The foods that boost – and zap – libido
At this time of year, many of us are turning to foods like soups and stews to help warm us up – but if your sex life is flagging a little, have you also thought about eating to boost libido?
Whether you're prepared to slurp oysters for breakfast and try out certain herbal remedies, or cut down on processed fatty food and salts – different ingredients can either bring your sex drive up, or right down.
So, if you're after a pick-me-up in the bedroom, here's what to load on to your plate and what to avoid, according to a host of experts who spoke to Yahoo Life UK.
Foods that boost libido
Shellfish is thought to be associated with libido as a result of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, rising from the sea, and the name 'aphrodisiac' derives from.
But more technically speaking, they are packed with zinc, which plays a role in the production of testosterone and sperm.
“One of the richest sources of zinc is oysters, which have been seen as an aphrodisiac food for centuries and are often associated with romantic suppers between couples – actually an occasion that psychologically can help pave the way for a night of passion,” says Rob Hobson, registered nutritionist and head of nutrition at Healthspan.
“Oysters certainly are not everyone’s cup of tea and not a food you find in your local supermarket, but fear not as it’s the zinc that counts when it comes to libido.
“Whilst they may not seem as sexy, other great sources of zinc include lobster, red meat, nuts, seeds and lentils.”
“When you think of avocados, you may just think of them smashed on toast, but there’s certainly one possible nutrition benefit that links to their proposed libido-boosting properties,” says Rosie Long, registered associate nutritionist.
“Avocados contain vitamin B6, which helps regulate the activity of our hormones.
“Plus, they provide potassium, a nutrient that’s vital for maintaining normal blood pressure.
“That’s great news when things get steamy under the covers.”
Bananas are similarly high in vitamin B6 and potassium.
A 2016 study by the University of Anglia found men who ate more foods rich in antioxidants called flavonoids were less likely to develop erectile dysfunction.
When specifically looking at fruit, a “major source” of these natural substances, the scientists discovered a “higher intake” reduced a man’s risk by 14%.
“Foods rich in flavonoids include berries, citrus fruits, grapes and apples,” explains Hobson.
Other sources include cocoa powder, tea, red peppers, kale and broccoli.
The popular herbal remedy is frequently used to combat low libido in Chinese medicine, with research increasingly supporting its prescription.
A 2008 study by the Korea Food Research Institute in South Korea found “suggestive evidence for the effectiveness of red ginseng in the treatment of erectile dysfunction”.
The scientists added, however, the quality of the papers they analysed were “too low to draw definitive conclusions”.
A later study by Chonnam National University in South Korea found red ginseng improved “sexual arousal in menopausal women”.
While there's (unfortunately) fairly limited data supporting chocolate's concrete libido-boosting properties, enjoying a square or two may help you get in the mood.
“Chocolate contains a chemical called threobromine, which is thought to trigger the release of ‘feel good’ endorphins in the same way that making love does,” registered dietitian Juliette Kellow explains.
“Plus, it contains phenylethylamine, known as the ‘love drug’ because levels tend to be higher when we’re in love.”
Good news for chocoholics – but enjoy in moderation.
In 2018, Spanish scientists found men who ate 60g of mixed nuts a day for 14 weeks saw improvements to their sperm count, mobility and 'vitality'.
But how beneficial are they to libido? "Almonds really are a superfood and are believed to have strong aphrodisiac qualities and are even known as a fertility food. They are packed with vitamins and minerals which are hugely beneficial for reproductive health," Dr Naomi Newman-Beinart, expert nutritionist working with Doctor Seaweed, explains.
"A 2019 study found that including almonds in a regular diet significantly improved self-reported orgasmic function and sexual desire. Almonds are also rich in those all important healthy fats, protein, fibre, and magnesium. They also contain high levels of omega 3 and vitamin E which are known to enhance testosterone and sexual desire in both men and women."
Yes, that's right, seaweed can boost a whole host of things when it comes to sex.
"Seaweed can improve sexual function, energy and boost your sex drive! Seaweed is packed with iodine and having adequate iodine levels could make all the difference when it comes to getting in the mood," explains Dr Newman-Beinart.
"As seaweed is a natural source of essential iodine (which most people don't get enough of), it supports your healthy thyroid. An underactive thyroid can lead to a lack of energy and a low sex drive. Lift your libido with seaweed. This is because iodine is crucial for the production of thyroid hormones, and iodine deficiency is a leading cause of low thyroid hormone levels, which often lead to problems such as low energy and low libido."
Read more: What men and women love most about sex, according to research
Foods that zap libido
There's a fine line when it comes to booze and libido.
“Whilst a couple of drinks may lower inhibitions and make you feel more confident the effects are not always positive when it comes to sex,” says Hobson.
“Drinking alcohol increases levels of testosterone in women, which plays a role in sexual desire, but too much may have a negative effect psychologically, and worsen your ‘genital response’ and physical arousal.
“In men, too much booze is well known to cause ‘brewer’s droop’.
“Alcohol decreases blood flow to the penis, suppresses the central nervous system and increases a hormone called angiotensin, which all contribute to erectile dysfunction.
“As a side note, too much booze can also lead to riskier sexual behaviour, which may be detrimental to your health in many ways.”
Kellow even points out that alcohol can be your “worst enemy when it comes to sex”.
“Drinking one too many on date night may just send you to sleep early, while regularly drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over a longer period can significantly reduce your sex drive,” she says.
Read more: Lost your sex drive? Our expert guide to getting it back again
We don't need to tell you that too much salt isn't great for you, but it also has unwelcome knock on effects.
"Salt is certainly a passion killer as it can cause high blood pressure which can kill your libido," says Dr Newman-Beinart, which is particularly relevant for men.
“The effect of this is restricted blood flow to the penis, which in turn may lead to erectile dysfunction in men,” explains Hobson.
And women's sex drive can suffer too. "Salt can also cause water retention and bloating make you feel less sexy which also won’t help your libido," adds Dr Newman-Beinart.
Read more: Top bedroom turn-offs revealed, from dirty bedding to dodgy memorabilia
Processed fatty foods
Overindulging in too much junk food can lead to extra pounds, but being overweight is also linked to type 2 diabetes, a leading cause of erectile dysfunction.
“Eating an unhealthy diet can have an impact on your health in more ways than you may think,” says Long.
“In fact, a diet high in unhealthy saturated fats has been linked to an interference in reproductive health and sperm quality. Eating too much saturated fat also increases the risk of developing heart disease, which in turn can impact libido.”
And unfortunately, where there's processed food, there's often salt.
"A lot of processed foods contain high amounts of salt to make them taste better and so it’s best to avoid [for both men and women]," urges Dr Newman-Beinart. "Processed foods are also often high in trans fats, which have been shown to decrease testosterone levels and impair reproductive performance in human and animal studies, and can also contribute to erectile dysfunction."
Trans fats can lead to abnormal production of sperm that can also interfere with men's sex drive.
Watch: Spicy food eaters consider themselves more attractive