It’s a tale as old as time, some foods have supposed libido-boosting benefits. We all know the stories, but have you ever wondered if it’s really true that certain foods can increase sexual desire? It’s time to separate fact from fiction.
An aphrodisiac food supposedly arouses sexual instinct, brings on desire, or increases sexual pleasure or performance. Eating a food that is claimed to be an aphrodisiac would elicit increased libido.
So let's explore whether there are specifics foods that increase libido and if there’s any science behind it. Aphrodisiacs ideally increase blood flow to genitals or get some neurochemicals flowing, such as oxytocin or dopamine. Both are neurotransmitters and hormones that our brains release during sex. How romantic.
Do you need aphrodisiacs?
Many of the foods linked to claims of increased sexual desire are foods that are already recommended for a balanced diet. So even if they’re no use in the bedroom, it won’t all be for nothing. Some are a little more exotic and may be harder to get hold of, such as maca root or oysters, but for the most part they’re easy to get your hands on, and you probably already include them in your diet.
But do they actually work?
There have been few studies examining the direct effects of these foods on sexual desire. This is likely due to the limitations of the studies, as well as other influences that may play a role in arousal. The science behind aphrodisiacs mostly focuses on particular substances found in a food rather than the food itself.
Here are some foods that may be worth giving a go if you want to get pulses racing...
Libido boosting foods
Maca root powder
Maca is a Peruvian root vegetable that has been found by some researchers to increase libido. One study found that maca may help to boost sexual desire for people taking SSRI antidepressants, which can lower sex drive.1 Maca also contains arginine, which has been linked to increased levels of testosterone. So if you’re looking for that extra edge in the bedroom, maca may be worth a try.
Dark chocolate contains a chemical called phenylethylamine (PEA), which acts like amphetamines in the brain, triggering a release of the hormones norepinephrine and dopamine. These hormones increase our feelings of happiness. Unfortunately, the effect doesn’t last long (an issue familiar to many, perhaps) and the amount needed would be significantly more than is recommended for a balanced diet.
Oysters, clams, mussels and scallops
These foods contain D-aspartic acid, which is a sex hormone-boosting amino acid. They are also very high in zinc. A lack of zinc can lower sex drive, lower sperm count and impair fertility.
There have been a few studies that have suggested saffron may help with erectile dysfunction, with one study showing improvements in erectile function in men who took 30mg of saffron a day over four weeks.2 This is one food that may actually have legs as an aphrodisiac, with there being some promising and emerging research. Saffron is incredibly expensive, though, so you may need to save for extra-special occasions.
Figs are a potent source of magnesium, which happens to be essential for facilitating sex hormone production. Delicious, and with so many proposed benefits… they’ve got to be worth a try?
Watermelon is a rich source of citrulline, which is a naturally occurring amino acid that dilates blood vessels and may help some men to maintain physical arousal. Big, if true. Citrulline can increase blood flow and blood vessel relaxation, so this could lead to improvements in blood flow.
These foods may contain vital nutrients, such as zinc or magnesium, that help your body function properly in all areas, so the benefits may not just come in the bedroom — but realistically none are likely to lead to drastic and significant changes. Many so called “aphrodisiacs” may instead elicit a placebo effect — the more you think about sex, the more you desire it.
Can you supplement aphrodisiacs?
Maca and cocoa extract are two of the more well-researched libido-enhancing supplements. They both require at least a month’s worth of supplementing to have any effect. Maca specifically may not reach full potency until two months of consistent supplementation.3,4
The dosages that are required would likely not be worth the time and effort to try get a slight improvement in libido and sex life. Maybe just buy some flowers instead.
Take home message
There are a few foods that have had some promising research results for boosting libido, but more often it’s nutrients within foods rather than the actual foods that help. It’s what inside that counts. As for the others... the less said the better. Let's just say that some foods are all talk and no trousers when it comes to the bedroom department.
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Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you're concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.
 Dording, C. M., Fisher, L., Papakostas, G., Farabaugh, A., Sonawalla, S., Fava, M., & Mischoulon, D. (2008). A double-blind, randomized, pilot dose-finding study of maca root (L. meyenii) for the management of SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction. CNS neuroscience & therapeutics, 14(3), 182–191. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1755-5949.2008.00052.x
 Kashani L, Raisi F, Saroukhani S, Sohrabi H, Modabbernia A, Nasehi AA, Jamshidi A, Ashrafi M, Mansouri P, Ghaeli P, Akhondzadeh S. Saffron for treatment of fluoxetine-induced sexual dysfunction in women: randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2013 Jan;28(1):54-60. doi: 10.1002/hup.2282. Epub 2012 Dec 20. PMID: 23280545.
 Gonzales-Arimborgo C, et al. Acceptability, Safety, and Efficacy of Oral Administration of Extracts of Black or Red Maca (Lepidium meyenii) in Adult Human Subjects: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Pharmaceuticals (Basel). (2016)
 ^ Gonzales GF, et al. Effect of Lepidium meyenii (MACA) on sexual desire and its absent relationship with serum testosterone levels in adult healthy men. Andrologia. (2002)