Your diet does more than impact your waistline. It also affects the overall health of your vagina and can contribute to infections, odor, and more.
Unbalanced pH. Sounds like chemistry class, right? Add the word vaginal, and then it’s enough to make us squirm. Literally — because when you feel different down there, like with a new odor or more-than-usual discharge, it could be a sign that your vaginal pH is off.
A balanced vaginal pH needs to stay between
What causes an imbalance? Anything with a high pH above 4.5, like douches or soaps with fragrances, can disrupt the natural acidity in your vagina. Even tight-fitting clothing that doesn’t allow air to circulate can cause pH changes below the belt by trapping sweat and moisture against your skin.
Your vagina is pretty good at protecting and cleaning itself, though. Proper vaginal care, such as good hygiene, safe sex, and regular gynecological visits, all play a role in keeping your pH in check. Water intake and diet modifications can also help, including
And with diet comes the topic of food. While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to what you should or shouldn’t eat for optimal vaginal health, here are eight eats that work in favor of your lady bits.
We’ve all heard or heeded the popular advice: Drink cranberry juice to treat UTIs. But is there any evidence of that?
Cranberry juice (100% cranberry juice — not the sweetened stuff) or concentrated cranberry extract capsules are full of antioxidants and acidic compounds, which are powerful infection fighters that can help bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall.
Cranberry juice for vaginal health
- contain powerful acidic compounds to fight bacteria
- contain plant compounds, vitamin E, and vitamin C to boost your immunity
Pro-tip: Opt for natural and sugar-free juice varieties. Not a fan of their tart taste? Use the juice in fresh fruit smoothies or try taking pure cranberry pills.
These potatoes have some sweet benefits, even for your vaginal health. Rich in beta carotene and vitamin A, sweet potatoes help keep your mucous membranes healthy. This means they can help prevent bacterial vaginosis (BV), a common vaginal infection. Vitamin A deficiency, along with deficiencies in vitamins C, D, E, calcium, folate, and beta-carotene, is linked to an increased risk of BV. So, eat up!
Sweet potatoes are also high in fiber, which may help
Sweet potatoes for vaginal health
- contain high amounts of vitamin A and beta-carotene, which help prevent BV
- contain fiber, which can regulate insulin levels in those with PCOS
Pro tip: Start your morning with one of these delicious and healthy sweet potato toast recipes for energy and an ample dose of vitamin A.
Probiotic-rich food, including yogurt that contains certain Lactobacillus strains, is good for more than just your gut. It can also help improve your recovery from BV and reduce overall symptoms.
This bacterium helps keep your vaginal pH levels in check, helping to prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Research shows that probiotics may help reduce symptoms of BV, such as discharge and odor. They may also help prevent recurrent BV infections.
So, go ahead and enjoy that cup of yogurt or kefir. Just be sure to choose brands that contain live, active cultures. These are the beneficial bacteria you want in your gut — and in your vagina.
Probiotics for vaginal health
- can balance pH levels and introduce more “good” bacteria
- can help ward off infections and improve recovery
Pro-tip: Get the 411 on the health benefits of probiotics and their safety.
Omega-3 fatty acids help with circulation and blood flow, which is good news for your sex drive. These essential fatty acids
Is menstrual cramping getting you down? Studies also show that fish oil can ease severe dysmenorrhea without the adverse effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Plant fatty acids for vaginal health
- help treat painful menstrual cramping with less risk of adverse reactions
- promote circulation and may relieve vaginal dryness
Pro-tip: Find these essential fatty acids in oily fish (such as salmon), flaxseed, eggs, walnuts, and more.
Many fruits are also high in antioxidants, which are great for improving blood flow, keeping your cells healthy, and reducing oxidative stress — which plays a role in fertility.
Fruits high in antioxidants include:
- goji berries
Bonus: Women who consume more citrus fruit are less likely to develop uterine fibroids.
Fruits for vaginal health
- improve blood flow and keeps cells healthy
- enhance female and male fertility
- reduce chances of developing uterine fibroid
Pro-tip: Fruit has many other health benefits and can be used to make your favorite smoothies.
Soy can be a bit of a controversial topic. But the phytoestrogens — compounds that mimic estrogen in the body — found in soy are good news for vaginal health, especially in people with reduced estrogen levels. There are many reasons for decreased estrogen levels in the body, from medications to menopause. But one of the major symptoms of low estrogen is vaginal dryness.
So, here’s how soy helps: Minimally-processed soy products are hydrophilic (which allows your muscles to retain more water) and contain isoflavones (a plant-derived phytoestrogen) that are beneficial for the skin in postmenopausal women.
Soy for vaginal health
- contains plant-derived phytoestrogen beneficial to women with decreased estrogen levels
- can help with vaginal dryness and benefits skin and blood vessel health in postmenopausal women
Pro-tip: Opt for minimally-processed soy products such as edamame, tofu, tempeh, and miso.
Your favorite toast topper is also great for your sex life — who knew? Avocados are ample in healthy fats, vitamin B6, and potassium — all of which have positive effects on your libido.
This libido-boosting fruit (yes, it’s a fruit!) may enhance lubrication and estrogen levels, strengthen vaginal walls, and may even increase
Avocados for vaginal health
- contain healthy fats, vitamin B6, and potassium
- may enhance lubrication and strengthen vaginal walls
Pro-tip: Think beyond guacamole! There are 23 ways to eat an avocado or you can start cooking with avocado oil.
What are leafy greens not good for?! Add vaginal health to their long list of health benefits. Dark leafy greens are
Nitrates are vasodilators that widen blood vessels and improve blood flow throughout the body, including in the vagina. This increased blood flow may help improve vaginal dryness and increase sexual arousal, which is never a bad thing.
These greens are also rich in vitamin E, magnesium, and calcium, all of which are beneficial to muscle health — including vaginal muscles.
As to what not to eat? The general rule of thumb is to skip foods with added sugars and trans fats, as well as any processed foods. Some foods can also make your urine more acidic, leading to a foul smell. In others, genetics may play a role in how food affects your body odor.
Examples of foods to avoid include:
- Brussels sprouts
- red meat
- spicy foods
- certain vitamins and supplements, such as choline
So, if you notice a particularly bad smell after eating any of these foods, it might be best to avoid them before doing the deed. Eating a balanced diet and drinking plenty of fluids will also help keep you smelling fresh.
With these eight bites for your bits, it’s easy to prioritize your vagina (and yourself). Better yet, try creating recipes that incorporate several of these foods! This healthy vegetarian lentil stew, for example, contains half of them: sweet potatoes, leafy greens, probiotic-rich Greek yogurt, and avocado.
Many factors affect vaginal odor and pH, including diet, hygiene, and sexual activity. While a strong vaginal odor may be noticeable, it’s usually not considered unhealthy. However, if you have a vaginal odor and discharge that isn’t normal for you, this could be a sign of an infection. Consider talking with a doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions.
Tiffany La Forge is a professional chef, recipe developer, and food writer who runs the blog Parsnips and Pastries. Her blog focuses on real food for a balanced life, seasonal recipes, and approachable health advice. When she’s not in the kitchen, Tiffany enjoys yoga, hiking, traveling, organic gardening, and hanging out with her corgi, Cocoa. Visit her at her blog or on Instagram.