By Julie Upton, RD
If you want to put some sizzle back into your sex life, food can help you set the mood this Valentine's Day. There's nothing better than a romantic, home-cooked dinner, featuring some R-rated foods to help turn up the heat.
“There’s a growing body of evidence that some of the vitamins and components in foods can enhance sexual function and sexual experience,” says Jennifer R. Berman, MD, director of the Berman Women’s Wellness Center in Beverly Hills, Calif.
And if you're sporting a little extra pudge, incorporating these in-the-mood-foods into a healthy, plant-based diet is one of the best ways to help you get back to your sexy self. If you're overweight, research shows losing just 10% of your body weight can improve the quality of your sex life, explains Martin Binks, PhD, of the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center. "We find that among overweight women, they bring their negative self-talk and body image issues to the bedroom, and it negatively impacts their sexual well-being."
Here are some of the food ingredients (and my own favorite recipes) that have been major players in aphrodisiac history and lore—and also have modern-day science to help back up their claims.
Topping my of feisty foods, almonds have long been purported to increase passion, act as a sexual stimulant, and aid with fertility. Like asparagus (another one of my favorite sexy foods), almonds are nutrient-dense and rich in several trace minerals that are important for sexual health and reproduction, such as zinc, selenium, and vitamin E. “Zinc helps enhance libido and sexual desire,” says Dr. Berman. “We don’t really understand the mechanisms behind it, but we know it works.”
The Aztecs referred to avocados as, ahem, testicles, because of their physical shape. But the scientific reason why avocados make sense as an aphrodisiac is that they are rich in unsaturated fats and low in saturated fat, making them good for your heart and your arteries. Anything that keeps the heart beating strong helps keep blood flowing to all the right places; in fact, men with underlying heart disease are twice as likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED).
The color red is known to help stoke the fire: A 2008 study found that men find women sexier if they’re wearing red, as opposed to "cool" colors such as blue or green. Strawberries are also an excellent source of folic acid, a B vitamin that helps ward off birth defects in women and, according to a University of California, Berkley study, may be tied to high sperm counts in men. This Valentine's Day, try making dark chocolate–dipped strawberries. And while we're on the subject, there’s a reason we give chocolate on Valentine’s Day: It’s full of libido-boosting methylzanthines.
Despite their slippery and slimy texture, oysters may be the most well-known aphrodisiac. They’re also one of the best sources of libido-boosting zinc. But other types of seafood can also act as aphrodisiacs. Oily fish—like wild salmon and herring—contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for a healthy heart.
Any member of this tropical fruit family is super-rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, and folic acid—all of which are essential for men's reproductive health. Enjoy a romantic salad that incorporates citrus, like pink grapefruit (see next page) or mandarin oranges, or use a dressing made with lemon and lime.
Arugula has been heralded as an arousal aid since the first century. Today, research reveals that the trace minerals and antioxidants packed into dark, leafy greens are essential for our sexual health because they help block absorption of some of the environmental contaminants thought to negatively impacting our libido.
These funny-shaped fruits have a long history of being a fertility booster, and they make an excellent aphrodisiac because they are packed with both soluble and insoluble fiber, which is important for heart health. Plus, high-fiber foods help fill you up, not out, so it's easier to achieve that sexy bottom line—or belly.
A drink or two can help you relax and help lower your inhibitions—which can be a good thing if you're in a safe environment. And alcohol in moderation helps raise HDL cholesterol (the "good" kind) while reducing your chance of blood clots. If you want a nonalcoholic substitution with similar health benefits, try a deeply colored 100% fruit juice like pomegranate or Concord grape juice. Turkish researchers found that these antioxidant-packed juices can improve sperm quality and aid fertility. “Pomegranate helps with your overall health,” says Dr. Berman, “so even if you’re not producing new eggs, antioxidant-rich foods can help prevent deterioration.”
Arugula, Avocado, and Grapefruit Salad
- 2 cups arugula
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced fennel
- 1 grapefruit, cut into individual slices with the zest and pith removed
- 2 oz Parmesan cheese, shaved
- 1/2 medium Hass avocado, sliced
- Salt and pepper to taste
Toss arugula with fennel, add grapefruit and avocado, and gently toss.
Drizzle with olive oil and champagne vinegar for a light and tasty dressing.
Seared Alaska Salmon With Tomatoes, Leeks, and Artichokes*
- 4 (6 to 8 oz each) Alaska salmon fillets
- Olive oil, as needed
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 1 cup canned artichoke pieces, drained
- 1 leek (white and light parts only), julienned
- 2/3 cup diced tomato
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup fish, chicken, or vegetable broth
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp fresh basil, julienned
Heat a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Lightly brush both sides of Alaska salmon fillets with olive oil. Add fillets to pan and cook about 4 minutes until bottom side is seared. Turn salmon over; season with salt and pepper to taste, and continue cooking over medium heat for an additional 3 to 4 minutes or just until fish is opaque throughout. Remove from heat, cover, and keep warm.
While salmon is cooking, in a separate 2-quart saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Stir in the garlic, artichokes, leeks, and white wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and continue cooking until the liquid is reduced by half. Stir in the broth, continue simmering for 1 minute, then stir in the butter to melt. Stir in the basil; season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, place each portion of salmon on a serving plate, then top with 1/4 of the artichoke mixture. Serves 4. (Or two sweethearts plus two leftovers!)
Dark Chocolate–Dipped Mission Figs With Almonds**
- 2 to 3 oz best quality dark chocolate
- 1 to 2 oz California almonds
- 8 dried California black figs
Finely chop the almonds and prepare a sheet pan with parchment. Melt the chocolate in a very small bowl over a very small pot filled with simmering water. Holding fig by the stem end, dip halfway into chocolate and remove, leaving the fruit suspended over bowl until all excess chocolate has dripped off. Gently place chocolate end of fruit into chopped almonds and remove. Place chocolate-dipped fruit onto parchment-lined sheet pan to cool and harden.
*Recipe from Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute
**Recipe from Chef Christopher Greenwald, Bay Laurel Culinary, Petaluma, Calif.