Let’s talk aphrodisiac foods. February is the month of romance. For some, this brings images of flowers, chocolates, and candles. Others prefer a more sensual way of showing they care. Regardless of how your evening starts, who doesn’t love to end with the possibility of heightened sexual arousal and desire?
Aphrodisiacs are named after Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love. They’re defined as foods or other substances that cause arousal or sexual desire. While setting up the ultimate romantic evening, with candles, rose petals, and John Denver playing softly in the background sounds like the ultimate aphrodisiac, for some it’s not enough. Can you do more to set the scene before the actual moment? Can aphrodisiac foods you eat increase libido, sensitivity, and blood flow? The scientific evidence is lacking, but don’t let that stop you from setting up the ultimate aphrodisiac meal to start your night off right.
A strong sex drive is driven by neurotransmitters, hormones, physical fitness, and a positive body image. Incorporating foods that support optimal body function can have an inadvertent positive effect on the hormones that contribute to sex drive and overall pleasure between the sheets. Although the scientific evidence may not be abundant, the logic of how these foods optimize body function might be enough to convince you.
Aphrodisiac Foods #1: Maca
Maca is a vegetable crop that grows high in the Andes Mountains and has the odd distinction of looking like a golden-colored radish and smelling like butterscotch. People take it orally to enhance stamina, energy, memory, and athletic performance. But more commonly, they take it to treat sexual dysfunction caused by antidepressants. Read the Spartan guide to maca here.
Perhaps it is merely the potassium and iron found in maca that contribute to increased blood volume, vasodilation of the blood vessels, and subsequent improved blood flow (including to you-know-where). But if there is more to this member of the crucifer family’s ability to enhance arousal, we should probably find out.
A small study of 50 men compared rates of erectile dysfunction and overall satisfaction using the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF-5) and the Satisfaction Profile (SAT-P). The study was 12 weeks long and showed an improvement in both the control group and the placebo group. However, improvement was greater in the group taking 2,400 mg of maca extract. Want even more ways to boost red blood cells? Check out Spartan’s red-blood-cell-boosting salad.
Aphrodisiac Foods #2: Pistachios
A study in the International Journal of Impotence Research investigated the effects of pistachio nuts on erectile function (IIEF) scores, penile color Doppler ultrasound (PCDU), and serum lipid levels in patients with erectile dysfunction. Why lipid levels? Let’s connect the dots. Erectile dysfunction is often found in men with high cholesterol levels, diabetes. Now consider that hypertension and issues such as cardiovascular disease and general vascular disease result in reduced dilation of blood vessels and blood flow. Making the connection yet?
Pistachio nuts contain the nonessential amino acid arginine, which appears to maintain flexible arteries and enhance blood flow by boosting nitric oxide, a compound that relaxes blood vessels. The study looked at 17 men with erectile function for 12 months, measuring the five domains of IEFF (erectile function, orgasmic function, sexual desire, sexual intercourse satisfaction, and overall satisfaction). Although most of the findings were not statistically significant, the results did show increases in all categories. Arginine is also found in poultry, pumpkin seeds, spirulina, dairy products, and chickpeas. Discover all of the benefits of pistachios and how to use them in Spartan’s food of the week.
Aphrodisiac Foods #3: Oysters
Zinc is an essential mineral that is naturally present in some foods. Zinc is involved in numerous aspects of cellular metabolism. It is required for the catalytic activity of approximately 100 enzymes, and it plays a role in immune function, protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis, and cell division. So how does zinc connect with sex? A study in the Journal of Reproduction and Infertility reviewed zinc deficiency and its negative effects on testosterone and sperm production. The study reviews the role zinc plays in men’s health, germination, sperm quality, and fertilization. Zinc’s physiological role in men relates to prostate gland function, testosterone production, and the development of mature sperm.
Testosterone is important because this hormone affects not only sperm production but sexual desire as well. Long-term inadequate zinc intake may lead to testosterone deficiency, thereby reducing sex drive.
Although zinc is available in pill form, excessive intake can have negative effects such as lethargy, diarrhea, and elevated risk of prostate cancer. When obtained through food, the likelihood of excessive zinc intake is minimal. Aim for a weekly intake of foods containing zinc, such as oysters, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, almonds, fortified milk, and mushrooms.
Aphrodisiac Foods #4: Salmon
Perhaps one of the most important ingredients for a night of untamed love is the ability to experience motivation and pleasure. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is manufactured with the amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine. Eating foods that contain these amino acids could help with the production of dopamine, which signals feelings of motivation and pleasure. Dopamine is also linked to the production of testosterone because it inhibits prolactin, the hormone that can reduce testosterone production.
No matter who you are, the act of intimacy probably goes hand in hand with a bit of adrenaline. Dopamine is a precursor to norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates the production of adrenaline, which increases alertness.
Dopamine and norepinephrine can be found in salmon, as well as eggs, beans, nuts, and whole grains. Learn more about salmon and try some great recipes at our food of the week feature.
Aphrodisiac Foods #5: Dark Chocolate
Chocolate is more than just a staple Valentine’s Day gift. The phenethylamine found in dark chocolate is a byproduct of phenylalanine conversion and can produce feelings of bliss. No wonder Hershey’s chose to name one of their chocolates Bliss.
Your Valentine’s Day Dinner Menu
2 salmon fillets (4–6 oz each, skin on)
Salt and pepper
½ lemon, juiced
¼ tsp lemon zest
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp honey
¼ cup chopped, shelled pistachio nuts
2 Tbsp panko bread crumbs
1 Tbsp olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Place the salmon on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper, skin side down. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, lemon zest, mustard, and honey. Spead the mixture evenly overtop of the salmon fillets.
- Combine the pistachios with the panko crumbs and olive oil. Spread the pistachio mixture overtop of the salmon, pressing it lightly into the salmon.
- Bake the salmon until it is cooked through and the pistachios are golden brown, 15–20 minutes.
Dessert: Sweet Strawberry Chop
¼ cup dark chocolate chips
1 Tbsp coconut flakes
1 Tbsp honey
- Wash, dry, and chop the strawberries.
- In a small saucepan, melt the chocolate.
- Drizzle the dark chocolate over the chopped strawberries, and top with the coconut flakes and honey.
These will also help you and your partner get ready for a first Spartan Race. Check out Spartan’s 2-for-1 Valentine’s Special.
Aldemir, M., et al. 2011. “Pistachio Diet Improves Erectile Function Parameters and Serum Lipid Profiles in Patients with Erectile Dysfunction.” International Journal of Impotence Research 23 (1): 32–38.
Fallah, Ali, Azadeh Mohammad-Hasani, and Abasalt Hosseinzadeh Colagar. 2018. “Zinc Is an Essential Element for Male Fertility: A Review of Zn Roles in Men’s Health, Germination, Sperm Quality, and Fertilization.” Journal of Reproduction and Infertility 19 (2):69–81.
Zenico, T., et al. 2009. “Subjective Effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) Extract on Well-Being and Sexual Performances in Patients with Mild Erectile Dysfunction: a Randomised, Double-Blind Clinical Trial.” aphrodisiac foods 41 (2): 95–99. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0272.2008.00892.x.