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.
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.
These 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 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.
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.
Most vegetables contain nitrates. Research 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. When your testosterone levels are low, you may feel less interested in sex and experience issues like erectile dysfunction.
Research shows that zinc supplementation is associated with 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, 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. 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.
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.
Another study from 2003 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 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. Because of this, foods based on cocoa such as dark chocolate are rich, delicious sources of flavonoids.
In addition to chocolate, other flavonoid-rich foods include nuts, 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.
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 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 study published in 2012 found that lycopene restored erectile function in male rats with ED.
Another animal study 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, researchers found that L-citrulline supplementation can increase nitric oxide levels, reduce blood pressure and improve blood flow.
Another study 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 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 are also rich in zinc, an essential mineral that’s associated with an increased level of testosterone production in research.
Finally, 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 health.
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 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 showing that following the Mediterranean diet may lower your risk of 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 in 2017 found that adherence to a Mediterranean diet is linked to a reduced 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.
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 habits to improve your sexual performance and reduce your risk of ED:
Making other changes to your lifestyle, such as reducing stress and treating underlying medical issues such as high blood pressure, 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.
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:
We offer many of these 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.
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 talk to 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.