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Can you eat your way to a better libido? The ultimate guide to aphrodisiacs
The Oxford English Dictionary defines an aphrodisiac as “a food, drink or drug that arouses sexual desire”. The word comes from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Aphrodisiacs are said to work by stimulating one or more of the five senses: sense, taste, sight, touch, smell and sound. This makes perfect sense – as the enduring appeal of mood-boosters such as wine, strawberries, candlelight, fragrance, music, chocolate, silk and even the scent of basil attests. So, what quick fixes can fire up desire on demand? And are there long-term lifestyle changes and diets that can boost libido over a lifetime? Should we also be regularly eating foods to boost hormone production?
We enlisted leading qualified nutritionists and dietitians to find out. For nutritionist Kim Pearson aphrodisiacs increase sex drive in different ways, depending on the part of the body they affect. “Some work by increasing blood flow to sex organs, while others encourage our bodies to produce higher levels of hormones associated with sex drive,” she says.
Nutritional therapist Clarissa Lenherr explain: “Although no specific food has been scientifically proven to stimulate the sex organs themselves, certain foods and the act of eating can suggest sex or trigger sexual desire in the mind.”
The libido is governed primarily by the feel-good hormone dopamine, as well as other neurotransmitters and sex hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. Having a low-nutrient diet can affect these.
A well-balanced diet should ensure you get the correct nutrients and macronutrients to fuel your libido. For example, fats affect nerve transmission, and omega-3 fatty acids encourage the production of more sex hormones. Minerals help get your blood moving and support the health of your organs. B vitamins are vital for your energy and mood, which consequently affects your libido, and Vitamin D is key for hormone creation.
“If you are not fuelling your body correctly, you may be overweight or underweight, tired, feeling down or unwell – which will in turn will make you less turned on.”
For Libby Limon, nutritional therapist and yoga instructor, diet has a huge effect on libido: “To feel frisky, most people also need to feel vibrant and energetic. Your diet is the major factor in how you feel in your day-to-day well-being. Poor dietary choices and insufficiencies in your diet can lead to hormonal imbalances, which are the driving force behind your libido. “It isn’t very glamorous or exciting, but eating a healthy diet full of nutrient-dense food such as fruit and veg and lean healthy proteins like fish will help.”
Limon also recommends avoiding sugar, refined carbs and unhealthy fats. “Sorting out your blood sugar balance will make you feel less stressed, more energetic and help you sleep better. As well as feeling more energetic there are hormonal links between the blood sugar hormones, insulin and cortisol, and your sex hormones. The key is to eat regular balanced healthy meals that always include healthy fats and proteins, and to avoid very carbohydrate-heavy or sugary meals and snacks.
“It’s important to look after your cardiovascular health too. Blood flow is a major factor in sexual performance as we age: think lots of omega 3 from oily fish, anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric, and even a little bit of red wine.”
It is worth noting that there is also no harm in enlisting your aphrodisiacs of choice to boost your health and mood, even if you are not planning anything amorous. Here, we round up some of the best-known aphrodisiacs to see you to a healthier sex life – and explain what nutritionists really think of them:
“Oysters are a well known aphrodisiac, and rightly so,” says Pearson. “Oysters contain zinc, a mineral vital in the production of testosterone. There is a link between erectile dysfunction and zinc deficiency.”
Lenherr adds: “They also contain dopamine which stimulates the arousal part located in our brains, the nucleus accumbens. This area of the brain, when stimulated, governs our reward system.”
Kim Pearson points out that this tasty fruit contains the phytonutrient citrulline, which leads to an increase in the amount of nitric oxide in your body. This causes blood vessels to relax and speeds up circulation.
“Phenylethylamine, a compound found in chocolate, promotes feelings of well-being and excitement,” says Pearson. “It also contains methylxanthines which stimulate the transmission and conduction of nerve impulses.”
“Chocolate also promotes the release of serotonin into your body,” notes Lenherr. “It is known as ‘the happy hormone’, and boosts your mood and energy. Excitement, mood and energy is a recipe for a libido boost. Chocolate also contains caffeine, which might trigger a sensory response.”
Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert, author of Renourish: A Simple Way to Eat Well, adds: "Chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa (typically above 70%), contains a significant amount of phenylethylamine which is said to release similar endorphins that are triggered by sex. According to research published by the American Dietetic Association, this may also increase feelings of attraction between two individuals. Meanwhile, a British study has demonstrated that eating chocolate creates similar activity in the brain to the activity triggered by kissing.”
“Almonds (without the skin) are great for women because they have high levels of magnesium, a key mineral for female hormone balance,” recommends Limon.
“Figs are fleshy, sweet and intricate to eat, and are often compared to the female sexual organ. Figs are rich in magnesium, a fundamental nutrient needed for the production of sex hormones androgen and estrogen that contribute to your libido,” explains Lenherr. “They also contain amino acids that increase production in nitric oxide, a key factor in the vasodilation of your blood vessels, which allows blood to flow quicker.”
According to Lambert, research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine demonstrated that one or two glasses of red wine helped increase sexual desire in women. “This was put down to the fact that red wine contains quercetin, which accounts for the positive response in regards to sexual desire,” she says. “Nevertheless, researchers discussed that those who drank more than two glasses or indulged in other alcoholic beverages did not demonstrate the same response.”
According to Pearson, panax ginseng is a traditional Korean herbal remedy used to treat a number of different health issues, including erectile dysfunction in men. Some studies have shown that both ginseng and saffron can boost sexual desire. Chilli
“Hot chillies contain the chemical capsaicin, which stimulates the release of endorphins. It increases circulation, boosts blood flow and energy levels and stimulates nerve endings,” says Pearson. Strawberries
According to Pearson, strawberries are a good source of vitamin C, which helps blood vessels to relax. This can help to promote healthy blood flow to where it’s needed. Ginger
“Ginger elevates heart rates and increases the body temperature. Over the centuries, people have taken ginger to help gain the affections of a loved one,” says Pearson. “Even the Kama Sutra promotes this practice.”
“Beetroot increases levels of nitric oxide in the blood which causes blood vessels to dilate, increasing blood flow. Nitric oxide levels in the blood have been shown to promote stamina and endurance,” recommends Pearson. “Try a concentrated beetroot supplement.”
“Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc, which is linked to fertility and sex drive. They also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which promote healthy arteries and capillaries, boosting blood flow to the right places,” explains Pearson.
“Sworn by the Peruvians to be the most powerful aphrodisiac, maca root is believed to boost sexual strength and libido,” says Pearson. “Maca root also improves immunity and can be used in cooking or taken as a supplement.” It is best thrown into smoothies or sprinkled onto cereal for a malty sweet taste, Lenherr recommends. “Although, a note, the science is still unsure as to why it works,” she warns.
– © The Daily Telegraph