Sex experts, cardiologists, and psychologists agree: how much you consume has a huge impact on your sexual health. Exactly what you eat is critically important, too.
“Essentially, what’s good for your heart is good for better sex,” declares Steven Lamm, M.D., a faculty member at New York School of Medicine, and author of The Hardness Factor: How to Achieve Your Best Health and Sexual Fitness at Any Age.
And what exactly are those sexy eats? In this list, you’ll find a well-balanced menu to prepare your body and brain for the bedroom. Building more of these super sex foods into your daily diet is one of the easiest (and tastiest) ways to improve your health for optimal sex.
Spinach is a potent source of magnesium, which helps dilate blood vessels, according to Japanese researchers. Better blood flow to the genitals creates greater arousal for men and women. (Although you’ll probably need more than leafy greens to stoke her arousal.
Spinach and other green vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, Swiss chard, and bok choy are also good sources of our favorite sex nutrient—folate.
Extra insurance for good reproductive health, folate may lower blood levels of a harmful substance called homocysteine. This abrasive amino acid irritates the lining of arteries and encourages plaque to adhere to it. A high level of homocysteine is a significant risk factor for peripheral arterial disease (PAD).
But it appears that dietary folate is protective. In a study of 46,000 men, Harvard University researchers found that those who consumed the most folate daily were 30 percent less likely to develop PAD (Peripheral Arterial Disease) than men who ate the fewest folate-rich foods.
If you’re looking to add some deductions to your 1040 form, eat more grapefruit, oranges, and peaches. Men who consume at least 200 milligrams of vitamin C a day improve their sperm counts and motility, according to research at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
In the study, 75 men ages 20 to 35 (all heavy smokers with poor sperm quality) were divided into three groups: two that took 200 and 1,000 mg of vitamin C, respectively, and a group that took a dummy pill. The daily vitamin C takers significantly improved the quality of their sperm, with the 1,000 mg group showing the greatest boost in sperm counts.
In a later study, 30 infertile men were able to impregnate their partners after just 60 days of vitamin C supplementation. In some men, fertility was restored in just 4 days.
When in the produce aisle, also pick up some watermelon too. They are filled with high concentrations of the good-for-your-heart, good-for-sex phytonutrients lycopene, beta carotene, and, the big one, citrulline. Citrulline is particularly exciting for its ability to relax blood vessels, according to studies at Texas A&M University.
When you eat watermelon, the citrulline is converted to the helpful amino acid arginine. “Arginine boosts nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels, the same basic effect that Viagra has, to treat erectile dysfunction and maybe even prevent it,” explains Bhimu Patil, PhD, director the Texas A&M’s Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center.
Over easy, hard-boiled, or scrambled, eggs aren’t the most sensual food on the menu, but it’s hard to beat them for a fit and healthy body inside and out. Eggs are rich in vitamins B6 and B5, which help balance hormone levels and ease stress, and are important for a healthy libido.
Calorie for calorie, eggs deliver more biologically usable protein (if you eat the yolks) than any other food, including beef. Eggs are an excellent part of a weight-loss strategy thanks to their protein and B12, a vitamin that studies have shown is necessary for breaking down fat.
One study in the International Journal of Obesity found that when overweight people ate two eggs or a bagel for breakfast 5 days a week for 8 weeks, those who ate the eggs lost 65 percent more weight (and lost it faster) than the bagel eaters.
Italian researchers recently found that the antioxidants and alcohol in the wine may trigger the production of nitric oxide in the blood, which helps artery walls to relax, increasing blood flow to the genitals.
Just limit yourself to a glass or two. More alcohol than that can put a damper on sexual performance. Worth noting: even teetotalers can benefit from the red grape. Dark grape juice contains antioxidant polyphenols that protect the cardiovascular system and help keep skin flexible and elastic.
Next up: red meat. Lean cuts are great sources of zinc, a mineral that curbs production of a hormone called prolactin, which at high levels can cause sexual dysfunction, according to Berman.
Zinc is also a key muscle-building nutrient, and the high concentrations of conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) in beef, studies show, may spur weight loss. Choose filet mignon or other deep red cuts with round or loin in the name, because they are the leanest.
The best way to build muscle? Exercise.
Pumpkin and sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, walnuts, and other nuts all contain the necessary monounsaturated fats with which your body creates cholesterol—and your sex hormones need that cholesterol to work properly.
That’s something the ancient Romans didn’t know when they tossed walnuts at newlyweds for good breeding luck. Long linked to fertility—the shell, of course, resembles a man’s cojones; the inside meat is vulvalike in form—nuts make a perfectly sexy snack. Packed with muscle-building protein and filling fiber, they are a heart-healthy, albeit calorie-dense, treat.
Pistachios contain plant cholesterol that can produce a 10-point drop in your triglycerides and a 16-point decline in your LDL (bad) cholesterol, reports the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
Brazil nuts are the richest source of selenium—a mineral that has been linked to preventing cancers of the prostate and colon—you can eat. Pecans deliver the most antioxidants of any nut. Adding them to your diet may reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Walnuts, almonds, and other nuts also reduce levels of LDL cholesterol, and a compound called lipoprotein(a) that increases clotting and can lead to a stroke, according to a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine. Sunflower seeds pack the highest natural vitamin E content of any food.
“No antioxidant is more effective at fighting the aging effects of free radicals,” says Barry Swanson, PhD, a professor of food science at Washington State University.
Protein is so important to weight maintenance that you should eat it with every meal and snack. Proteins boost metabolism a little more during digestion than any other type of food.
Plus protein increases metabolism by helping to build muscle and stall the muscle loss that naturally happens as we age. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat is, so the more lean muscle on your body the better at burning calories it will be.
So, how do you eat more protein without going overboard on eggs and meat? Beans—they’re good for the heart and your glutes. Kidneys, garbanzos, black beans, and navy beans are full of muscle-building protein.
While they may not be the best choice for a side dish if you plan on sex for dessert, building your meal plan around a foundation of beans and legumes will ultimately pay off for you sexually.
Many studies show that bean eaters are leaner and healthier than people who don’t eat beans. According to one study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, people who eat 3/4 cup beans or legumes a day have lower blood pressure and smaller waists than people who get their protein from meat.
Beans are also full of cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber. A quarter cup of red kidney beans delivers 3 grams of fiber, plus more than 6,000 disease-fighting antioxidants. Navy beans are particularly rich in potassium, which regulates blood pressure and heart contractions, something you’ll need as your heart starts racing when he does that special move that makes you melt.
If what’s good for your heart is good for your love life, oily coldwater fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna should figure heavily into your weekly meal rotation.
The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA found in fish help to raise dopamine levels in the brain that trigger arousal, according to sexologist Yvonne K. Fulbright, PhD.
Other health benefits: anti-inflammatory properties that fight blood clots and heart arrhythmias, better brain function, and protection against dementia. Studies show that omega-3s can also reduce symptoms of depression. Research from the University of Pittsburgh showed that people with high omega-3 blood levels were happier and more agreeable. (Tell us that won’t lead to more sex!)
Fish is one of the many healthy foods that contain the amino acid L-arginine, which stimulates the release of growth hormone among other substances and is converted into nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide is critical for erections and it can help women’s sexual function as well by causing blood vessels to open wider for improved blood flow.
Oats (as well as seeds, ginseng, nuts, dairy, and green vegetables) contain L-arginine, an amino acid that enhances the effect nitric oxide has on reducing blood vessel stiffness.
L-arginine has been used to treat erectile dysfunction. Like Viagra, it helps relax muscles around blood vessels in the penis. When they dilate, blood flow increases so a man can maintain an erection.
Oatmeal and other whole grains like whole-grain bread, brown rice, and barley also qualify as good-for-the-heart, better-for-the-gut foods. They are slow-burning, complex carbohydrates that won’t drive your blood sugar through the roof. They keep you feeling fuller longer and provide excellent energy.
Try a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal with fresh berries and bananas with a drizzle of honey.
Devouring something gooey and decadent is incredibly sensual. Dark chocolate, in particular, contains a compound called phenylethylamine that releases the same endorphins triggered by sex, and increases the feelings of attraction between two people, according to research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
In fact, brain scans in a British study showed that eating chocolate causes a more intense and longer brainbuzz than kissing does. In this study researchers monitored the brains and heart rates of couples while they kissed passionately or ate chocolate. The brains of both men and women showed greater stimulation while the chocolate melted on their tongues than when their tongues were tied in a passionate kiss.
What’s the “healthiest” chocolate? The disease-fighting flavonols that make dark chocolate good for the body also cause the bitterness. To balance flavor and health benefits, try dark chocolate with 70 percent cacao, recommends Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, who directs the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at Tufts University A 2-inch square chunk, at about 100 calories, will deliver a healthy treat without messing with your weight-management efforts.
Red is sexy. Red roses, sports cars, slinky red dresses . . . strawberries.
Researchers at the University of Rochester conducted experiments on undergraduate students to see if there was any real connection between the color and sex. In one, male and female students viewed images of women on red or white backgrounds. The men found a woman’s image on red more attractive than on white, while the female students did not.
In another test, men were asked to rate attractiveness of pictures of women on red, white, gray, green, or blue backgrounds. As expected, the men scored the women on red as more sexually attractive. They also said they would spend more money on the women in red than on those in the other colors.
Strawberries can be considered sexy for another reason besides their sensual color: They are high in the B vitamin folate that helps prevent birth defects, and vitamin C, a potential libido booster.
Blueberries (and blackberries) are just as sexy. Ideal for a great morning-after breakfast in bed, so you have energy for round two, both berries contain compounds that are thought to relax blood vessels and improve circulation for a natural Viagra-like effect. Plus, they are tremendous workhorses for pushing excess cholesterol through your digestive system before it can be broken down, absorbed, and deposited along the walls of your arteries.
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