Sex, love and food

Are aphrodisiac foods myth or reality?

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but a garlic clove a day will keep everyone away, right?

Not if you buy into aphrodisiac folklore. Garlic has historically ranked among the top-10 aphrodisiac foods sure to lure your lover. It joins basil, avocado, almonds, oysters, asparagus, honey, bananas, pine nuts and a few better-known Valentine Day staples such as chocolate and strawberries.

Where and how aphrodisiac food lore began is anyone’s guess. Did Samson really woo Delilah with figs, almonds and honey? Did Cleopatra invite afternoon delight with fragrant, cinnamon-infused sweets? Was she the first to figure that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?

Some local health professionals say good sex and good food may be related.

If you want to stir up some lust, eat clean whole foods that promote good overall health, said registered dietitian Marissa Kleinsmith.

“What we eat affects how we feel, but there’s not a lot of clinical research or evidence that supports that certain foods stimulate libido or desire,” she said.

For example, eating oysters rich in iron and zinc may be good for you, Kleinsmith said, but science can actually pinpoint beneficial nutrients in almost all foods.

“These nutrients, while they contribute to overall health and possibly sex drive, don’t necessarily lead to enhanced performance.”

Kleinsmith said that while some people eat to live, others, indeed, live to eat and have a “certain emotional attachment with food.” Sensations are heightened, which may result in increased absorption of nutrients, she said. Increased absorption may lead to better circulation or higher levels of beneficial nutrients that enhance health.

“Being present with our food increases enjoyment in general. We slow down and relax,” she said, and that may be better for our overall nutritional health.

The reverse also is true. Eating processed foods taxes our adrenal system, making our body work harder and diverting the energy necessary for optimum organ and gland system function, Kleinsmith said. Instead of energy going to where it can do the most good, nutrients are wasted moving poor-quality food through our digestive systems.

Nate Mayfield of Mancos, a naturopathic chiropractor and acupuncturist who also practices in Washington, D.C., says to single out a handful of specific aphrodisiac foods to promote sensuality is missing the point.

“It’s actually an injustice to other foods,” Mayfield said. “There really isn’t a food that doesn’t make a contribution to sexual and reproductive well-being.

“But we are a society of sensationalists. We try to make it seem as though some secret superfoods have exceptional powers and abilities,”he said.

That’s not the case, Mayfield said.

“The only foods that have super powers are herbs, in which the nutrients are concentrated.”

Mayfield, who has been specializing in clinical nutrition since 1984, insists that good nutrition is the key to preventing, and even reversing, some disease. Optimum sexual health is part of overall well-being, which is determined largely by what we eat.

He said most people are not willing to do the work that comes with making good nutritional choices, such as getting 75 percent of their diet from the plant kingdom.

“You make a decision (when it comes to diet). You have to make sacrifices. It means making changes.” he said.

Mayfield is critical of the amount of meat some Americans eat.

“We go overboard. Our meat and dairy consumption is carried to a degree that borders on the absurd,” Mayfield said, adding that digestion of animal products is hard on the heart and kidneys “and not very energy-efficient.”

Nutrient-dense foods from the plant kingdom promote well-being, he said. Foods that contain selenium, zinc, phytosterols, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B and C complexes, arginine, copper and essential fatty acids, which promote good overall health, are good for reproductive health, too.

Foods that have antioxidant properties or that prevent or reverse cholesterol build-up and improve circulation are essential.

“There’s a single thread that runs through many of these foods mentioned. All have plant sterols, which are substances that clean arteries and thus improve circulation in both men and women,” Mayfield said.

Asparagus may be on the top-10 list, Mayfield said, but every leafy green vegetable is beneficial.

“What about spinach?” he asked.

Mayfield favors raw sunflower and pumpkin seeds, too.

“These would be extremely beneficial for anyone seeking to increase their sexual prowess,” he added.

Durango psychotherapist and counselor Heidi Bendell is less concerned about what happens in the gastrointestinal tract and more focused on what happens in the brain.

She said foods that release dopamine in the brain or foods associated with releasing serotonin, a neurotransmitter found in the GI tract and the central nervous system, may be beneficial to sexual enjoyment.

“I thought aphrodisiac foods were a myth, yet whatever releases dopamine – such as chocolate, laughter and exercise – makes sense,” she said. “The first 10 minutes when someone drinks alcohol results in a little buzz. That’s the release of serotonin, but right after that, (the serotonin) starts to deplete and the levels diminish.”

Also critical for sexual enjoyment is relaxation, Bendell said.