A. Oysters. Chocolate. Chile peppers that make you hot—and bothered? For centuries, people all over the world have been claiming that these so-called aphrodisiacs—and others, including asparagus, bananas, strawberries and you fill in the blank—stoke sex drive.
But sparking libido with food is more fable than fact, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which reviewed the science on the subject. So why, then, do some people report heightened arousal after eating “aphrodisiacs”? Experts tell us it’s all in the mind—and in the heart, literally.
“Experiencing increased libido from an aphrodisiac is analogous to feeling healing properties from placebos,” explains June Meyer, M.A., L.P.C., a psychotherapist in Stamford, Connecticut. “What’s in your mind matters more than what’s in your stomach. But if you think a particular food works for you,” says Meyer, “why not go for it?”
What’s more, research shows that sexual dysfunction is sometimes a result of vascular disease, says Melissa Ohlson, M.S., R.D., of The Cleveland Clinic Preventive Cardiology Nutrition Program. “Eating a heart-healthy diet,” says Ohlson, “helps keep blood vessels healthy.” And since blood vessels nourish sex organs, substituting unsaturated fats for saturated ones, getting plenty of fruits, vegetables and fiber-rich grains and laying off the salt may pay off in unexpectedly delightful places.
Bottom line: While there’s no proof that certain foods directly enhance libido, eating a well-balanced diet improves cardiovascular health, which in turn improves total body and sexual health. And if eating dark chocolate or oysters sets the mood, go right ahead. Just balance your calories with ample physical activity—in the bedroom and elsewhere.