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Can Diet and Exercise Cure Erectile Dysfunction?


If you search the Internet, you’ll find lists of specific foods that are supposed to be good for erectile dysfunction.  The evidence to support the claims is pretty weak.  Even in cases where studies shown positive results, the improvements are small. 

There are no “magic bullets.” There is no special food that will significantly improve erectile dysfunction.

However, most men can lessen the symptoms and the progression of erectile dysfunction – and in some cases even reverse ED – with lifestyle changes including diet and exercise1 2 3.  In fact, diet and exercise may well be the best natural means to fight erectile dysfunction.   

The most common cause of ED is a cardio-vascular problem (see our article on Causes of Erectile Dysfunction). In these cases, improving your circulation with a low-salt, heart-healthy Mediterranean 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 also recommend plenty of exercise. A review of research studies4, conducted in 2018, found that a regular program of aerobic exercise can improve ED in obese or sedentary men.  A 2023 metastudy (a review of other studies) concluded that an aerobic exercise program could have as much impact on erectile dysfunction as Viagra5.

There is also some evidence that Kegel exercises to strengthen pelvic floor muscles can reduce the effects of erectile dysfunction.

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 dysfunction6 7.  In addition, diet can alleviate depression…  which itself can be a cause of ED8.

The Mediterranean diet can also help with weight loss, and studies have shown that for obese men, losing weight can improve erectile dysfunction9

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.
    • Tomatoes.
    • Avocados.
    • 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.
  • 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!  Studies have shown a strong link between cigarette smoking10 and vaping11 and erectile dysfunction.
  • Season your meals with herbs and spices instead of salt.  Reducing your sodium consumption is very important, since sodium contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease.  The USDA recommends keeping sodium consumption below 2,300 mg per day, but the average American consumes more than 3,400 mg!

Exercise for Erectile Dysfunction

Since poor cardiovascular health is a major cause of ED, it’s important to establish a regular aerobic exercise program.  

Aerobic exercise provides cardiovascular conditioning. The term aerobic actually means “with oxygen,” which means that breathing controls the amount of oxygen that can make it to the muscles to help them burn fuel and move.  Examples of aerobic exercise include swimming, cycling, rowing, running, walking, or using an elliptical trainer.  

The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 5 to 7 days per week. Don’t forget warm-up, cool-down and stretching exercises in your aerobic exercise session.

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.

Learn More

Learn more about leading a heart-healthy lifestyle at

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 little 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 any specific foods 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 200712, 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:


There has been some research on the use of clove as a treatment for sexual disorders. A 2004 study13 found that a clove extract increased sexual activity in rats; a 2020 study14 found that clove essential oil improved erectile function is diabetic rats. There is no evidence that clove has any significant benefit for treating erectile dysfunction in humans.

Coffee / Caffeine

A 2015 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 coffee15. However, a much larger study conducted in 2017 by many of the same authors found no correlation between coffee/caffeine intake and erectile dysfunction16.

Dark Chocolate

Flavinoids have been linked directly to improved circulation, and a small reduction in the incidence of ED17.  However, the processing used to produce commercial chocolate removes most of the flavinoids18.  The reduced flavinoids,  and added sugar and fat can make dark chocolate a less-the-healthy choice19.


Garlic contains allicin, a substance that may improve circulation and reduce hypertension.  A study in 201320 found that  S‐allyl cysteine,  a chemical derived from garlic, improved erectile dysfunction.  But garlic actually contains very little of this chemical, so it’s not an effective treatment for ED.


A study21 found that honey improved the erectile function in rats exposed to cigarette smoke by countering some of the toxic affects of tobacco.  A far better solution is to stop smoking!

Leafy Greens

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.

Olive Oil

A 2018 cohort study from the University of Athens found that Greek men who followed a Mediterranean diet, and consumed 9 tablespoons of olive oil per week, were approximately 40% less likely to develop erectile dysfunction22.  However, since a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet is good for cardio-vascular health, it’s not clear how big a role the olive oil played.


Despite their long-standing reputation, we found no clinical evidence that oysters are an effective treatment for ED.  

Note that oysters are high in zinc. In rare cases, a zinc deficiency may cause or contribute to erectile dysfunction. If your doctor determines that you have a zinc deficiency, they may prescribe supplements, or you may be able to obtain the necessary zinc from dietary sources, including red meat, shellfish, and legumes.

Pink Grapefruit, Tomatoes

Both contain high concentrations of lycopene, which improves circulation.  There is no direct evidence that this improves ED.


A study in 2011 concluded that eating three to four ounces of pistachio nuts per day improved ED23.  However, there was no control group in the study, so the improvements may have been due to a placebo effect.


A study in 2007 suggested that pomegranate juice may help with ED24.  However, the study was small, and the results were not statistically significant.

Salmon and other Fatty Fish

Fatty fish are good sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and may boost nitric oxide production.


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.


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. But again, there is no direct evidence that watermelon relieves erectile dysfunction.


Book recommendations are chosen by our editorial staff. We will receive a small royalty if you purchase these books using our Buy at Amazon buttons.

The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook: 500 Vibrant, Kitchen-Tested Recipes for Living and Eating Well Every DayThe Complete Mediterranean Cookbook: 500 Vibrant, Kitchen-Tested Recipes for Living and Eating Well Every Day
from America’s Test Kitchen

Bring the Mediterranean–from Italy and Greece, to Morocco and Egypt, to Turkey and Lebanon–into your kitchen with more than 500 fresh, flavorful recipes. This comprehensive cookbook translates the famously healthy Mediterranean diet for home cooks with a wide range of creative recipes, many fast enough to be made on a weeknight, using ingredients available at your local supermarket.

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  1. Maiorino, Maria Ida; Bellastella, Giuseppe; Esposito, Katherine. “Lifestyle modifications and erectile dysfunction: what can be expected?” Asian Journal of Andrology. Jan-Feb 2015; 17(1): 5–10.
  2. 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
  3. Yang, Heiko; Breyer, Benjamin N; Rimm, Eric B; Giovannucci, Edward; Loeb, Stacy; Kenfield, Stacey A; Bauer, Scott R. “Plant-based diet index and erectile dysfunction in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.” BJU International. Apr 2022.
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  5. Khera, Mohit; Bhattacharyya, Samir; Miller, Larry E .  “Effect of aerobic exercise on erectile function: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” The Journal of Sexual Medicine. December 2023, Volume 20, Issue 12,Pages 1369–1375.
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  8. 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.
  9. Li, Hao; Xu, Wenchao; Wang, Tao; Wang, Shaogang; Liu, Jihhong; Jiang, Hongyang. “Effect of weight loss on erectile function in men with overweight or obesity: A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.” Andrologia. Oct 2021.
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  11. El-Shahawy, Omar; Shah, Tanmik;Obisesan, Olufunmilayo H; Durr, Meghan; Stokes, Andrew C; Uddin, Iftekhar; Pinjani, Ria; Benjamin, Emelia J; Mirbolouk, Mohammadhassan; Osei, Albert D; Loney, Tom; Sherman, Scott E; Blaha, Michael J. “Association of E-Cigarettes With Erectile Dysfunction: The Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Study.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Nov 2021. <>
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