As advanced as the human race is and probably will ever be, one thing nevertheless seems to stay true: as a species, we’re weirdly obsessed with dicks. If we’re not worrying about whether it’s big enough – it is, calm down – then we’re repurposing heart and blood pressure medication to try and make sure it’s hard enough.
But before you get yourself thrown out of the clinic for drug-seeking behavior, perhaps there’s something else you can swallow that’ll get things straightened out again: Your goddamn vegetables.
Eggplant: more than just an emoji
It may not be exciting, but one of the best ways you can look after your erectile function is to keep your heart healthy. “The mechanisms are interconnected,” Aedin Cassidy, a professor at Queen’s University Belfast’s School of Biological Sciences, told the BBC in 2023.
As such, erectile dysfunction, or ED, is “a kind of barometer of heart health,” she explained, and could be an “early warning that you may have heart health problems.” In fact, the two problems are so closely related that for men above 55, experiencing a significant episode of erectile dysfunction imparts a one in fifty chance of having a major stroke or heart attack within the year.
So, if we’re asking what foods can help with erectile problems, it’s helpful to look at which help your heart and blood pressure. Top of the list? Fresh fruit and vegetables.
“If you are worried about erectile dysfunction (ED), you might want to turn to the produce section,” explains a Harvard Health writeup of a seminal 2016 study into the role of specific nutrients on the condition. It followed more than 25,000 men over ten years, linking up the incidences of ED with participants’ intake of a type of chemical compound known as flavonoids.
“Of the main types of flavonoids, three had the greatest benefit: anthocyanins, flavanones, and flavones,” the page reports. “High levels of these natural plant chemicals are found in berries, like blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries, as well as cherries, grapes, apples, pears, and citrus fruit.”
The impact of these little blue berries wasn’t small, either: the researchers found that men who ate an average of at least three portions of flavonoid-rich foods each week were around ten percent less likely to experience erectile dysfunction. And some more good news: you can also get the pecker-perking ingredients from indulgences like cocoa and red wine (though, to be clear, they weren’t as good as the fruit and veg.)
The weird thing is, we’re not quite sure why. There are some likely theories, though: flavonoids are known to affect the concentration of nitric oxide in the blood, which can help you harden up – this is actually how Viagra works – so that probably has something to do with it. Leafy greens like spinach and arugula (rocket, for readers outside North America) also contain high levels of nitrates, so add a few to your salad while you’re there.
Previous research also suggests that flavonoids can inhibit the effects of certain artery-constricting proteins, which will likely have a beneficial effect on erectile function too. “The penis acts as a window to the health of the circulatory system,” wrote Doug Lording, an endocrinologist and andrologist at Cabrini Hospital and Honorary Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at Monash University, in a 2014 article for The Conversation.
“As blood vessels in the penis are smaller, they may be affected earlier than other parts of the body, such as the heart.”
Oil me up
Fresh produce is a great start, but many studies have highlighted the benefits of taking it further. The so-called “Mediterranean diet” – one with a lot of fruit and vegetables, but also whole grains, nuts and seeds, herbs, healthy fats like olive oil, and fish – is a favorite recommendation for those hoping to add some wood to their chuck.
Why is this combination of foods so beneficial? It’s likely a variety of things: omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce erectile dysfunction, at least in rats, so foods high in this compound – like fish, nuts, some oils, flax, and leafy greens – may help erectile performance.
At least one long-term analysis has pinpointed olive oil as a beneficial ingredient for erectile health too – though (ironically) it has to be virgin or extra virgin, since the properties that likely help with erectile dysfunction are destroyed in the refinement process. Tomatoes – key for the diet that gave us recipes like pizza and pasta pomodoro – are also fantastic for beefing up your boner: they “are rich in vitamin C, carotenoids (lycopene) and polyphenols (rutin),” notes the study, “and also contribute to prevent vascular dysfunction in ED by exhibiting anti-inflammatory properties, improving NO availability, and normalizing aortic vasoconstriction.”
Overall, however, the bedroom success of the Mediterranean diet may simply come down to the same cardio-dick connection as before. “A Mediterranean diet [is] linked with better exercise capacity, healthier arteries and blood flow, higher testosterone levels, and better erectile performance,” said Athanasios Angelis of the University of Athens, Greece, back in 2021.
He had just presented his research, which measured the correlation between adherence to a Mediterranean diet, and erectile dysfunction in 250 middle-aged men with high blood pressure. The results were clear: the participants who followed a Mediterranean diet showed higher tolerance for exercise, higher testosterone levels, better coronary and vascular health, and of course, improved erectile performance.
“The findings suggest that the Mediterranean diet could play a role in maintaining several parameters of vascular health and quality of life,” Angelis said.
Watermelon, no sugar
Remember how tomatoes were recommended because of their lycopene content? That’s a type of antioxidant which, despite its name, does not give you a wolf dick – but studies have noted that low intake of the chemical seems to be linked to erectile dysfunction.
Once again, we’re not quite sure of the mechanism here, but rat studies have shown that lycopene can significantly lower blood glucose, reducing oxidative stress and releasing more of that sweet sweet nitric oxide. Its other main effect is to make things red – so look out for things like pink grapefruit or red peppers to cook up alongside the tomatoes.
Or, of course, you could try watermelon. Not only is this a source of lycopene, but it also contains the amino acid citrulline – a substance that research is tentatively beginning to link to improved erectile performance.
“Research into the effects of citrulline and watermelon is relatively new,” notes Medical News Today, and most studies on it "have been small or looked only at animals. As such, it is too early to say there is conclusive proof that watermelon can act as a natural Viagra.”
Nevertheless, they report, “preliminary research is promising […] most men can safely try watermelon juice or citrulline supplements as an alternative to Viagra.”
After all, what could it hurt? Even if it doesn’t give you a citrulline-induced hard-on, it’s still fresh fruit – and really, that’s the takeaway from all this.
“Ultimately, there’s no harm in trying to live a healthier lifestyle,” Neel Patel, a GP from LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, told the BBC.
“Ensuring you’re eating a balanced diet with the recommended amount of fruit, vegetables and whole grains is a brilliant place to start.”
The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
All “explainer” articles are confirmed by fact checkers to be correct at time of publishing. Text, images, and links may be edited, removed, or added to at a later date to keep information current.