Humans have always linked sex and food. Since the dawn of time, we've been experimenting with dietary supplements to amp up our sex drive. Some foods, like wine and oysters, have a pretty good record (though you can probably attribute the success of these two to the alcohol and suggestive shape). Others, like powdered rhino horn and lettuce, are just plain weird. And while the existence of true natural aphrodisiacs is up for debate, it's an absolute fact that eating certain foods can and does improve your overall sex life. True, most of these foods are useful for their nutritional value -- it's obvious that someone who gets a diverse mix of fruits, vegetables and fiber in his or her diet is going to be more capable in bed. But there's a set of nutrients your body uses specifically for sex. We'll look at 10 of these nutrient-rich foods that help keep you ready for action when the lights go out.
As far as classic aphrodisiacs go, chocolate is about as close to perfect as they get. Everyone knows the old semi-urban legend that chocolate has chemicals in it that simulate being in love (they're called phenylethylamine and serotonin, which are mild sexual stimulants and mood boosters), but the benefits chocolate has in store for your sex life don't end there. Dark chocolate is also rich in antioxidants and high in caffeine, two ingredients that can increase blood flow and jump-start the libido. Moreover, there's a unique sensual aspect to eating chocolate. A BBC study also found that participants who let chocolate melt on their tongues had higher pulse rates, as well as brain activity similar to that experienced during passionate kissing.
This evidence doesn't mean that all chocolate is going to do the trick. In order to get the right boost, you've got to choose pure, dark chocolate -- eating a huge slice of devil's food cake will just put you in the mood for an afternoon nap. Milk or white chocolate may satisfy your sweet tooth, but the added fat and sugar can slow you down. In order to experience the benefits without the added calorie load, to go for the darkest, least-sweetened chocolate possible.
Let's face it: Sex can be a lot of work, and all that strenuous physical activity takes a heavy toll on your joints and cartilage. Flexibility, strong connective tissue and stamina are all important factors in maintaining a robust sex life, and one food that may have a positive effect on those joints is gelatin.
A 1998 study at Ball State University found that gelatin reduced joint pain in athletes. If you're looking for energy before a big night, studies indicate that eating gelatin can help heal connective tissue, keep your ligaments springy and repair minor damage to joint lining. Although gelatin alone doesn't contain much nutritional value, there's something enticingly seductive (and curative) about the wiggle of it.
Red wine is a heavy hitter on any list of foods that improve your sex life. It lubricates conversation, calms the jitters, pairs well with a good meal and even provides the opportunity to impress a date with a little wine knowledge. However, one of the reasons that red wine has been used as an aphrodisiac for thousands of years (besides getting would-be partners a little tipsy), is what a sensual experience it is to drink it. The rich scent of the grape, the deep scarlet coloring, the burst of flavor as it hits the palate -- nothing says seduction like red wine.
From a nutritional perspective, red wine has a variety of other benefits that make it stand out in the field of alcoholic beverages. It's a lighter, sexier alternative to a pint of beer, and because of its contact with grape skins, it has a higher antioxidant content than white wine. Moderate consumption of alcohol can even reduce the danger of blood clots. Red wine also contains resveratrol, a chemical that can lower the risk of heart disease and prevent damage to blood vessels from cholesterol.
When talking about libido-boosting foods, it's hard not to mention oysters, the flagship aphrodisiac. While part of oysters' reputation can be attributed to the placebo effect, the mollusk -- especially in raw form -- is one of the best sources for minerals you need to stay in peak form in bed. Oysters are powerful mineral supplements: 1 ounce of raw Atlantic oysters contains 10 percent of your daily value of iron and 91 percent of the B12 your body needs [source: NutritionData]. Moreover, they contain 170 percent of your daily value for zinc -- some of the highest zinc content of any natural food. Oysters are also a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin D, manganese, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids.
While women are certain to benefit from a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals, the zinc in oysters deserves a special mention for men. Aside from being good for sore throats, zinc has been linked to the regulation of testosterone levels in men and is a key nutrient in sexual health. It's the most important trace mineral for male sexual performance, especially vital for regulating testosterone levels and producing sperm. Every time a man ejaculates, about 5 milligrams of zinc are lost, so zinc deficiencies are common in males.
Oatmeal may be America's least titillating breakfast food, but what it lacks in sex appeal it can make up for with a powerful effect on your love life. What's boring and bland in the morning turns into a burning flame of oatmeal-fueled passion at night.
Or, if not a burning flame of passion, oatmeal can at least keep you fit and ready for action. Oats contain beta-glucan, a special type of fiber that's been shown to lower cholesterol levels by up to 23 percent. This may not seem like a lot, but every 1 percent drop in cholesterol means a 2 percent decrease in the risk of heart disease. Those are good odds, especially since heart health means sexual health. Beta-glucan can also increase your immune system's response to infection and stabilize blood sugar levels.
Oats are also high in manganese and selenium, which are vital for hormone production and regulation. And while it's not going to make you any friskier if your system gets a powerful blast of selenium, a deficiency will definitely slow you down in bed.
OK, it may seem a little obvious that you've got to drink plenty of water. But the benefits of water don't end with avoiding dehydration. The holy grail of sex has been the search for a food or drink that will make semen and vaginal secretions taste more pleasant. And there are plenty of contenders. Some people swear by pineapple juice, cinnamon or parsley -- all of which may help, but a few ounces of pineapple juice at the end of the day isn't going to cover up the triple venti latte you had at 9 a.m. What comes out of us will always be the same stuff that goes in, and certain foods -- such as asparagus, coffee, garlic and red meat -- make your bodily excretions taste worse.
Hydration is the only surefire solution. While you can't completely eliminate the effects of the garlic meatball sub you had for lunch, you can dilute the effects of the chemicals you're putting into your body. Drinking at least 2 liters (67 fluid ounces) of water a day should do the trick. It takes about 24 hours to flush out from your body what you've eaten, so keep that water coming.
Bananas aren't only supremely convenient to eat on the go, they're also packed full of the vitamins and minerals that will keep you on your game. As one of the best sources for potassium, you should really be eating bananas as often as possible regardless of how you intend to spend your energy. But bananas are also high in folate, which can enhance blood flow during arousal and aid in the production of new cells. A high folate diet means faster healing and recovery time, as well as increasing the chance of conception during sex and encouraging prenatal health during the rapid cellular growth of the fetus in the womb. What's more, bananas are rich in fructooligosaccharide, a chemical that aids your ability to metabolize calcium, which promotes bone density, thereby reducing the risk of injury while under the covers. Not convinced? If nothing else, it should be easy to find a saucy way to eat them.
They say that the brain is the largest human sex organ, and blueberries might just be the perfect choice for keeping that organ in tip-top shape. Studies have linked blueberry consumption to increased memory and concentration, and enough blueberries can give you the mental focus to not only rock your partner's world, but to remember his or her name afterward.
But the benefits don't end there. Blueberries are so packed with nutrients, it's almost easier to list the ways they don't help your body. The antioxidants in blueberries can, among other things, build a stronger immune system, raise oxygen levels in your body and increase circulation where it counts. Blueberries might even be able to help you develop that toned, sexy stomach you've always wanted -- a University of Michigan study found that rats fed on a diet supplemented with freeze-dried blueberries had less abdominal fat and healthier metabolisms than rats that ate no supplements.
Heart racing, toes curling … and tongue burning? Chili peppers are another food that can get your motor running. Capsaicin, the chemical that gives you a burning sensation when you eat spicy food, is a thermogenic agent, meaning that it increases your metabolic activity. This gives you more energy and stamina and revs your body's calorie-burning capacity.
Capsaicin is also oil and fat-soluble, which means that it absorbs quickly into the skin or the mouth, creating a tingling sensation in small doses and heightening skin sensitivity. This increase can be used to your benefit -- try kissing someone a few minutes after eating a jalapeno. You'll feel the difference, and so will they as the capsaicin transfers. Just be careful where you kiss them -- experienced cooks know the danger of cutting chili peppers with their bare hands or touching any tender areas too quickly after seeding them. The increased sensitivity that capsaicin imparts can get out of control quickly and become even dangerously painful.
Certain Food Aromas
There's a connection among food, sex and scent. Our sense of smell is tied so deeply into our perception of food that we nearly lose the ability to taste without it. Smell is so entwined with the way we perceive sex that many people who lose their sense of smell also experience sexual dysfunction.
True aphrodisiacs may not even come from what we eat -- scientists have found that we become aroused just by smelling certain foods. One recent study found that blood flow to the penis increased up to 40 percent when men were exposed to the scent of lavender and pumpkin pie. In women, blood flow to the vagina increased by 13 percent when female subjects smelled licorice candy, cucumber and baby powder.
Scientists are unsure as to why certain smells have such a profound effect. Interestingly, the same study found no significant change in blood flow when participants were exposed to perfume and cologne. There's just something magical about pumpkin pie and licorice.
Chaga, cordyceps, lion's mane – the names are mysterious and magical, but does mushroom coffee have medicinal properties? HowStuffWorks takes a look.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
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