Want better sex? Eat a plant-based diet, especially fruits and vegetables. Diet plays an under-appreciated role in sexual function.
- Italian researchers surveyed 215 adults’ sex lives, then told half to eat as usual. The other half embraced a near-vegetarian Mediterranean diet. After eight years, in all genders, the Mediterranean group reported significantly fewer sex problems.
- Australian investigators analyzed 89 studies of lifestyle and sexual function involving 348,865 participants. As participants’ diets became healthier—more fruits and vegetables, less meat, dairy items, fast foods, and junk foods—men’s ED risk and women’s sex problems declined significantly.
- Greek researchers surveyed 350 men age 18 to 40—264 who reported no erectile dysfunction (ED), and 86 who complained of significant erection impairment. Those with ED consumed significantly fewer fruits and vegetables.
What’s So Great About Fruits and Vegetables?
Optimal sexual function and pleasure depend on a healthy heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular system). When the cardiovascular system is healthy, blood flows freely around the body, and when sexually aroused, extra blood flows into the genitals, which fuels erections in men, and clitoral sensitivity and vaginal lubrication in women.
But when fatty, cholesterol-rich deposits (atherosclerotic plaques) develop along artery walls, the arteries narrow, impeding blood flow. Less blood flowing through the genitals raises risk of ED in men and arousal, lubrication, and orgasm problems in women.
Artery-clogging plaques result from a special type of injury, oxidative damage. Oxygen is absolutely vital for life, but sometimes highly chemically reactive oxygen ions (free radicals) enter the bloodstream and injure the arteries’ delicate lining. Over time, these injuries attract circulating fats and cholesterol, and plaques develop. Oxidative damage is also at the root of many cancers. Lifestyle factors can either promote or inhibit oxidative damage. Two major promoters are smoking and a sedentary lifestyle. Both are strongly associated with cardiovascular disease and sex problems.
However, fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods—notably tea and coffee—are rich in antioxidant nutrients, notably vitamins A, C, and E, that help prevent oxidative damage and keep the cardiovascular system healthy and blood flowing freely. An enormous number of studies show that a diet high in plant foods—at least five half-cup servings a day and preferably more—reduce risk of both cardiovascular disease and sex problems.
Forget the myth that eating red meat is manly. Meats and whole-milk dairy products are low in antioxidants and high in cholesterol and saturated fats. They accelerate the growth of atherosclerotic plaques—and increase risk of sex problems. In addition to meats, cholesterol and saturated fat are also found in egg yolks, fast foods, junk food, deep-fried foods, and rich desserts.
Keys to a Sex-Enhancing Diet
Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. A serving is one half cup, or one piece of fruit (apple, orange, banana, etc.), or one cup of fruit juice, tea, or coffee. French fries don’t count. The oil used in deep frying negates the antioxidants in potatoes. The same goes for other deep-fried vegetables: cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, tempura, etc.
Unfortunately, the typical American consumes only around three daily servings of fruits and vegetables. That’s a major reason why heart disease, cancer, and stroke are our leading causes of death—and why so many people are troubled by sex problems.
It’s easier to eat healthier than you might think. Have fruit with breakfast. Instead of burgers, pizza, or fried chicken, consider a salad and a hearty vegetable-bean soup. Make a big pot of vegetable soup, and you get several lunches and dinners. Between meals, avoid potato or corn chips, and snack on fruit or carrots and celery. For better sexual function, you don’t have to become a vegan or vegetarian. Just evolve your diet to include more fruits and vegetables.
Alcohol’s J-Shaped Curve
You may be aware that moderate consumption of red wine—up to one glass a day for women, two for men—reduces risk of heart disease. Red grapes are high in antioxidants, and modest consumption of alcohol lowers cholesterol better than abstaining from alcohol or consuming more than two standard drinks a day (A “drink” is one 12-ounce beer, one ounce of distilled spirits, or five ounces of wine, a standard wine glass about half full.)
Moderate drinking also helps sexual function. In the Australian study above, one or two drinks a day was associated with lower risk of sex problems than abstinence or more than 2 drinks a day.
Better Health and Sex
Of course, a healthy diet doesn’t necessarily guarantee immortality or fabulous sex into one’s nineties. Aging takes a toll on sex and health. But some of the sexual declines often blamed on aging is actually the result of a less-than-optimal lifestyle, if you want to enjoy more years of great sex, don’t smoke, get regular exercise, and eat lots of fruits and vegetables.