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Nutrition

Avoid These 11 Testosterone Killing Foods

What to keep off your plate to keep your T high.

Does your libido lag these days? Are you unable to find the strength to get up in the morning and build out a great day ahead? Can’t focus on your job or initiate some quality time with friends or family? There’s a very good chance you’re experiencing symptoms of low testosterone, also known as hypogonadism. What lowers testosterone? Life’s day-to-day stress does the trick for some people, but so can your diet. Meaning: You may be consuming what can best be described as testosterone-killing foods.

What is Low Testosterone? And Can Food Cause It?

Low testosterone, or hypogonadism, occurs when your testicles stop producing enough T. Around age 35, men’s testosterone levels naturally begin to drop by around one percent every year. Around 40 percent of men over 45 years old have low testosterone.

While a gradual decrease in testosterone is normal, external factors like diet can also like inflammation, toxin exposure, obesity, diabetes and injury can cause your levels to swan dive. 

Your diet can also impact your T levels. According to a 2020 study, (1) men who followed a “Western” diet of red meat, fried foods, high fat, and processed snacks over a nine-year period experienced the most adverse impact on their testosterone and sperm count. In fact, they registered sperm counts up to 42 million lower than those who followed a more prudent diet of fish, chicken, vegetables, fruit, and water.

Specifically, what sustenance can be classified as food that lowers testosterone? We know of 11 that may send your T levels plunging. Swap them out for testosterone-boosting fare and your T levels will thank you.

Signs of low testosterone in men

If your testosterone levels decrease below 300 ng/dL, you’ll likely begin to experience symptoms of low T.

According to James Staheli, D.O., men with low testosterone may experience these common symptoms:


About the Expert

Dr. James Staheli, D.O., is the medical director for Broad Health and a family medicine doctor in Atlanta, Georgia. He specializes in hormone treatment for men.


Hone’s at-home assessment measures your testosterone levels, along with other biomarkers critical for good health. If your hormones aren’t where they should be, Hone can help.

Foods That Lower Testosterone

Soybeans

1. Soy

Yes, it’s true that soy products like edamame, tofu, soy milk, tempeh, and soy protein powder provide nutritional benefits. They’re high in fiber and protein, as well as cholesterol- and lactose-free. Such benefits don’t suggest that you could be ingesting a testosterone-killing food, yet debate within the medical community wages on.

Soy generally contains a large volume of phytoestrogen isoflavones, estrogen-like compounds found in plants. These phytoestrogens can trigger estrogen receptors in your body, but they can also decrease the activity of your androgen receptors, to which your testosterone binds itself. If it can’t bind to those receptors, then your testosterone can’t perform as it should—and therefore, neither can you.

Despite numerous studies, the jury’s still out on soy, and the results are mixed. According to a 2013 study, (2) researchers found that men drinking 20 grams of soy protein isolate per day over a two-week span showed lower T levels than those that drank whey protein isolate or a placebo. Meanwhile, a 2010 meta-analysis (3) uncovered no adverse effects on male hormones.

Until there’s definitive research, if you’re already concerned about your hormone levels, it’s probably best to consider soy as a potential testosterone killer and simply limit your intake.

2. Dairy

Think twice before you help yourself to that cheese platter or tall glass of whole milk. Several studies indicate that dairy products can lower testosterone levels. Pregnant female cows are the primary source of milk that’s produced and sold commercially, and their milk is filled with estrogens and progesterone. Those hormones adversely affect testosterone by suppressing gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which men need for the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing hormone (LH). When they’re not released, your testes can’t synthesize testosterone.

A 2010 analysis (4) supports the adverse relationship between dairy products and men’s hormones. It’s also worth noting that 98 percent of soybean meal is used for animal feed, so chances are that estrogen levels in cows’ milk are even further bolstered. If you really crave milk, go with low fat or skim, and make sure it’s fortified with Vitamin D, which is good for your testosterone.

3. Alcohol

An occasional drink won’t necessarily give your hormones a hangover. However, if you like to frequently imbibe beer, spirits, or wine, your testosterone could plummet.

There’s extensive research that too much alcohol consumption impedes the functionality of your hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and testes (5). Like with dairy, the hypothalamus can’t release GnRH, the pituitary gland can’t release FSH and LH, and your testes can’t produce testosterone. In short, if you’re continually over-served, your hormones become underserved. Even worse, they pay for it all.

A recent report (6) detailed a study in which healthy male volunteers received ethanol—grain alcohol—equal to a pint of whiskey per day. Those volunteers’ T levels began dropping after three days; after 30 days, their significantly deficient testosterone levels closely resembled those measured in alcoholic males.

Besides being a testosterone killer, overconsumption of alcohol can be bad for your body in so many other ways, including your liver, kidneys, and heart. Moderation is key, so please drink responsibly.

4. Baked goods

Who doesn’t love a good cookie or loaf of bread, especially straight out of the oven? Sadly, many baked goods are high in trans-unsaturated fatty acids—aka trans fat—which are heavily associated with causing T levels to decline. According to a 2017 study,(7) the subjects who ingested foods rich in trans fat showed testosterone levels 15 percent lower than those with the lowest intake.

It’s not just the trans fat that’ll get you — baked goods like pastries, danish, pies and other sweet treats can increase your insulin levels as well as your waist size, both of which can leave you with lower testosterone levels and a bad taste. Consider this the next time you’re tempted to treat yourself to that second doughnut.

5. Sugar

Having a sweet tooth could cause your T levels to sour. Sugar is already associated with a ton of health issues, yet according to the American Heart Association,(8) the average American male ingests about 17 teaspoons of sugar daily—nearly double the recommended limit.

Perhaps it’s a little easier to reduce sugar intake if you have a better idea of what it can do to your hormones. One study documented that males 19 to 74 experienced as much as a 25 percent drop (9) in testosterone levels following sugar ingestion, with levels remaining lowered for up to two hours. Love soda and energy drinks? Researchers reported that sugar-sweetened beverages were associated with Low T levels in 59 percent of subjects (10).

Of all the testosterone-killing foods on this list, sugar is arguably the easiest and the most difficult one to eliminate from your diet.

6. Mint

Spearmint and peppermint have long been lauded as herbal remedies for stress, digestive issues, and sinuses. Plus, they can really help freshen your breath. Unfortunately, some research indicates that when it comes to male hormones, mint may stink.

According to an animal study (11), the testosterone levels of rats that were regularly given peppermint or spearmint tea declined in comparison to a control group that received drinking water. Another study found that spearmint induced oxidative stress in rats, resulting in decreased testosterone (12).

More research needs to be done, particularly with human male subjects, before an adverse relationship is definitively established between mint and low testosterone. Until then, may we suggest you spice up your daily routine with some ginger tea? (Especially since ginger is known for boosting testosterone production (13).

7. Trans fats

We’ve already touched on some of these since they’re key ingredients in several aforementioned testosterone-killing foods, but it’s worth expanding on the topic that trans fats can be disastrous for your hormones.

Though there are natural traces of trans fat in meat and dairy, you’ll find an overabundance of them within fast, fried, and processed foods. The list of health risks associated with those foods is vast: Cardiovascular disease, inflammation, type 2 diabetes, decreased HDL (good) cholesterol and increased LDL (bad) cholesterol, and Low T and decreased fertility (14).

8. Vegetable oils

Vegetable oils are hydrogenated to improve foods’ taste, texture, and shelf-life. They’re also dense with polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). Though they’re often labeled as a “healthy” fat, PUFAs must be ingested within moderation. Commercial vegetable oils—which are often refined combinations of canola, coconut, corn, cottonseed, olive, palm, peanut, safflower, soybean, and sunflower oils—are used in cooking so many foods, it’s easy to over-consume PUFAs.

One study (15) established a strong correlation between men’s low testosterone levels and their frequent consumption of polyunsaturated fats. Meanwhile, a 2019 report (16) revealed how PUFAs decreased the T levels of overweight, hypogonadal men in as little as one hour after consumption, with effects lasting up to five hours.

Last, you have your omega-6 fatty acids, which you’ll find in many of those vegetable oils as well as various nuts and seeds. Omega-6 can be considered a rather healthy type of PUFA—when consumed in moderation, it can lower your bad cholesterol, improve your good cholesterol, and help reduce the risks of certain cancers and heart disease. However, they’re not as healthy as omega-3 fatty acids, yet they’re consumed far more in excess. And, contrary to popular belief, you can have too much of a good thing. Research supports that too much omega-6 can not only decrease testosterone production, but it can also reduce testicular size and function (7), and increase inflammation in the body (17).

9. Nuts

Certain nuts can wreak havoc on your hormones. Nuts have earned a great reputation for containing healthy fats and minerals, but several studies show how nuts high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (18)—including walnuts, pistachios, peanuts, pecans, and almonds—can cause oxidative stress to storage tissues, which in effect can lower your T levels.

If you’re someone who loves snacking on nuts, look to ones that are nutrient-dense and higher in cholesterol- and heart-friendly monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). Those include brazil nuts, chestnuts, or macadamia nuts.

10. Flaxseed

There’s no question that flaxseed offers health benefits such as improving cholesterol levels and digestive health and reducing blood pressure. Too much of it, though, can turn it into a testosterone killer.

Flaxseed is an extremely rich source of dietary lignans. Lignans are plant-based compounds that can cut down total and free T levels (19) and prevent the conversion of testosterone into something helpful; the much-needed androgen dihydrotestosterone. In one small study, 25 men diagnosed with prostate cancer adopted a low-fat diet supplemented with flaxseed, researchers observed significant declines in total and free testosterone (20).

Additionally, flaxseed is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Though it’s preferable over omega-6, some research indicates (21) that too much omega-3 can also contribute to low levels of testosterone.

11. Licorice root

Licorice root is different from licorice in the form you’re familiar with in the candy aisle. It’s often used as an herbal supplement, tea, or a beverage sweetener. However, men’s hormones may not be so sweet on licorice root.

According to a small study, testosterone values in men plummeted by 26 percent (22) after consuming 7 grams of licorice root daily for one week.

Foods That Boost Testosterone

There are plenty of foods that won’t kill men’s T levels; some may even give them a much-needed boost. Then there are foods on the bubble, ones we hear may be bad for our hormones, but we’re not sure yet. We’ve already addressed a few of these, including soy and mint. Let’s tackle a few more and see if we can bust the myths that surround them. Add these to your plate, along with these other foods that every man who wants to maximize his health should be eating.

Do bananas lower testosterone?

Nope, they actually increase testosterone. We’re not sure why bananas get this “bad for your testosterone” vibe. They may not be protein- or healthy fat-dense enough to warrant being their own meal, but they don’t kill your sex drive or break down your muscle mass.

Quite the opposite. Bananas’ chief nutrient, potassium (23), actually promotes testosterone production and firmer erections. The fruit also contains bromelain (24), a slow-releasing enzyme that can increase your libido; tryptophan,(25) which boosts the secretion of serotonin, a hormone that can improve your mood, brain function, and sex drive; and vitamin C (26), which helps keep cortisol, aka the “stress hormone,” at bay. And researchers say to let ’em ripen (27) if you want bananas’ nutrient levels to rise.

Does rice lower testosterone?

This is a tough one to answer because it depends on the kind of rice you’re eating. All rice starts out as a whole grain, but when these carbs become refined, more than half of their nutritional value is lost in the process. White rice is a great example, in that the body digests it quickly, prompting an all-too-fast release of sugar. And we all know what sugar can do to your hormones.

There are rice varieties that provide healthier alternatives for you and your testosterone. Studies show that the antioxidant production in cooked wild rice (28) is 30 times greater than that found in white rice. Meanwhile, brown rice is your grain of choice for bone development and muscle contraction (29), since it provides six times more manganese than its wild counterpart. Rice isn’t the only grain that’s good for you—check out which grains are healthiest.

Does coffee lower testosterone?

Again, nope. While multiple studies of caffeine intake show several adverse effects, including heartburn or digestive problems, an increase in blood pressure, headaches, and anxiety, lowering testosterone is not among them.

One 2012 study documented no significant differences in hormone levels after eight weeks. It did uncover, however, that consumption of caffeinated coffee actually increased total testosterone (30) in the study’s male subjects, and decreased their total and free estradiol. A 2018 study (31) was also unable to determine any effects that caffeine intake had on men’s T levels. Until conclusive evidence points to the contrary, feel free to enjoy that cup of Joe. (Just try to keep it to one or two cups a day.)

Do egg yolks lower testosterone?

Not only are they a great source of protein, omega-3s, and Vitamin D, egg yolks contain cholesterol. According to a 2021 study (32), cholesterol can raise testosterone levels (check with your doctor before adding extra cholesterol to your diet if you have high cholesterol). Bonus: the protein in eggs also helps with muscle building.

Do oysters lower testosterone?

Another no. Research shows that zinc deficiencies can lower testosterone (33) and oysters are high in the important mineral, so eating more of the purported aphrodesiac can help keep testosterone levels balanced. Other types of shellfish contain less zinc than oysters but are still good sources of the mineral.

BOOST YOUR T

How to Naturally Increase Testosterone

No matter what you do, your testosterone levels decline as you age. Once you enter your thirties, that natural decline is about 1 percent every year. Aspects other than aging can play into how rapidly your testosterone drops: overall health, weight, how active you are, and any preexisting conditions. While you can’t prevent aging, you can take more control over those other factors.

If your levels show significant clinical deficiencies, it’s possible you may need some help in the form of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Even then, there are other steps you can take that help naturally maintain good T levels, if not even bolster them.

Eat the right foods

We’ve already suggested foods like ginger and bananas, and we’ve compiled a larger list of foods that boost your testosterone over here.

Sleep more

Research shows that men sleeping five hours or less a night can result in testosterone declines of up to 15 percent (34). Add even an extra hour to your nightly slumber, and your T levels are likely to be a bit less cranky in the morning.

Moderate your food intake

Sometimes the problem isn’t what you eat so much as how much of it you eat. Reviewing nutrition labels and following food portion serving sizes can be very effective at keeping your weight down, since being overweight or obese (35) can factor heavily in lowered testosterone.

Two great ways to control those portion sizes are to eat protein servings that are no bigger than the size of your palm, and—this one’s important—to eat out less. A 2017 study showed that men eating home-cooked meals five nights a week were 28 percent less likely (36) to have an overweight body mass index.

Exercise regularly

We can’t stress enough the importance of exercise. Research shows that even light-to-moderate physical activity on a regular basis can result in higher testosterone and growth hormone levels (37). It can also bolster your self-confidence, mood, and brain function (38).

Meditate

Low T can be associated with elevated cortisol levels and “brain fog,” including reduced mental focus and clarity as well as problems with memory. Some studies show that a few minutes of transcendental meditation each day can reduce the release of cortisol (39) in your circulation, clear up that fog and improve your T levels naturally.

Taking all these steps and still worried that your T levels are too low? The only way to know for sure is to test your T levels. Hone’s at-home hormone assessment is an easy, near-painless way to find out your T levels, and can be the first step in getting treatment if needed.

References
  1. Nassan, et al (2019) Association of Dietary Patterns With Testicular Function in Young Danish Men
  2. Kraemer, et al (2013) The effects of soy and whey protein supplementation on acute hormonal responses to resistance exercise in men
  3. Hamilton-Reeves, et al (2009) Clinical studies show no effects of soy protein or isoflavones on reproductive hormones in men: results of a meta-analysis
  4. Maruyama, et al (2010) Exposure to exogenous estrogen through intake of commercial milk produced from pregnant cows
  5. Emanuele, et al (2001) Alcohol and the male reproductive system
  6. Duca, et al (2017) Substance Abuse and Male Hypogonadism
  7. Minguez-Alarcón, et al (2017) Fatty acid intake in relation to reproductive hormones and testicular volume among young healthy men
  8. American Heart Association (n.d.) How Too Much Added Sugar Affects Your Health Infographic
  9. Caronia, et al (2013) Abrupt decrease in serum testosterone levels after an oral glucose load in men: implications for screening for hypogonadism
  10. Chen, et al (2018) Sugar-sweetened beverage intake and serum testosterone levels in adult males 20-39 years old in the United States
  11. Akdogan, et al (2004) Effects of peppermint teas on plasma testosterone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone levels and testicular tissue in rats
  12. Kumar, et al (2008) Spearmint induced hypothalamic oxidative stress and testicular anti-androgenicity in male rats – altered levels of gene expression, enzymes and hormones
  13. Banihani (2018) Ginger and Testosterone
  14. Chavarro, et al (2014) Trans fatty acid intake is inversely related to total sperm count in young healthy men.
  15. Nagata, et al (2000) Relationships between types of fat consumed and serum estrogen and androgen concentrations in Japanese men.
  16. Pearce, et al (2019) The Effect of Macronutrients on Reproductive Hormones in Overweight and Obese Men: A Pilot Study.
  17. DiNicolantonio, et al (2018) Importance of maintaining a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio for reducing inflammation.
  18. Kalgaonkar, et al (2011) Differential effects of walnuts vs almonds on improving metabolic and endocrine parameters in PCOS.
  19. Demark-Wahnefried, et al (2008) Flaxseed supplementation (not dietary fat restriction) reduces prostate cancer proliferation rates in men presurgery.
  20. Demark-Wahnefried, et al (2001) Pilot study of dietary fat restriction and flaxseed supplementation in men with prostate cancer before surgery: exploring the effects on hormonal levels, prostate-specific antigen, and histopathologic features.
  21. Nadjarzadeh, et al (2013) The effect of omega-3 supplementation on androgen profile and menstrual status in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: A randomized clinical trial.
  22. Armanini, et al (2003) Licorice consumption and serum testosterone in healthy man
  23. Sánchez-Capelo, et al (1993) Potassium regulates plasma testosterone and renal ornithine decarboxylase in mice.
  24. Shing, et al (2016) Acute protease supplementation effects on muscle damage and recovery across consecutive days of cycle racing.
  25. Hulsken, et al (2013) Food-derived serotonergic modulators: effects on mood and cognition.
  26. Okon, et al (2016) Ascorbic acid treatment elevates follicle stimulating hormone and testosterone plasma levels and enhances sperm quality in albino Wistar rats.
  27. Iwasawa, et al (2009) Differences in biological response modifier-like activities according to the strain and maturity of bananas.
  28. Qiu, et al (2009) Antioxidant activity of commercial wild rice and identification of flavonoid compounds in active fractions.
  29. Kang, et al (2014) Effects of Brown Rice Extract Treated with Lactobacillus sakei Wikim001 on Osteoblast Differentiation and Osteoclast Formation.
  30. Wedick, et al (2012) The effects of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee on sex hormone-binding globulin and endogenous sex hormone levels: a randomized controlled trial.
  31. Lopez, et al (2019) Caffeine intake is not associated with serum testosterone levels in adult men: cross-sectional findings from the NHANES 1999-2004 and 2011-2012.
  32. Santos, et al (2021) The Effect of Whole Egg Intake on Muscle Mass: Are the Yolk and Its Nutrients Important?
  33. Fallah, et al (2018) Zinc is an Essential Element for Male Fertility: A Review of Zn Roles in Men’s Health, Germination, Sperm Quality, and Fertilization.
  34. Leproult, et al (2011) Effect of 1 week of sleep restriction on testosterone levels in young healthy men.
  35. Fui, et al (2014) Lowered testosterone in male obesity: mechanisms, morbidity and management.
  36. Mills, et al (2017) Frequency of eating home cooked meals and potential benefits for diet and health: cross-sectional analysis of a population-based cohort study.
  37. Ari, et al (2004) Serum testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin-like growth factor-1 levels, mental reaction time, and maximal aerobic exercise in sedentary and long-term physically trained elderly males.
  38. Sharma, et al (2006) Exercise for mental health.
  39. MacLean, et al (1997) Effects of the transcendental meditation program on adaptive mechanisms: Changes in hormone levels and responses to stress after 4 months of practice