OK, so it might seem strange for a cardiologist to give advice about how to have better orgasms, but the truth is that your heart’s more involved in your love life than you might think (not just metaphorically!). The more your blood can rush to your sexy bits, the more fun you can have—basically, when you coax your arteries to perform at their peak, you can perform at yours.

Here’s how it works: Every artery and vein in your body has a single cell lining, similar to wallpaper, called the endothelium. Healthy arteries can carry three to five times as much blood at peak exercise than at rest—but only if the lining produces a good amount of nitric oxide, or NO. NO causes blood vessels to relax and dilate, which swells up the, ahem, critical parts. So the better your endothelium can produce NO, the better your blood flow—everywhere.

The science of nitric oxide production was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1998 and led to the creation of Viagra and other performance drugs. Basically, you can lower your NO production through a variety of habits like smoking and downing a lot of saturated fat, and raise it through a variety of means—including by taking medication like Viagra. But you can also up your NO production simply by eating well.

Endothelial cells are very sensitive to what’s in the blood rushing through them. For example, Robert Vogel, M.D., at the University of Maryland fed healthy volunteers two meals on different days. When he fed them a low-fat meal, their endothelial cells worked just fine. On another day, Vogel fed the volunteers a sausage Egg McMuffin. Artery function was measured, and within an hour, endothelial cells stopped responding normally—then it took a full six hours to return to baseline. This experiment has been repeated several times, so take Vogel’s findings to heart: Avoid processed foods—especially before a date.

Foods That Raise NO: The Hard Facts

Back when the Nobel Prize was awarded, the importance of dietary L-arginine was identified. L-arginine is converted by an enzyme called eNOS (yes, rhymes with “penis”) into NO, so foods that are particularly rich in L-arginine make a good pre-date snack. These include pine nuts, peanuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, Brazil nuts, beets, and whole grains like oats.

Another path to improving your NO production is to eat foods high in L-citrulline. L-citrulline can cycle back to make more L-arginine, and it’s found in the highest concentration in watermelon, particularly in the white rind. It is also found onions and garlic… but they may be a bad idea before a date unless everyone partakes.

A New Pathway Comes Along

A newer path to make more NO has been recently discovered: There are foods high in dietary nitrates that can boost NO levels. These include spinach, arugula, rhubarb, kale, swiss chard, bok choy, and beets, which can raise both your NO production and your ability to perform. And it turns out that fruits like grapes, pomegranates, and apples can also be part of an erotic potion. Basically, the dietary nitrates circulate back into your mouth through your saliva and boost your NO.

One Last Tip

Maca is a turnip-like root vegetable native to Peru, where it grows at high altitudes. In the U.S., it is often available as a powder that can be added to a smoothie or a capsule. There are 13 strains of maca—some boost testosterone, and others normalize female hormonal patterns. Scientific data suggest maca can improve semen quality, sexual performance, and fertility.

Always Use Protection

Eating for the Big O by maximizing NO production can genuinely give your sex life a boost—and your overall health will explode too. Sex-friendly foods enhance NO production in arteries throughout the body and can lead to good blood pressure as well as protection from both blood clots and artery-clogging plaques. So eat well now, and you’re basically investing in better orgasms for years to come.

More than 400 years ago, the famous English physician Thomas Sydenham said, “A man is as old as his arteries” and anticipated that life and love depended on optimal blood flow. Turns out, he was right—eat a diet rich in NO-producing fruits, nuts, and vegetables, and you can change your life.

Joel Kahn, M.D., of Detroit, Michigan, is a practicing cardiologist, a clinical professor of medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine, and an associate professor at Oakland University/Beaumont Hospital medical schools. The views expressed herein are his. Dr. Kahn has five books in publication, including Your Whole Heart Solution, Dead Execs Don’t Get Bonuses, and The Plant Based Solution.