table of contents
If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
There are many safe and effective treatments for erectile dysfunction (ED), including erectile dysfunction pills, penis pumps, cock rings, implants––you name it. But, if you’re looking for an alternative to ED medication to improve your sex life, you might wonder if there are foods that help you stay erect. The answer is complicated: yes and no.
Maintaining a diet that supports a healthy heart and improves blood flow can bolster your erections. Food alone won’t work the same way medications like Viagra do, but a healthy diet may help prevent diseases that can contribute to sexual dysfunction.
If you have erectile dysfunction or want to improve your sexual performance, these foods may help you have better erections and a more satisfying sex life.
Can foods help erectile dysfunction?
While no one food instantly fixes erectile dysfunction (ED), long-term dietary choices play an essential role in helping you get an erection. ED is a complex condition that makes it hard to get or keep an erection long enough for satisfying sex.
Erections are all about blood flow; if you notice you’re not getting as hard as you used to or can’t maintain an erection, it could indicate a more significant issue with blood flow in your body. Sometimes, the problem is with the blood vessels that carry blood to your penis; studies have found a link between atherosclerosis (plaque buildup on artery walls) and ED (Tsujimura, 2017).
Diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity are all risk factors for atherosclerosis commonly seen in people with ED (Ibrahim, 2018). Eating a diet high in added sugars, trans fats, and processed foods contributes to these health issues (and increases the likelihood of erection problems) (Selvin, 2007).
Other times, heart problems make blood flow to the penis less effective, preventing optimal erections. Avoiding foods that contribute to heart disease and staying focused on maintaining a heart-healthy diet may help with ED, too.
And while there isn’t much research on specific foods helping prevent ED, some vitamins and amino acids like folic acid and L-arginine have been shown to increase blood flow and may improve erectile strength for some people (Zhang, 2021).
Best food for erectile dysfunction
Foods that stimulate blood flow or increase testosterone production may help support your sexual health and curb erection problems like ED. Here are eight of the best foods for erectile dysfunction.
Red and pink fruits like tomatoes and watermelon are full of lycopene, a natural antioxidant that gives ruby-colored foods their rich hues. Nutrients like these may prevent erectile problems by lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease and reducing oxidative stress, which is prominent in diabetes (another contributor to ED).
One study in diabetic rats evaluated lycopene as a treatment for ED and found that it may help (Gao, 2012). While more research is necessary to determine if these results would also apply to humans, adding lycopene-rich foods to your diet won’t hurt.
Tomatoes, in particular, are a great source of lycopene, which is also linked to better sperm production. Research suggests that eating tomatoes may lower the risk of prostate cancer and support overall sexual health (Xu, 2016). Other foods rich in lycopene include pink grapefruit, papaya, and guava.
2. Leafy greens
There’s evidence that low levels of folic acid (vitamin B9) are associated with moderate to severe erectile dysfunction. Many people who experience ED or premature ejaculation may be lacking in folic acid (Karabaken, 2016; Yan, 2014).
And while we currently only have animal studies to prove it, research has found that giving rabbits with diabetes folic acid improved their erectile function (Shukla, 2008).
Foods with the highest amounts of folate include asparagus, spinach, and brussels sprouts. Other good sources of folic acid include (NIH, 2021):
- Dairy products
Cayenne, jalapeño, and chili peppers all contain capsaicin, the ingredient that gives spicy peppers their heat. Capsaicin is a highly useful compound with many folk medicinal uses like treating arthritis pain, healing wounds, and even restoring hair health (Basith, 2016).
But what does the science show? One small study comparing intraurethral capsaicin injections (injections of a capsaicin solution directly into the urethra) to a placebo found that the spicy-hot chemical improved erectile function for those men. Still, we wouldn’t recommend injecting hot sauce into your penis just yet (Lazzeri, 1994).
Eating sweet peppers (like bell peppers) might be a better idea. They’re full of antioxidants called flavonoids that support heart health and circulation. Flavonoids may also be associated with fewer erectile problems. One study found that men who ate flavonoid-rich fruits had a 14% reduced risk of ED (Cassidy, 2016).
Other dietary sources of flavonoids include tea, wine (not too much), apples, soybeans, onions, and cherries (Janabi, 2020).
4. Oysters and other omega-3s
Seafood (oysters in particular) have been labeled aphrodisiacs (a food that stimulates sexual desire). And while that may be an old wives’ tale, these foods are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats are tied to many benefits for your heart and potentially libido (sex drive). One study found that these natural fatty acids improved erectile function in rats, although more research is needed (Shim, 2016).
Shellfish also may aid sexual function due to their high zinc content. Zinc levels significantly affect testosterone, a hormone crucial to male sexual health.
A handful of nuts won’t solve all your problems, but research suggests regular nut consumption may help you stay erect.
Nuts contain high amounts of L-arginine, an amino acid used to make nitric oxide. This gas plays a critical role in getting and maintaining erections by relaxing smooth muscles in the penis and letting blood flow in (Burnett, 2007).
Studies suggest that supplementing a healthy diet (like the Mediterranean diet, for instance) with mixed nuts improves sexual function in men (Salas-Huetos, 2019). Walnuts, almonds, and pecans are all good options for heart-healthy nuts.
We know that caffeine has benefits like improving blood flow. And as you’ve gathered from this article, better blood flow equals better erections. So does that mean a cup of caffeinated coffee is the missing link? Maybe, maybe not.
Researchers have found some connections between caffeine intake and ED. In one study, men who drank around 2–3 cups of coffee a day (a caffeine intake of 170–375 mg) had lower rates of ED. That said, the evidence wasn’t super clear, and the results didn’t hold true for people with diabetes (Lopez, 2015).
Don’t expect your healthcare provider to write you a prescription for a cappuccino any time soon.
7. Dark chocolate
Moderation definitely applies to this one, but yes, dark chocolate is among foods that may help you get an erection.
Remember flavonoids? These antioxidants are linked to a reduced risk of ED and aren’t limited to fruits and vegetables. Believe it or not, cocoa has one of the highest flavonoid contents of any food (Katz, 2011).
That means products that contain cocoa (like dark chocolate) may support sexual function. There’s a catch with this one, though: you have to choose chocolate with a minimum of 70% cocoa to reap any benefits. Milk and white chocolate are high in fat and added sugars, which can lead to negative health outcomes.
Worst foods for erectile dysfunction
If there’s a list of the best foods for erectile dysfunction, there’s also a list of the worst. A poor diet on its own is unlikely to cause ED, but it is also a risk factor for medical conditions that lead to erectile dysfunction.
Here are some of the worst foods for erectile dysfunction:
- Fried foods: Sadly, some of the best-tasting foods are the worst for us. Trans and saturated fats found in many fried and processed foods up the levels of “bad” cholesterol. Eating too much unhealthy fats also contribute to atherosclerosis, impacting blood flow to the penis (Monguchi, 2017).
- Foods with added sugar: The trick with sugar is to get it from whole, natural sources like fruit. Consuming too many sweet drinks and foods with added sugar can wreak havoc on blood sugar levels. High blood sugar can speed up the progression of atherosclerosis and lead to other health conditions like diabetes that can harm blood vessels and nerves crucial for getting and maintaining an erection (Aronson, 2002).
- Alcohol: Many people have erection problems after too much alcohol. Chronic drinking messes with testosterone levels and blood circulation. Lots of people have experienced the effects of one drink too many on their sexual performance, a condition aptly named “whiskey dick.” Alcohol may have additional side effects that impact sexual health, like lowering sex drive or contributing to premature ejaculation (Arackal, 2007).
Lifestyle habits to improve sexual health
Along with healthy eating, there are a number of lifestyle changes you can implement to alleviate ED. Here are some things that are good for erections and have overall health benefits:
- Practice strategies to reduce stress
- Exercise regularly
- Keep hydrated
- Cut back on alcohol
- Stop smoking
There are no magic foods guaranteed to give you better erections. However, a balanced diet does lower the chances of developing conditions like diabetes and high cholesterol, which are known to play a role in erectile function.
Eating heart-healthy foods and adopting lifestyle habits like the ones above are all steps you can take to support overall health and achieve a more satisfying sex life.
- Arackal, B. S. & Benegal, V. (2007). Prevalence of sexual dysfunction in male subjects with alcohol dependence. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 49(2), 109–112. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.33257. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2917074/
- Aronson, D. & Rayfield, E. J. (2002). How hyperglycemia promotes atherosclerosis: molecular mechanisms. Cardiovasc Diabetology, 1, 1. doi:10.1186/1475-2840-1-1. Retrieved from https://cardiab.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2840-1-1
- Basith, S., Cui, M., Hong, S., & Choi, S. (2016). Harnessing the therapeutic potential of capsaicin and its analogues in pain and other diseases. Molecules, 21(8), 966. doi:10.3390/molecules21080966. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6272969/
- Burnett, A. L. (2007). The role of nitric oxide in erectile dysfunction: implications for medical therapy. The Journal of Clinical Hypertension, 8(12), 53-62. doi:10.1111/j.1524-6175.2006.06026.x. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1524-6175.2006.06026.x
- Cassidy, A., Franz, M., & Rimm, E. B. (2016). Dietary flavonoid intake and incidence of erectile dysfunction. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 103(2), 534–541. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.122010. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26762373/
- Gao, J. X., Li, Y., Zhang, H. Y., et al. (2012). Lycopene ameliorates erectile dysfunction in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Pharmazie, 67(3), 256-259. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22530309/
- Ibrahim, A., Ali, M., Kiernan, T. J., & Stack, A. G. (2018). Erectile dysfunction and ischaemic heart disease. European Cardiology, 13(2), 98–103. doi:10.15420/ecr.2017.21.3. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6331774/
- Janabi, A. H. W., Kamboh, A. A., Saeed, M., et al. (2020). Flavonoid-rich foods (FRF): A promising nutraceutical approach against lifespan-shortening diseases. Iran Journal of Basic Medicine Science, 23(2), 140-153. doi:10.22038/IJBMS.2019.35125.8353. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7211351/
- Karabakan, M., Erkmen, A. E., Guzel, O., et al. (2016). Association between serum folic acid level and erectile dysfunction. Andrologia, 48(5), 532–535. doi:10.1111/and.12474. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26302884/
- Katz, D. L., Doughty, K., & Ali, A. (2011). Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, 15(10), 2779–2811. doi:10.1089/ars.2010.3697. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4696435/
- Lazzeri, M., Barbanti, G., Beneforti, P., & Turini, D. (1994). Intraurethrally infused capsaicin induces penile erection in humans. Scandinavian Journal of Urology and Nephrology, 28(4), 409–412. doi:10.3109/00365599409180522. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7886417/
- Lopez, D. S., Wang, R., Tsilidis, K. K., et al. (2015). Role of caffeine intake on erectile dysfunction in US men: results from NHANES 2001-2004. PLOS One, 10(4). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0123547. Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/metrics?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0123547#
- Marventano, S., Vetrani, C., Vitale, M., et al. (2017). Whole grain intake and glycaemic control in healthy subjects: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutrients, 9(7), 769. doi:10.3390/nu9070769. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5537883/
- Monguchi, T., Hara, T., Hasokawa, M., et al. (2017). Excessive intake of trans fatty acid accelerates atherosclerosis through promoting inflammation and oxidative stress in a mouse model of hyperlipidemia. Journal of Cardiology, 70(2), 121–127. doi:10.1016/j.jjcc.2016.12.012. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0914508717300151
- National Institutes of Health (NIH). (2021). Folate. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/
- Salas-Huetos, A., Muralidharan, J., Galiè, S., et al. (2019). Effect of nut consumption on erectile and sexual function in healthy males: A secondary outcome analysis of the FERTINUTS randomized controlled trial. Nutrients, 11(6), 1372. doi:10.3390/nu11061372. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627592/
- Selvin, E., Burnett, A. L., & Platz, E. A. (2007). Prevalence and risk factors for erectile dysfunction in the US. The American Journal of Medicine, 120(2), 151-157. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2006.06.010. Retrieved from https://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(06)00689-9/fulltext
- Shim, J. S., Kim, D. H., Bae, J. H., & Moon, D. (2016). Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on erectile dysfunction in a rat model of atherosclerosis-induced chronic pelvic ischemia. Journal of Korean Medical Science, 31(4), 585–589. doi:10.3346/jkms.2016.31.4.585. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4810342/
- Shukla, N., Hotston, M., Persad, R., et al. (2008). The administration of folic acid improves erectile function and reduces intracavernosal oxidative stress in the diabetic rabbit. BJU International, 103(1), 98-103. doi:10.1111/j.1464-410x.2008.07911.x. Retrieved from https://bjui-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1464-410X.2008.07911.x
- Tsujimura, A., Hiramatsu, I., Aoki, Y., et al. (2017). Atherosclerosis is associated with erectile function and lower urinary tract symptoms, especially nocturia, in middle-aged men. Prostate International, 5(2), 65–69. doi:10.1016/j.prnil.2017.01.006. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5448724/
- Waheed Janabi, A. H., Kamboh, A. A., Saeed, M., et al. (2020). Flavonoid-rich foods (FRF): A promising nutraceutical approach against lifespan-shortening diseases. Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences, 23(2), 140–153. doi:10.22038/IJBMS.2019.35125.8353. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7211351/
- Xu, X., Li, J., Wang, X., et al. (2016). Tomato consumption and prostate cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 6, 37091. doi:10.1038/srep37091. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5107915/
- Yan, W. J., Yu, N., Yin, T. L., et al. (2014). A new potential risk factor in patients with erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation: folate deficiency. Asian Journal of Andrology, 16(6), 902–906. doi:10.4103/1008-682X.135981. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4236337/
- Zhang, Y., Zhang, W., Dai, Y., et al. (2021). Serum folic acid and erectile dysfunction: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sexual Medicine, 9(3), 100356. doi:10.1016/j.esxm.2021.100356. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34051538/
Dr. Chimene Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and Senior Medical Writer/Reviewer at Ro.