Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/22/2021
Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is a common condition in which you may find it difficult to develop or maintain an erection. Although ED is often associated with age, it can affect men of all ages.
In fact, 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.
Currently, the most effective way to treat ED is through the use of medications like sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®) and others.
However, making changes to your habits, lifestyle and diet can also help to improve your sexual performance and make it easier to get and keep an erection.
Below, we’ve listed foods that may help to treat erectile dysfunction by improving cardiovascular health, increasing blood flow and boosting your body’s production of sex-related hormones such as testosterone.
We’ve also explained how making other lifestyle changes can improve your erectile health and make dealing with ED an easier process.
Before we get into the specifics of using food to treat ED, it’s important to put the advice below in context.
ED can vary hugely in severity. For example, some men with ED can sometimes get hard with few or no issues but occasionally struggle with erectile dysfunction.
Others have persistent or ED that prevents them from getting an erection at any time.
If you have mild to moderate ED, making changes to your diet and lifestyle may make it easier for you to get an erection.
If you couple dietary changes with improvements to your health, you may notice a lasting positive effect on your sexual performance.
However, if you have severe or persistent ED, changing your diet isn’t likely to be as effective as proven, science-based medication.
As such, it’s important to put the dietary side of treating ED into context. Changing your diet can and likely will help you to improve your erectile health.
However, if your ED is severe, it’s best to think of it as one aspect of the treatment and improvement process.
We’ve talked more about the other steps in the process, including medications for ED, in our full guide to erectile dysfunction symptoms, causes and treatments.
Getting an erection seems simple. After all, when you’re sexually aroused and stimulated, it’s just something that happens naturally.
However, behind the scenes, a complicated, multi-stage process involving your brain, vascular system, and penis is involved in producing and maintaining every erection you get.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, erections start with stimulation. This may involve physical contact with someone else or visual sexual stimuli in the form of porn.
In response to sexual stimulation, impulses from your brain and nerves cause blood to flow into the soft erectile tissue of your penis, called the corpora cavernosa.
As blood flows in, pressure builds, causing your penis to increase in size and become firmer.
At the same time, the tunica albuginea — a fibrous membrane that surrounds the erectile tissue of your penis — contracts, trapping blood inside your penis and allowing you to stay hard during sex.
Since blood flow plays such a major role in the process of getting and maintaining an erection, preventing ED is all about maintaining good cardiovascular health.
It’s also about avoiding any health issues that may increase your risk of developing ED.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, these health issues include being overweight or obese, smoking, not staying physically active, drinking too much alcohol, using certain types of medication or having a health condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension) or atherosclerosis (clogged arteries).
Numerous foods may help to improve erectile health and help with erectile dysfunction, either by improving blood flow or increasing testosterone production.
We’ve listed these foods below, along with more information on how each can help and how you can incorporate it into your diet.
Spinach, lettuce and several other vegetables are rich in nitrates — natural chemical compounds that have a vasodilating effect, according to the African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Traditional Medicines.
As published in Anesthesiology, nitrates affect a process called the nitrate‐nitrite‐nitric oxide pathway, in which nitrates in some types of food are recycled in blood and tissue to produce nitric oxide, an important molecule for your vascular health and blood flow.
By promoting blood flow, the nitrates in spinach and other vegetables may increase blood flow to the penis and treat the physical side of erectile dysfunction, according to Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy.
Most vegetables 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, with root vegetables and fruit vegetables containing lower amounts.
Oysters and other shellfish are rich in zinc — an essential mineral that’s linked to higher levels of testosterone.
As the primary male sex hormone, testosterone plays a key role in your sexual functioning as a man, according to Baylor University Medical Center.
When your testosterone levels are low, you may feel less interested in sex and experience issues like erectile dysfunction.
Research published in Nutrition shows that zinc supplementation may play a role in an increase in testosterone levels in men.
Zinc can be found in a wide variety of foods. Overall, oysters contain by far the highest levels of zinc of any common food.
In fact, according to the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, a single serving of oysters contains 673 percent of the daily reference intake for zinc.
Other foods that contain zinc include crab, lobster, beef, pork, beans, chicken, fortified breakfast cereals, chickpeas and pumpkin seeds. Zinc is also commonly available as a supplement.
L-arginine is an amino acid that’s found in meat and other sources of protein. According to Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology, it's used to create nitric oxide, an essential component of the smooth muscle relaxation that allows you to get and maintain an erection when you’re sexually aroused.
The journal Nutrients says you can find l-arginine in most protein-rich foods, including many types of red meat, poultry and seafood.
It’s also found in dairy and nuts. L-arginine is also widely available as a supplement for athletic performance and general wellbeing.
Research, including a study published in Andrology, has noted that men with ED often have low levels of l-arginine.
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 to regain normal sexual performance over the course of several months.
While most of us view chocolate as a treat rather than a medicinal food, dark types of chocolate may offer benefits if you have ED.
Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found that a higher intake of foods that are rich in flavonoids (naturally-occurring plant chemicals with antioxidant effects) is associated with a reduced risk of developing erectile dysfunction.
Flavonoids are found in numerous common foods, including nuts and tea leaves. However, one of the food types with the highest flavonoid content is cocoa according to a study published in Antioxidants & Redox Signaling. Because of this, foods based on cocoa such as dark chocolate are rich, delicious sources of flavonoids.
In addition to chocolate, research in the Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences says that other flavonoid-rich foods include nuts, whole grains and many common fruits and vegetables. You can also find flavonoids in red wine and many types of tea.
While eating chocolate in excess obviously isn’t a good idea for your general health, eating one or two small pieces of dark chocolate each day is unlikely to hurt, all while potentially helping to maintain healthy blood flow and erections.
According to a study in Frontiers in Pharmacology, tomatoes, watermelon, guavas, papaya and other fruits are all great sources of lycopene — an important plant-based nutrient that has antioxidant properties.
Lycopene is associated with several health benefits, including improved vascular function 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.
For example, one 2012 study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that lycopene restored erectile function in male rats with ED.
Another animal study published in PLOS found that lycopene may have certain benefits for cardiovascular health — an important component of erectile function.
While these studies are interesting, it’s important to remember that findings from animal studies don’t always translate into the same effects in humans.
Many fruits and vegetables are also rich in other nutrients and compounds that may help to treat ED.
For example, watermelon contains the amino acid L-citrulline, which is linked to a variety of vascular health benefits.
In a scientific review published in 2017 in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, researchers found that L-citrulline supplementation can increase nitric oxide levels, reduce blood pressure and improve flow to blood vessels.
Another limited study of 13 people from found that a combination of L-citrulline and resveratrol improved erectile function in men who used PDE5 inhibitors (medications like sildenafil or tadalafil) to treat ED.
Avocados are rich in dietary fiber and healthy fats that can contribute to better cardiovascular health and blood flow.
Research published in Frontiers in Nutrition has found that avocados may help to lower levels of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, a form of cholesterol that can clog arteries and affect blood flow.
Avocados contain a bit of zinc, an essential mineral that’s associated with an increased level of testosterone production in research.
Finally, according to a small study in the Journal of Reproductive Systems, avocados contain small amounts of vitamin E and selenium, both of which are linked to improvements in sperm motility, semen quality and male fertility.
While there’s no direct scientific research on avocados and erectile dysfunction, these effects could make avocados a good addition to your diet for improved fertility and sexual wellness.
As we’ve discussed in our full guide to caffeine and ED, there may be a link between coffee and erectile health, although research on this topic is mixed overall.
A study published in PLOS One in 2015 analyzed the relationship between coffee drinking and erectile dysfunction. As part of the study, 3,724 men aged 20 and above were surveyed about their eating and drinking habits, as well as their 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.
A different study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2018, on the other hand, 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).
In short, the jury is still out on whether or not coffee improves ED. While some research shows that it may have some impact on erectile health and sexual performance, other studies haven’t found a significant correlation.
Although it’s not a food per se, research shows that the foods that make up the Mediterranean diet are generally a good option for improving cardiovascular wellbeing, blood flow and erectile health.
There’s even some research from the American Heart Association showing that following the Mediterranean diet may lower risk factors of certain diseases that may have an association with developing ED.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in 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.
It also emphasizes limiting simple sugars, salt, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats and heavily processed or fatty meats.
Since the Mediterranean diet is ideal for reducing your risk of cardiovascular health issues, it may be a good choice for optimizing your sexual performance and erectile health.
A review of four clinical trials published by the Central European Journal of Urology in 2017 found that adherence to a Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of developing ED.
The researchers noted that the Mediterranean diet’s positive effects on antioxidants, lipids and glucose metabolism, as well as its effects on arginine levels may increase levels of nitric oxide in the body to protect against ED.
Although one food is unlikely to cause erectile dysfunction, a pattern of unhealthy eating can contribute to various circulatory and metabolic syndromes which may lead to erectile dysfunction.
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.
If your arteries are clogged, reduced circulation could not only affect your heart but also your ability to achieve and maintain an erection, according to Wayne University School of Medicine.
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 BMI.
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 it will affect your sexual health.
In addition to affecting your ability to achieve and maintain an erection, 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—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.
In addition to these foods, overconsumption of alcohol may also have a negative impact on your sexual health and function.
One study by the Indian Journal of Psychiatry showed that 72% of men who are dependent on alcohol had one or more sexual dysfunction disorder including premature ejaculation, low sexual desire, or erectile dysfunction.
Excessive alcohol consumption can also inhibit blood flow to the penis, reducing sensation and your ability to achieve and maintain an erection.
In our blog, we talk about how low testosterone can affect your interest in sex, which may affect your overall sexual experience and pleasure.
Some foods that may have a negative effect on your testosterone levels include the following:
Processed meat and foods high in fatty acid
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 science-based, FDA-approved medication. Options include:
Vardenafil. The active ingredient in Levitra®, vardenafil can provide relief from ED for slightly longer than sildenafil.
Avanafil. Sold at Stendra®, avanafil is a newer ED medication that’s fast-acting and less likely to cause certain side effects than older medications.
We offer many of these ED medications online, following a consultation with a healthcare professional who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
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. For example, 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. Exercising regularly, along with eating a healthy diet, encourages weight loss, which plays a major role in helping you maintain a healthy body weight.
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. Our guide to quitting smoking goes into more detail on your options for quitting tobacco, dealing with nicotine cravings and staying smoke-free over the long term.
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.
If you have erectile dysfunction, 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.
Over the long term, improving your diet and habits can also have a huge positive impact on your life as a whole, especially if you’re currently experiencing ED due to obesity, too little exercise, or another physical health issue.
With this said, it’s important to put the effects of an erection-friendly diet in context. While eating more spinach or avocados is generally a good thing for your erectile health, improving your diet, for the most part, won’t cause your ED to immediately disappear.
If you have moderate or severe ED, it’s best to get medical advice from a licensed healthcare provider.
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.
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