr. Kelly Brown is a board certified Urologist and fellowship trained in Andrology. She is an accomplished men’s health expert with a robust background in healthcare innovation, clinical medicine, and academic research. Dr. Brown is a founding member of Posterity Health where she is Medical Director and leads strategy and design of their Digital Health Platform, an innovative education and telehealth model for delivering expert male fertility care.

She completed her undergraduate studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (go Heels!) with a Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Science and a Minor in Chemistry. She took a position at University of California Los Angeles as a radiologic technologist in the department of Interventional Cardiology, further solidifying her passion for medicine. She also pursued the unique opportunity to lead departmental design and operational development at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, sparking her passion for the business of healthcare.

Dr. Brown then went on to obtain her doctorate in medicine from the prestigious Northwestern University - Feinberg School of Medicine and Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management, with a concentration in Healthcare Management. During her surgical residency in Urology at University of California San Francisco, she utilized her research year to focus on innovations in telemedicine and then served as chief resident with significant contributions to clinical quality improvement. Dr. Brown then completed her Andrology Fellowship at Medical College of Wisconsin, furthering her expertise in male fertility, microsurgery, and sexual function.

Her dedication to caring for patients with compassion, understanding, as well as a unique ability to make guys instantly comfortable discussing anything from sex to sperm makes her a renowned clinician. In addition, her passion for innovation in healthcare combined with her business acumen makes her a formidable leader in the field of men’s health.

Dr. Brown is an avid adventurer; summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (twice!) and hiking the incredible Torres del Paine Trek in Patagonia, Chile. She deeply appreciates new challenges and diverse cultures on her travels. She lives in Denver with her husband, two children, and beloved Bernese Mountain Dog. You can find Dr. Brown on LinkedIn for more information.

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