It can take more than just a few candles and a Marvin Gaye song to feel sexy. A healthy lifestyle—from the food you eat to the exercise you do—can make you look and feel better, and improve your sex life, too. At the same time, some foods can be mood- and libido-killers.
"The link between food and sex drive isn’t just wishful thinking" says Cynthia Sass, RD, author of S.A.S.S Yourself Slim ($10-14; amazon.com). "Studies show that certain foods or nutrients do play a role in boosting libido and supporting a healthy sex life."
Here are a variety of foods that can put some sizzle—or fizzle—in your sex life.
We'll say it: Strawberries are sexy. Here's why. Good circulation is thought to be crucial for sexual functioning in both men and women, and strawberries are rich in antioxidants that benefit your heart and arteries.
What's more, they're rich in vitamin C, which along with antioxidants, has been linked to higher sperm counts in men. Try dipping the berries in dark chocolate, which contains methylxanthines that may activate the libido.
A glass of wine can make you feel relaxed and chatty on a date, and it's the social lubricant that often gets strangers talking to one another in a bar.
But in reality, alcohol can be one of the worst things for your love life. Too much alcohol dampens sexual desire, decreases arousal and sensitivity, and may lower inhibitions leading to unsafe decisions about sex.
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These superfruits are rich in vitamin E, which has antioxidant properties, potassium, and vitamin B6, which may prevent or delay heart disease and promote better blood flow.
They're also a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Anything that helps your heart and circulation can also be critical for a healthy sex life. Men with heart disease are twice as likely to have erectile dysfunction because both conditions can result from artery damage.
While meat does provide protein and zinc, meat also tends to be high in saturated fat and cholesterol. A meat-heavy diet is associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, health conditions that can affect blood circulation and sexual function.
What's more, a small study published in 2006 in Chemical Senses suggested that eating meat, may result in, ahem, a less attractive body odor. In the study, 17 men ate either a meat or non-meat diet for two weeks and then switched. Women were asked to rate their attractiveness based on smell alone (from armpit pads worn by the men), and they tended to prefer non-meat eaters.
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Sweet potatoes are rich in potassium, which helps fight high blood pressure, which is associated with a higher risk of erectile dysfunction.
They're also rich in beta-carotene, providing the body with vitamin A, which is suspected (but not proven) to be helpful for those with infertility.
Zinc is thought to be good for sexual health (it can help testosterone and sperm production in men) and the No. 1 source is oysters. But really, how often do you eat oysters? Another source: Sesame seeds, says Sass.
This popular summer fruit is low in calories, but also high in potentially libido-boosting phytonutrients.
In 2008, Texas A&M research suggested that the lycopene, citrulline, and beta-carotene found in watermelon may help relax blood vessels, and provide a natural enhancement for revving up your sex drive.
Many fried and fast foods have high levels of "bad fats," such as saturated and trans fat, which can negatively affect your heart and impede blood flow due to a a build-up of fatty plaque in the arteries.
What’s more, fried potatoes, such as French fries, have been associated (along with other foods) with a greater risk of type 2 diabetes, which is known to cause sexual health problems in both men and women.
Sass says the type of oil used to fry the food is key. "If it’s fried in partially hydrogenated oil it would have trans fat (worse than saturated fat)," she says. "If it was fried in a liquid plant oil, the (food) may be very low in saturated fat."