Aphrodisiac Foods

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Ah, Valentine’s Day. It’s the time for long-stem red roses, dinner reservations at an expensive French restaurant, and the burning desire for love and passion. As you sit down at the restaurant across from your loved one, you make sure to do exactly as a recent article in Cosmopolitan said. You recall the list of sure-fire foods to spice up your love life; you order a half-dozen raw oysters requesting hot sauce on the side as an appetizer, and a bottle of Chianti Classico from Italy to share. As an entrée, you opt for the salmon with honey glaze and seasonal asparagus. If the first two dishes didn’t send you to cloud nine, then dessert is the pièce de résistance. A classic vanilla bean infused ice cream with bits of decadent dark chocolate mixed throughout, topped with whipped cream and a single cherry. You finish the meal and are left with a sinking feeling; you don’t know whether it’s the bill looming in your face or the fact that these so-called aphrodisiac foods did nothing to stimulate your sexual appetite.

Adapted from the name Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, aphrodisiacs are believed to contribute to three categories of sexual stimulation: libido, potency, and sexual pleasure. Foods that resemble genitalia, such as bananas, or have certain textures, such as raw oysters, have been linked to having sexually stimulating powers. To date, no studies have proven the effectiveness of foods as aphrodisiacs. The FDA ruled that it is illegal for any food or herb to be labeled an aphrodisiac because of their ineffectiveness. But if aphrodisiacs don’t exist, then where do all these tingly sensations come from when eating food? The answer – neurotransmitters and hormones. Eating specific foods merely supply the signals to produce these chemicals.



Manufactured by the conversion of amino acids phenylalanine or tyrosine, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is linked to attention, motivation and pleasure. The reward system works as such, if something feels good you’ll seek to continue the action to continue experiencing the sensation. Chances are that tasty food in front of you is signaling the reward system now. Luckily, by keeping an eye to proper portion sizes and practicing slower, more mindful eating, we can curb the effects of this natural reward system and prevent overeating.

Food Sources: Fish (Salmon), Lean-cuts of Beef & Lamb, Turkey, Chicken, Crustaceans (Crabs, Lobster), Low-fat Cheeses, Soybeans (Tofu), Seeds (Pumpkin, Flaxseeds), Nuts (Peanuts, Pistachios), Eggs, Beans (White Beans, Adzuki, Lentils), Whole grains (Wild Rice, Oats)


A hormone that affects sexual desire as well as sperm production in men. Dopamine is directly linked to testosterone because it inhibits prolactin, the hormone that inhibits testosterone production. Diets low in foods containing zinc and vitamin D were associated with testosterone deficiencies. If prolonged testosterone deficiencies occur, not only can sex drive suffer but erectile dysfunction may develop. It was estimated that in 2007, 18% of men ages 20 years or older were suffering from some degree of erectile dysfunction.

OystersFood Sources: Zinc – Seafood (Oysters), Lean-cuts of Beef & Lamb, Seeds (Pumpkin, Flaxseeds), Nuts (Almonds); Vitamin D – Fish (Salmon), Mushrooms, Tofu, Fortified Milk, Fortified Wholegrain Cereal


Dopamine is a precursor to the neurotransmitter, norepinephrine, which stimulates production of adrenaline leading to increased alertness when an object draws your attention. The pleasant smell, taste, and sight of specific foods can trigger attention. Similar to dopamine, diets with sufficient tyrosine are required to induce a norepinephrine response.

Food Sources: Fish (Salmon), Lean-cuts of Beef & Lamb, Turkey, Chicken, Crustaceans (Crabs, Lobster), Low-fat Cheeses, Soybeans (Tofu), Seeds (Pumpkin, Flaxseeds), Nuts (Peanuts, Pistachios), Eggs, Beans (White Beans, Adzuki, Lentils), Whole grains (Wild Rice, Oats)


Considered a byproduct of phenylalanine conversion, this neurotransmitter is associated with the feelings of bliss and giddiness. It increases the extracellular levels of dopamine and norepinephrine further enhancing their effects.

Food Sources: Dark Chocolate, Fermented Cheeses (Cheddar, Brie), Soybeans (Tofu), Nuts (Almonds, Peanuts), Eggs, Lean-cuts of Pork


It is said that Cupid, the god of desire, dipped his arrow in honey before shooting his victims, filling them with the irrepressible want. So maybe honey and countless other aphrodisiac foods can’t increase libido, but selecting certain foods will contribute to the creation of chemicals involved in L-O-V-E. Just remember, select healthy food choices that will not only stimulate brain function but benefit the body as a whole. Why? Because treating your body right is equivalent to loving yourself, and loving yourself is downright sexy.

This blog was written by Josh Naumann, a dietetic intern at the University of Maryland.