Culture and Lifestyle > Physical Health > Diet and Nutrition

The Facts About Diet and Nutrition

Healthy lifestyle choices can promote sexual health and lead to a more fulfilling sex life.

A woman sits on the kitchen counter eating and a man stands by her cutting vegetables.

Sexual wellness is directly affected by your physical, mental and social well-being, so it's no wonder making healthy lifestyle choices could give you an extra boost in bed. But different decisions will have different results, so if you're embarking on a health journey, you should know the possible effects ahead of time.

Diet and sex

What you put into your body affects all aspects of your physical health, including your sexual wellness.

Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet has been proven to help lower your chances of developing health conditions—such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and more—known to negatively impact libido and sexual performance.

A population-based prospective cohort study from 2020, which followed men for 16 years, showed that eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish, while cutting back on red meat and refined grains, lessens men's risk for developing erectile dysfunction. This means the Mediterranean diet may be the most effective nutritional plan for the prevention and treatment of ED. Vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, beans and fish are common foods eaten in Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Italy. Other common and recommended foods are whole grains, seeds, herbs, spices and extra virgin olive oil.

A number of studies support the link between the Mediterranean diet and improved sexual function. In a 2006 study published in the International Journal of Impotence Research, researchers found that men who were assigned the Mediterranean diet experienced a significant reduction in ED compared with those in their control group.

Another study, published in a 2010 issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, showed the correlation between the Mediterranean diet and ED in a group of men with type 2 diabetes, with men who demonstrated greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet having a far lower prevalence of ED than men who didn't. The Mediterranean diet also increases the release of nitric oxide in the arteries of the penis, allowing more blood to flow and a firmer erection to be achieved.

In addition, getting an adequate amount of vitamins and nutrients is important. According to a 2016 study in the journal Atherosclerosis, men who don't incorporate enough foods with vitamin D into their diet are 30 percent more likely to get erectile dysfunction at some point in their lives.

If you're not trying to overcome ED but still want to improve your sexual health, the key is improving circulation. Many elements of a traditional Western diet—like red meat, high-sugar foods, trans fats and dairy—can contribute to problems with the heart or arteries, making sufficient blood flow for arousal more difficult. Researchers have linked typical Western foods to an increased risk of low semen quality, obesity and type 2 diabetes, all of which are contributing factors to ED and/or poor sexual health. Opt for heart-healthy foods, like almonds and avocados (and their respective oils), and soluble fiber from oats and whole grains.

There's not a miracle food, but keeping an eye on your cholesterol and heart health will likely make a big difference. If you do want to use foods to boost your libido, try ones high in zinc and omega-3s: beans, nuts, bananas and chickpeas, for instance.

The next time you hit the grocery store, consider stocking up on nutritious foods. It will help you stay healthy and could contribute to improved sexual wellness in the long term.

Nutrition and sex

Even with a balanced diet, you may still be lacking in certain nutrients, or find certain areas of your sexual health lacking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 10 percent of Americans have some sort of nutritional deficiency, which can carry over to the bedroom. Be sure to have a discussion with your doctor before undergoing any radical dietary change. Those in the studied groups were most commonly deficient in:

  • Iodine: Iodine is essential for average thyroid hormone production and function. Weakness in iodine can lead to a goiter—an enlarged thyroid gland—and developmental issues in children.
  • Vitamin D: Even if you live in the Sunshine State, you still may not get the amount of vitamin D your body requires on a daily basis. Low vitamin D can lead to muscle weakness and bone loss, and also means your body will have a hard time processing vitamin C. In a study of almost 3,400 men, those who were vitamin D–deficient were 32 percent more likely to struggle with erectile dysfunction, other risk factors controlled for. This is only an association, not a definitive cause, but given how common vitamin D deficiency is, it's not a bad idea to supplement it, if your doctor agrees.
  • Vitamin B12: A deficiency of vitamin B12 is relatively common among vegetarians, vegans and anyone over age 65. Deficiencies can cause blood disorders and impaired brain functions, and can contribute to arterial damage and blood clots. Inversely, healthy B12 levels will improve cardiovascular function, which is great for sexual health.
  • Calcium: A calcium deficiency can cause osteoporosis and weakened bones. This deficiency is prevalent in women and older adults.
  • Vitamin A: This vitamin supports healthy teeth, skin and bones. Deficiency in vitamin A can cause eye damage and blindness.
  • Magnesium: This mineral is essential for healthy teeth and bones. Low levels of magnesium may lead to symptoms of anxiety, insomnia and heart problems. Among groups that advocate supplements and herbal remedies, magnesium is frequently suggested as a treatment option for erectile issues, but there aren't many studies to support its efficacy. However, magnesium is present in many foods linked to better male sexual health (nuts and leafy greens, for example), so it may serve well as part of a larger and more complete care plan.

Though only you can decide what to do with your life, the bottom line is clear: Making healthy lifestyle choices that include a healthy, complete diet can directly improve your sexual wellness and lead to a better sex life.