For years, people have sought to enhance their sex lives by trying out expensive lotions, potions, and therapists. But perhaps all it takes is a quick visit to your local grocery store to (re)ignite those flames of passion and get your mojo going.
Different civilizations have attributed aphrodisiac powers (named after the Greek goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite) to specific foods and drinks. “Historically, most of the cultures around the world embracing the concept of aphrodisiacs suffered from a significant lack of food,” Amy Reiley, author of Fork Me, Spoon Me and Romancing the Stove. “And in many cases, we now realize that the aphrodisiacs they so revered provided vital nutrients for energy, blood flow, mood enhancement, fertility, or to support sex drive.”
So, is there any actual scientific evidence to show that particular foods actually do increase sexual desire? “No food has actually been validated or scientifically shown to increase blood flow and therefore provide stimulation to the human sex organs,” says Dr. Robert Glatter, attending physician in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, New York. “Many of the foods that we believe are aphrodisiacs may actually derive their effects due to a psychological influence. In other words, if you plant the idea that a certain food is an aphrodisiac, many times people will get aroused just by thinking about it. It's a placebo effect in essence."
Oysters and chocolate are two examples of foods that have been studied extensively for their alleged aphrodisiac powers. “Ancient cultures believed that oysters resembled female genitalia, which was believed to increase sexual arousal,” explains Dr. Glatter. “Oysters are actually loaded with zinc, and many medical studies in the recent past have linked deficiencies in zinc to impotence as well as delayed sexual development. However, there has not been any large-scale study that has evaluated whether consuming oysters has a direct effect on sexual arousal.“
Researchers have also claimed that phenylethylamine (PEA), a chemical stimulant found in the brain and also an ingredient in chocolate, has been thought to play a role in emotions. “The problem is that we actually absorb only trace amounts of PEA from chocolate which would unlikely contribute to changing our emotional state,” says Dr. Glatter. “It's more likely we derive sexual stimulation from chocolate's texture and taste in our mouth, along with a transient spike in our blood sugar.”
That said, Glatter does agree that particular foods may be sexually stimulating simply based on their shape. “Certain foods and the process of eating can provide the suggestion of sex to our minds, which can then trigger sexual desire in our bodies,” he says.
Good nutrition and health also have a positive effect on sex drive. Registered dietitian Charlotte Martin says "What you eat can have a huge impact on libido. Obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and insulin resistance, as a result of poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle, can lead to a lackluster sex life. A healthy diet, rich in vegetables, fruit, lean meats, low-fat dairy, and whole grains, is key to improving and/or maintaining sex drive. Essentially, foods that are good for your heart are good for a healthy libido.”
Despite the scientific evidence, many nutritionists and dieticians ascribe aphrodisiac qualities to various foods, for various reasons. From almonds to watermelon, then, check out our guide to foods that are definitely good for your health and that might help get you and partner in the mood…
“So many nutritional benefits to almonds: they are high in healthy monounsaturated fats and a top food source of the antioxidant vitamin E, which helps support a healthy heart. They have 6 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber per ounce (about 23 nuts), which means they are a satiating snack that can help with weight management. Almonds have long been known as an aphrodisiac and symbol of fertility. The healthy fats found in almonds have been shown to increase fertility.”
Jessica Fishman Levinson, registered dietician
“It is believed French couples once enjoyed three courses of asparagus the eve of their wedding in hopes of increasing libido for the big night. Aside from its suggestive shape, the aphrodisiac properties of asparagus have also been associated with its high content of vitamin E and folate. Vitamin E is known as the 'sex vitamin,' because it helps stimulate production of sex hormones and can improve blood flow throughout the body, including to the genitalia. Folate has been shown to boost both sperm count and quality, and aids in histamine production, which has been linked with a healthy sex drive.”