So, as St. Valentine is just around the corner I thought I would discuss those foods frequently associated with love. Whilst a romantic well cooked meal or a posh French dinner may well be the way to your partner’s heart, there are some lesser known alternatives found in nature.
Aphrodisiacs, so named because of the Greek goddess of love ‘Aphrodite’, are thought to heighten sexual desire. The list of these foods seems to go on and on with new foods constantly being added; but is this just a sales gimmick or is there some truth in it?
Whilst the appearance of a food can also play a part, some foods do contain specific vitamins or amino acids that enhance sexual desire or function. The idea that foods can have an effect on your mood goes back a long way, the Aztec word for avocadoes, “ahuacatl”, means penis. So surely there must be some facts behind this branding?
Chocolate and oysters, eaten regularly by the infamous 18th century ‘latin lover’ Casanova and as noted in his diary, are synonymous with the term aphrodisiac. Chocolate, containing an amino acid ‘trypotphan’, is thought to enhance sexual arousal, whilst oysters, in addition to their shape, contain two amino acids ( D-ASP and NMDA) that trigger the release of sexual hormones (progesterone or testosterone). Spring time (luckily coinciding with Valentine’s day) is thought to be when these amino acids are at their highest as the molluscs mate during this period. Some healthy fruit and vegetables are also known to be aphrodisiacs – strawberries with their high zinc content, avocadoes and asparagus that are all high in vitamin E.
How about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)? Protecting your kidneys is thought to be key; to protect the kidneys TCM recommends not smoking, reducing stress, increasing shrimp and oyster intake and ginseng.
Ginseng is another traditional natural product used in Asia. Its ginsenoside components thought to have an effect on the central nervous system inducing vasodilation (a natural version of viagra); for women it is thought to have a relaxing effect. There are also the slightly less obvious choices in TCM such as ‘deer antler’ or ‘ox and goat penis’, you could assume these probably fall into the visually symbolic pile.
Of course there is also the plain strange, such as warmed snakes blood. TCM believes that the more poisonous the snake the more potent the effects; I also remember at one point in Beijing hearing about dog meat producing an aroused effect in men.
With such a varied amount of foods linked to aphrodisiac effects it is unsurprising that much of it is unsubstantiated and just an alluring hypothesis. However, there is some evidence surrounding the use of ginseng. Also, oysters, strawberries, avocadoes and asparagus contain plenty of vitamins and minerals, so whilst they may not produce the desired effect on Valentine’s day, they at least will provide you with healthy nutrients. What has been proven, is that eating healthily, not smoking, safe alcohol intake and regular exercise can help keep that libido up.
Sophie Thomas, Dietitian
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Murphy, L. et al. (2002) ‘Ginseng, sex behaviour and nitric oxide.’ Annuals of New York Academy of Sciences. 962:372-7
Loh, P.(2013) ‘Love Food’ http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/food/2013-02/04/content_16197712.htm
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Salonia, A et al. (2006) ‘Chocolate and women’s sexual health.’ Journal of Sexual Medicine. 3 (3) 476-82
Shalomoul, R. (2010) ‘Natural Aphrodisiacs.’ Journal of Sexual Medicine.7 (1) 39-49.
Thomas, Stephanie. (2010) ‘Get ready for love this V-day. http://travel.cnn.com/shanghai/play/going-tcm-healthier-love-life-136989