Sex drive has always been a tricky thing to measure. A lot of factors—including your mental health and relationship status—come together to determine whether you’re “in the mood.”
But if you’ve ever dealt with a missing sex drive, you know how hard it can be to find a fix that doesn’t include a little pill. That’s why, in part, scientists continue to explore the potential of natural libido-boosting remedies, especially in the form of food.
Finding strong links between what’s on your plate and the desire you feel in bed has proven difficult, though. “From an evidence-based medicine perspective, most of what we have is not so solid,” says Dolores Lamb, PhD, vice chair of urology research at Weill Cornell Medicine and researcher of sexual motivation and aphrodisiac foods.
In fact, eating a Mediterranean diet is the only scientifically backed way to strengthen your sex drive through food, adds Michael Krychman, MD, a California-based OBGYN, and author of a recent review study on natural aphrodisiacs. He references research that links the Mediterranean diet to improved erectile function in men and stronger libido in women—benefits that are likely due to the diet’s ties to improved overall health.
Still, some studies suggest certain foods really do have aphrodisiac powers. While you can’t expect them to have the same effect as proven ways to boost your libido—like spending more time on foreplay or switching up problematic meds—adding them to your diet may also provide benefits beyond the bedroom. Here, eight foods that may add a little heat to your menu.
Oysters have been associated with increased sex drive since the time of ancient Rome. With so much history behind it, the whole oyster-libido thing probably has some truth to it.
For starters, oysters are high in zinc, which is essential for proper functioning of the male reproductive system, shows a 2016 study in the journal Scientific Reports. And research from George Fisher, PhD, a professor of chemistry at Florida’s Barry University, suggests oysters and other bivalve molluscs contain amino acids—specifically one called d-aspartic acid—that may boost sexual function. Follow-up research has shown d-aspartic can increase testosterone in men.
Lamb adds that the appeal of oysters might also be “textural”—that their wetness and slipperiness may encourage a desire to kiss or experience similar sensations.
Capsaicin, the spicy chemical that gives chilli peppers their eye-watering kick, has been linked with improved vascular health and increased testosterone in men, both of which could indirectly improve sex drive and function.
Lamb says the sensory experience of eating a hot pepper—the way it triggers the release of pleasure-linked chemicals like endorphins—could also contribute to an uptick in friskiness.
Maca root powder
Several studies have linked maca, a Peruvian plant and trendy supplement powder, to increased libido. One 2008 study found maca root could help boost sexual desire and counteract sexual dysfunction for those taking SSRI drugs (a popular antidepressant), which are well known to tank your sex drive. It has also been shown to boost sperm production and health—at least in rats.
The magic ingredient in maca may be arginine, which research has linked to increased testosterone levels, a hormone that promotes libido in both men and women. If you’re going to try it, don’t go nuts. That SSRI study found 3 grams or less (about half a teaspoon) of maca per day was “well-tolerated” among women.
A fair amount of research has linked vitamin D to higher testosterone levels and lower rates of depression—both of which could lead to an uptick in libido. More research has tied low vitamin D levels to reduced desire and sexual satisfaction, along with less satisfying orgasms among women.
But experts continue to debate the amount of vitamin D people really need, or whether D supplements are a good idea. One thing not debated: wild sockeye salmon is one of the few great sources of dietary vitamin D. It’s also rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and satisfying lean protein so you can't go wrong adding it to your diet.
A delicious (and expensive) delicacy, black truffles contain a natural female pheromone called androstenol, which some research has linked to increased sexual desire in men. There’s no direct evidence that eating truffles will increase libido, but it’s a good excuse to pony up for the shaved-truffle dish the next time you and a date are out for a fancy dinner.
Several studies have linked a variety of African ginger to improved sexual function and desire in men. One of these studies, published in 2010, concluded that ginger might activate a family of enzymes—known collectively as nitric oxide synthase—that support sexual function. Another study, this one from South Africa, linked ginger to increased arousal and sexual stimulation in rats.
But the health benefits of ginger don’t stop there. The root has also been tied to improving muscle and menstrual pain, slashing heart disease risk and warding off obesity and diabetes.
The summertime favourite is loaded with several phytonutrients—including lycopene, and citrulline—that seem to relax blood vessels in ways similar to Viagra, finds a recent study from Texas A&M University. That’s helpful news for men, but the authors of the study write that this relaxation effect might also increase sex drive in both men and women.
The visual (red colour) and eat-it-with-your-hands qualities of watermelon may also lend to its libido-boosting effect, Lamb adds. Plus, watermelon is super satisfying (since, you know, it’s roughly 90 per cent water), making it the perfect low-calorie snack.
Korean red ginseng
Less common than “white” ginseng, Korean red ginseng contains chemical compounds called “ginsenosides,” according to the National Institutes of Health. Studies show these compounds may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Other research has linked red ginseng supplementation to an increase in sexual arousal among menopausal women.
On the other hand, a 2015 paper of aphrodisiac foods in Sexual Medicine Reviews concluded that the data on red ginseng is inconclusive. Also, long-term use of red ginseng—or taking it alongside prescription drugs—may lead to headaches, digestive problems, or blood pressure issues, the NIH warns. If you want to try it now and then to boost libido, the NIH says that kind of short-term use appears to be safe. But taking it daily may be risky, so talk to your doc before you give it a go.
This article originally appeared on Prevention US.