Can Diet Cure ED?
For most men, a change in diet will not cure erectile dysfunction… but it can help to lessen the symptoms and the progression of ED1.
The most common cause of ED is cardio-vascular problems (see our article on Causes of Erectile Dysfunction). In these cases, improving your circulation with a heart-healthy diet can certainly lessen the effects of ED. Note that diet will not help with non-vascular causes of ED, such as nerve damage or venous leaks.
Most physicians recommend plenty of exercise, and a Mediterranean diet. If you are not accustomed to regular exercise, talk to your doctor to be sure your heart is healthy enough, and to plan an exercise program to get you started.
Note that diet and exercise can also play a role in treating low testosterone levels.
The Mediterranean Diet for Erectile Dysfunction
The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy and tasty way to eat, and it has been shown to help men with erectile dysfunction2. Studies have also shown that the diet can alleviate depression… which itself can be a cause of ED3.
The basics of the Mediterranean diet are simple:
- Meals should be plant-based, consisting of mostly fruits, vegetables, and whole grain bread, pasta, and cereals. Healthy options include:
- Leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens), brocolli, carrots.
- Legumes (kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and lima beans).
- Sweet potatoes or yams.
- Limit meat portions to roughly 4 ounces (the size of a deck of playing cards).
- Substitute fish or poultry for red meat. Eat fish at least twice a week, and red meet no more than once a week. Avoid sausage, bacon, and other fatty meats.
- For snacks, choose small portions of almonds, cashews, pistachios walnuts, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, or vegetables. You can also spread natural peanut butter (no hydrogenated fat added) or tahini on whole-grain crackers.
- Use olive oil or canola oil as a healthy alternative to butter or margarine.
- Choose low-fat dairy product, including skim milk, fat-free yogurt and low-fat cheese.
- Season your meals with herbs and spices instead of salt.
- Limit alcohol consumption to no more than 10 ounces of red wine per day (5 ounces for men over 65).
- Avoid refined sugar, sweetened drinks, or fruits packed in syrup.
- If you smoke, STOP!
Special Foods for Erectile Dysfunction
If you search the Internet, you’ll find lists of specific foods that are supposed to be good for erectile dysfunction. We’ve researched this topic extensively, searching databases of clinical studies, and found no evidence that these foods provide significant benefits from men with ED. (We suspect that most of the sites on the web are simply copying lists from one another.)
To clarify this, many of these foods are heart-healthy and beneficial, but there is no evidence that they actually have significant benefits for men with ED.
For example, you’ll often hear that watermelon is a great remedy for ED. This belief seems to come from a study done in 20074, which showed that consuming watermelon could raised levels of L-arginine in the bloodstream. L-arginine is used in the production of nitric oxide (NO), which is a key to healthy erections (see our article, “How Do Erections Work“). However, the study did not show that consuming watermelon actually improved erections. Also, the subjects consumed the equivalent of three eight-ounce glasses of watermelon juice per day!
Nevertheless, there is no harm in adding these foods to a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, so we’ve included the list below:
Watermelon. As noted above, watermelon may raise levels of L-arginine in the bloodstream, and increase production of nitric oxides. Watermelon is also rich in antioxidants.
Leafy greens (celery, spinach, kale) and beets may increase circulation because of their high concentration of nitrates. Nitrates are vasodilators, which means they open up blood vessels and increase blood flow.
Salmon and other fatty fish. Fatty fish are good sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and may boost nitric oxide production.
Dark Chocolate. Flavinoids have been linked directly to improved circulation, and a small reduction in the incidence of ED5. However, the processing used to produce commercial chocolate removes most of the flavinoids6. The reduced flavinoids, and added sugar and fat can make dark chocolate a less-the-healthy choice7.
Walnuts. Walnuts contain L-arginine, which is used in the production of nitric oxide. However, most of the L-arginine is broken down during the digestive process, and little reaches the bloodstream.
Pistachios. A study in 2011 concluded that eating three to four ounces of pistachio nuts per day improved ED8. However, there was no control group in the study, so the improvements may have been due to a placebo effect.
Pink Grapefruit, Tomatoes. Both contain high concentrations of lycopene, which improves circulation. There is no direct evidence that this improves ED.
Coffee / Caffeine. A study found that men who consume the equivalent of 2-3 cups of coffee per day have a 39% lower incidence of erectile dysfunction than men who do not drink coffee9. Although the study showed a correlation between drinking coffee and a lowered incidence of ED, it did not demonstrate a causative relationship. Note that consuming larger amounts of coffee can raise stress and adrenaline levels, and can actually contribute to ED.
- Hehemann, Marah C.; Kashanian, James A. “Can lifestyle modification affect men’s erectile function?” Translational Andrology and Urology. Apr 2016; 5(2): 187–194. doi: 10.21037/tau.2016.02.05
- Di Francesco, Simona; Tenaglia, Raffaele Lanfranco. “Mediterranean diet and erectile dysfunction: a current perspective.” Central European Journal of Urology. Jun 2017; 70(2): 185–187
- Jacka, Felice N.; O’Neil, Adrienne; Opie, Rachelle; Itsiopoulos, Catherine; Cotton, Sue; Mohebbi, Mohammedreza; Castle, David; Dash, Sarah; Mihalopoulos, Cathrine; Chatterton, Mary Lou; Brazionis, Laima; Dean, Olivia M; Hodge Allison M; Berk, Michael. “A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression.” BMC Medicine. Jan 2017.
- Wu, Guoyao; Collins, Julie K; Perkins-Veazie, Penelope; Siddiq, Muhammad; Dolan, Kirk D; Kelly, Katherine A; Heaps, Cristine L; Meininger, Cynthia J. “Dietary Supplementation with Watermelon Pomace Juice Enhances Arginine Availability and Ameliorates the Metabolic Syndrome in Zucker Diabetic Fatty Rats.” The Journal of Nutrition. Dec 2007. Volume 137, Issue 12, Pages 2680–2685.
- Cassidy, Aedín Franz, Mary; Rimm, Eric B. “Dietary flavonoid intake and incidence of erectile dysfunction.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Jan 2016. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.122010.
- Di Mattia, Carla D; Sacchetti, Giampiero; Mastrocola, Dino; Serafini, Mauro. “From Cocoa to Chocolate: The Impact of Processing on In Vitro Antioxidant Activity and the Effects of Chocolate on Antioxidant Markers.” Frontiers in Immunology. Sep 2017. 8: 1207.
- “The Devil in Dark Chocolate,” The Lancet. Dec 2007.
- Aldemir, M; Okulu, E; Neşelioğlu, S; Erel, O; Kayıgil, O. “Pistachio diet improves erectile function parameters and serum lipid profiles in patients with erectile dysfunction.” International Journal of Impotence Research. Jan-Feb 2011. 23(1):32-8. doi: 10.1038/ijir.2010.33.
- Lopez, D S; Wang, R; Tsilidis K K; Zhu, H; Daniel, C R; Sinha, A; Canfield S. “Role of Caffeine Intake on Erectile Dysfunction in US Men: Results from NHANES 2001-2004.” PLOS ONE. Apr 2015. 10(4):e0123547. doi: 10.1371