As many men search online for ways to help naturally boost testosterone levels, it might be important to first establish proper nutrition as the building block to healthy hormone levels. This includes testosterone and estrogen. But which foods boost testosterone the most?
While some may need the assistance of supplements or exogenous testosterone injections to reach optimal levels, many can get a huge boost by simply re-tooling their dietary habits.
Studies clearly demonstrate a higher average testosterone level (free and total) among Okinawan men compared to American men. What are the changes in dietary and lifestyle habits that can account for 1.25 ng/mL difference between the two?
We already know of the Okinawans as an extremely lean, ‘Blue Zone’ population that strives off calorie restriction and a high scratch diet. Historically known for their longevity and absence of cardiovascular disease, not only do they live a healthy lifestyle, they eat a predominantly plant-based, whole-food, nutrient dense diet.
Moderately, they consume seafood and poultry (rarely pork – limited to ceremonies) and grains. These types of foods only account for 2-4% of their dietary intake.
The traditional diet of the Okinawans is extremely low in fat and calories (around 5-10% total calories from fat, while practicing 10-15% calorie restriction (of daily caloric goals). This probably isn’t ideal for someone looking to bulk up or practice strength training, but we can learn a few things from the Okianwans in terms of optimizing testosterone through diet and occasional fasting.
Compared to other Japanese, they eat drastically less refined white rice and refined carbohydrates. Instead, the emphasis is on sweet potatoes, whole grains like millet, vegetables like cabbage and daikon, and soy-foods (tofu, miso, natto).
All this is not to say you need to eat a high carbohydrate diet filled with sweet potatoes – just that the type of food you consume, along with the level of processing required for that food can absolutely contribute to your overall hormone levels.
There are certain key foods and herbs to be avoided, and plenty which you should consume on a daily basis. A lot of perceived ‘bad’ foods – like soy, should only be eaten occasionally or in moderation and swapped out for healthier alternatives.
Considering the average American man has drastically lower testosterone levels than in previous decades (and compared to other countries), it is imperative to address this rising concern in the most sustainable way possible.
Low testosterone levels in men can cause a host of dramatic health issues – including loss of libido, low energy levels, chronic fatigue, and muscle wasting. These are serious concerns and should not be dismissed by doctors or health care professionals as being “normal.”
We’ll explore which foods can help boost testosterone the most, as well as the foods you need to immediately ditch and minimize exposure to. The cornerstone of improving testosterone is through ‘natural’ means first, and supplementation or medical intervention second.
Which Foods Can Help to Boost Testosterone?
“Healthy Fats” – Ditch the Seed Oil
While we know that fat is an essential part of hormonal function, and low-fat diets tend to lead to decreases in the testosterone concentrations of men – we also know that high-fat diets loaded with PUFA also lower levels more than refined carbohydrates themselves.
Therefore, it is critical we find the appropriate balance of “healthy fats” and optimize the kinds of food we eat. While some individuals may do well on them (or utilize them to lose weight), often full blown high-fat or high-carbohydrate diets serve as unsustainable long-term. If we can identify ‘healthy’ foods, we can eat without having to monitor everything to the point of neurosis.
Even olive oil can be said to be deleterious to arteries and arterial function when consumed in larger quantities.
Which foods are high in fat and also boost testosterone the most?
- Eggs (opt for the the whole egg, with the yolk)
- Fish Oil & Fatty Fish (Omega-3)
- Chia Seeds
- Hemp Seeds
- Coconut Cream / Coconut Oil (only in moderation)
You don’t need to adjust to a ‘high-fat keto’ diet, but you also need an adequate amount of fatty acids for normal hormonal development and biological processes.
Foods High in Zinc
Countless studies show the importance of zinc in testosterone production and prostate health for men – especially older men.
Cellular zinc concentrations are highly correlated with testosterone concentrations, and many men with low testosterone symptoms see improvement from supplementing with zinc. Of course, supplementing with a high-dose mineral like zinc which is no longer bound to all the other components of whole food poses its own set of potential problems.
Many men report nausea, stomach upset, anhedonia, and headaches from taking high-doses of zinc long-term. While generally safe and beneficial to most, getting zinc through diet means you don’t have to worry about these potential side effects from a free form mineral.
Zinc supplementation, when extremely concentrated in amounts of 30-50mg daily can also easily cause a copper deficiency.
Some optimal foods to help increase zinc levels are:
- Pumpkin Seeds / ‘Nut Butters’ made from Pumpkin or Sunflower Seeds
- Eggs (again; Whole Egg always, stick to free-range and pasture-fed)
- Grass-Fed Beef (always choose antibiotic, hormone-free, and pasture raised)
- Chickpeas and Legumes (if vegan, opt for Chickpeas, Black Beans and Kidney Beans over Soy-Based products)
- Shellfish (Shrimp, Crab, Prawn, Oysters)
- Hemp Seeds (hemp seed protein powder is a great choice for vegans)
- Peanuts (always oil-free if store-bought Peanut Butter)
- Dark Chocolate (80%-99% – avoid brands with added Refined Sugar)
- Dairy (depends on tolerance to casein and lactose, pick Greek Yogurt and Cheese for highly bioavailable zinc)
Foods High in Magnesium
Research strongly correlates higher magnesium levels with higher total + free testosterone.
Not only is magnesium vital to many biological processes and responsible for nerve signaling, but it also helps to regulate vitamin D levels and sleep quality. We should know that both vitamin D and sleep are critical to healthy hormonal function in men and women.
Many vegetables and nuts are naturally high in magnesium. These include the following:
- Sunflower Seeds and Pumpkin Seeds
- Spinach (and other Leafy Greens)
- Legumes (Beans, Lentils, & Chickpeas)
- Dark Chocolate (80%-99%)
- Sweet Potato
High-Protein Foods or ‘Complex Carbohydrates’
Maintaining healthy testosterone levels, especially through high-intensity workouts or prolonged physical activity means eating enough high-quality protein and complex, whole-food carbohydrates. Protein restriction and low-protein diets are often linked to lowered testosterone levels, while lower carbohydrate intake is linked to poor athletic performance.
Bodybuilders need to eat for success, they burn a large number of calories and will require more carbohydrates and a higher protein intake than the average person.
Good Protein Choices:
- Legumes (Chickpeas, Black Beans, Pinto Beans)
- Grass-Fed Beef
- Wild-Caught Salmon
- Low Mercury Seafood (Shrimp, Sardines, Oyster, Cod)
- Eggs (Whole Egg, Cage-Free, Pasture Raised)
- Nuts and Seeds
- Oats (particularly Steel-Cut, or Whole, Oat Bran)
- Legumes (Chickpeas, Black Beans, Pinto Beans)
- Sweet Potatoes and Russet Potatoes
- Squash (Pumpkin, Butternut Squash)
Which Foods Should I Avoid?
Many foods and dietary habits can have a dramatic impact on testosterone levels.
These include things we consume, but already know to be unhealthy (alcohol, processed food). They also include things we know have proposed health benefits but still seem to lower testosterone in men (peppermint, spearmint, licorice root, and some dairy).
This means avoiding:
- Refined Sugar
- Refined Grains (White Rice, White Bread, etc.)
- High PUFA (Poly-Unsaturated Fatty Acids) Omega-6s like Seed Oils (Canola, Soy, Corn)
- Processed Foods
- Pre-packaged Foods/Foods in Plastic Containers
- Peppermint and Spearmint
- Licorice Root and Marshmallow Root
- Conventional Dairy (avoid Milk if possible and opt for Cheeses and Yogurts)
Peppermint and spearmint together should both be avoided, as research very distinctly shows a reduction in total testosterone, free testosterone, and effects on testicular tissue. Some peppermint in your toothpaste might not be an issue, but drinking peppermint or spearmint tea regularly appears to lead to a 20-30% reduction in free and total testosterone levels among some males.
While plenty of studies like to correlate alcohol consumption with higher testosterone levels in men, this is likely not a causative effect from the alcohol, but that men with higher testosterone levels are more likely to engage in alcohol consumption.
What do the studies actually say?
If we look closer (particularly at long-term consumption and not short-term impact) we can clearly see alcohol is extremely destructive to not just testosterone levels, but also the entire reproductive system. Leydig cells are damaged through alcohol consumption, and lower sperm counts, sperm motility, and higher abnormal sperm are all demonstrated in men that engage in chronic alcohol consumption.
So, which foods boost testosterone? This question almost creates more unanswered problems than answers.
Alcohol is commonly recognized as a cause of hypogonadism.
While other options exist to help men boost or maintain healthy testosterone levels, they should not be viewed as a first-line approach. Naturally raising your testosterone levels through diet and lifestyle adjustments is entirely possible and could remedy classic ‘low T’ symptoms in men without them having to venture into injectables or supplements.