Photo courtesy of CN Digital StudioBy Mickey Rapkin, Bon Appétit
For centuries, we mortals have obsessed over aphrodisiacs--those naturally occurring sexual stimulants we could enjoy before (you know) enjoying. It turns out it's not some fools errand, and there's actually some legitimate science at work here. Oysters? (The secret is zinc.) Kale? (Yes, really!) Here, we break down 10 foods to help boost between-the-sheet performance. Let us know how they work for you in the comments section. Then again, maybe don't.
There's an 80s nostalgia kick happening in fashion and film, and it extends all the way to the cupboard with wheat germ, a secret sexual booster. Not only is wheat germ high in fiber (good for your heart and stamina), it's rich with the amino acid L-arginine (the same substance found in energy supplements like N.O. Xplode). "Arginine is a vasodilator," explains Dr. Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh. "We call it 'athlete's Viagra.' It increases oxygen delivery to all organs of the body." (We get it.) It doesn't hurt that arginine--also found in granola, cashews, and root vegetables, if you're not feeling the germ--is involved in the production of certain anti-aging hormones. What makes you feel randier than looking young?
Mmm hmm: Wheat Germ Scones with Dried Fruits and Nuts
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"Dark chocolate puts you in the cuddling mood," says Dr. Eric Amaranth, a sex therapist in private practice in Manhattan. "I don't keep track of science. I keep track of what works." Thankfully, we're on top of both (so to speak). While we always assumed chocolate was one of those Valentine's Day clichés--an allegedly boner-ific aid--we stand corrected. Dark chocolate is high in anti-oxidants and phyto nutrients, explains Dr. Bonci. "It helps prevent LDLs--the bad cholesterol--from adhering to the artery." And better blood flow leads to better sex. Chocolate is also rich in magnesium (which soothes nerves), methylxanthines (boosts libido) and phenylalanine, an amino acid that produces dopamine (the feel-good chemical). "Magnesium is important for muscle contraction and relaxation," Dr. Bonci adds. "The electrical charge that lets muscles expand and contract." Translation: Ba da bing.
Mmm hmm: Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies
In the past, the color red has been called an aphrodisiac. (Researchers at the University of Rochester even proved it in 2008.) But there's more at work here: It turns out strawberries are packed with B vitamins, an antioxidant. "B vitamins are essential for healthy nerves," says Dr. Steven Lamm, an internist at New York University, and the author of the wellness guide, No Guts, No Glory, and a frequent guest on The View. "Anything that's helpful for the nervous system is going to be helpful for sexual function." But is that enough for strawberries to earn a spot on this list? "They're also rich in potassium and folates which is good for muscles," Dr. Lamm says. "I'm in favor of strawberries." Done.
Mmm hmm: Strawberry Jam
Soy bomb! This one's a two-fer, working bedroom miracles for both men and women. First things first: Soy protein does things like lower cholesterol and blood pressure, while boosting circulation. But soy also contains phytoestrogens, which promotes (yes) vaginal lubrication while also stemming off that monthly buzz kill, PMS. "Soy is a source of plant estrogen," explains says Dr. Bonci. But fear not, dudes. Soy is your friend, too. "Soy is protective against prostate cancer," Bonci says. So, you know, there's that.
Mmm hmm: Edamame Hummus
Casanova, that legendary 18th century lover, allegedly ate 50 oysters for breakfast every day. It turns out just one oyster (east or west coast) has enough of the daily dose of zinc to boost sexual function, according to a 2005 study by scientists at Barry University in Miami, done in conjunction with a laboratory in Naples, Italy. "Zinc is an essential mineral for healthy sperm production," says Dr. Lamm of NYU. If you can't stomach raw oysters, red meat (obvious) and sesame seeds (huh!) are also rich in zinc.
Mmm hmm: Tomales Bay Oysters Rockefeller
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Talk about a reason to give thanks next holiday season. Pumpkin seeds--the scourge of jack-o-lantern carvers everywhere, but a perfect fall snack--contain phytosteroles, which are known to lower cholesterol (and anything that keeps L-D-L down, it turns out, is good for the S-E-X). The seeds are also high in zinc--great for prostate health, not to mention what it does for sperm production. But its greatest gift may come with encouraging healthy blood flow. "Pumpkin seeds help regulate blood sugar," says Dr. Lamm. "Blood sugar is linked to blood vessel abnormalities. No one food is going to make all the difference, but I'd put a plus on pumpkin seeds." Consider it done.
Mmm hmm: Pan-Seared Salmon with Pumpkin Seed Cilantro Pesto
Like most dark, leafy greens, kale is a bit of a sexual wonder food: high in magnesium (see above), pantothetic acid and B-vitamins, so, helpful in making the best use of the calories we take in. "If I want to perform well in the bedroom--or on the playing field--I want to feel energized," says Dr. Bonci. "Which means that I need to derive benefit from the nutrients that I eat." Not to bury the lede, but kale's also packed with niacin, good for boosting blood flow, which, OK, you get it.
Mmm hmm: Tuscan Kale Caesar Slaw
No cheese plate is complete without a handful of almonds, and here's why. "I think what we've appreciated over the last 10 to 15 years," says NYU's Dr. Lamm, "is that a man's sex life is directly related to how healthy he is--especially your blood vessels." Almonds promote good cardiovascular health while also lowering cholesterol. Sure, they're also stuffed with fat, but it's the polyunsaturated kind, which protects blood vessels the same way an Omega 3 does in fish.
Mmm hmm: Fried Almonds
STEWED TOMATOES What's for dinner? How about a little red sauce Italian. It turns out that tomatoes--or what the Puritans called "love apples"--are rich in lyposene, an anti-oxidant that keeps the prostate healthy. And cooking the tomatoes with a hint of olive oil only helps to draw out the lyposene. "The body needs fat," says Dr. Lamm. "They're necessary for the production of cholesterol and hormones. Olive oil is known to have cardio vascular protections. It's a useful nutrient." There are other ways to get lyposene--like in watermelon. "But the body is better able to absorb it when you cook the tomatoes," Dr. Bonci adds. A little bonus: A recent study shows that the smell of tomatoes can increase penile blood flow by 5%. No joke.
Mmm hmm: Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Chickpeas and Feta
CHIA SEEDS Chia seeds may conjure images of leafy, green pottery--As Seen On TV. But mix a few chia seeds into your morning smoothie and you'll conjure up another image: Ron Jeremy. Chia seeds (as much a staple of the Aztec diet as corn) are rich in Omega 3-fatty acids, great for reducing inflammation in the arteries and keeping blood pumping, according to (among others) a study out of the University of Maryland Medical Center. Chia seeds are also rich in protein, fiber, iron, zinc (good for testosterone!), combining to boost stamina and circulation while juicing nerve endings for an added sensory experience. It gives a whole new meaning to the old battle cry, Ch-ch-ch-chia!
Mmm hmm: Chia Limeade
More from Bon Appétit:
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Junk Food Makeover: Healthier Chicken Nuggets
Photo courtesy of CN Digital StudioBy Mickey Rapkin, Bon Appétit