Best and worst foods for sex drive
'Libido' is a person's sex drive or desire for sexual activity. Our libido can be influenced by biological, emotional and social factors, our relationship with our partner and our diet.
The foods we eat really do influence our libido, so we explain the best foods for libido and the foods to avoid to keep your sex drive healthy.
What drives libido?
The balance of testosterone and oestrogen
Testosterone and oestrogen are the main biological chemicals which work in balance to stimulate libido. The balance of these hormones is crucial.
Some hormone altering medications enhance or decrease libido. Men need a higher level of testosterone for proper sexual function as it is needed for healthy erections. If you or your partner suffer erectile dysfunction, read our nutritionists advice on the best foods for erectile dysfunction.
Our cardiovascular health - which refers to the health of our heart and blood vessels - plays an important role in our sex drive. Our micro capillaries (tiny blood vessels) need to be clear to allow good blood flow to the genitalia for arousal.
Any cardiovascular conditions that affect blood flow have a negative affect on libido and may include conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis (ath-ero-sclerosis), and damaged blood vessel walls due to poor diet and a lack of antioxidants and Vitamin C. Read our nutritionists' advice on how to keep your heart healthy.
Normal blood vessel dilation requires abundant 'nitric oxide' in the blood, which triggers the widening of the blood vessels allowing more blood to flow through. Nitric oxide is produced in the body from the amino acid 'arginine' which we discuss below. Learn more about how to improve poor blood circulation.
Equally important, your mind and your emotions play a major role in your libido. Positive emotions favour a healthy libido. Depression and those with depressive tendencies often have a lower libido. If you think you might be depressed, make sure you discuss it with your GP as they can help you with both depression and low libido. You might also enjoy '5 foods to improve your mood'.
All other things being equal, your relationship with your partner plays the biggest role in your sexual desire. As humans we want to feel loved, respected and trusted to have a healthy sexual desire. If it is not working out for either you or your partner, getting therapy can help the majority of couples to improve libido in both individuals.
Problems such as difficulty getting or maintaining an erection, vaginal dryness or difficulty reaching orgasm affect our libido. These issues increase the rate of stress and anxiety around sex, making it less appealing or difficult to achieve. You can learn more about vaginal dryness in our blog 'What is vaginal atrophy?'.
Differences in libido in men and women
Libido is generally higher in men than it is in women due to the differences in testosterone. In same sex couples, research shows male couples have more sex than female couples. However, there are many factors involved in libido and there are relatively few studies that have incorporated both hormonal and social or psychological factors in studies of sexual desire.
Women tend to crave intimate mental connections, and to feel heard for them to have a strong sex drive. Men on the other hand are typically visually stimulated.
Can food and diet help improve your libido?
The answer is yes. Some foods can increase your sex drive, while some foods can decrease it. Diet is a major aspect that should be considered when there is a lack of sexual desire. There are two particularly important nutrients to look out for in your diet:
Arginine is an amino acid found in some protein-rich foods. Arginine is needed for the synthesis of Nitric Oxide which is needed for arousal in both men and women.
Zinc is an essential nutrient for the balance of testosterone in the body which is an essential hormone for sex drive.
Best foods to improve libido
Your diet can improve your libido by including foods which are aphrodisiacs, meaning they increase sex drive.
Chocolate increases mood by promoting the release of serotonin and 'phenethylamine'. These chemicals also stimulate an increase in libido, and your mental interest in sex.
While we all think of 'garlic breath' being a turn-off, garlic is actually good for your sex drive. Garlic contains a compound called 'allicin' which increases blood flow. Anything that promotes blood flow increases libido, as blood flow to the genitalia is essential for arousal. Garlic is also one of the top 6 foods to support your immune system, so it is a win-win for libido and immunity during the winter months!
Ginkgo Biloba tea
Ginkgo Biloba is another substance that increases blood flow, improving libido. Ginkgo Biloba is also a key ingredient in Brain Fuel®, our daily multivitamin for the brain that improves memory recall and retention, sharpening your mind and improving focus and concentration.
Nuts & Seeds
As well as containing healthy fats, nuts and seeds are rich in arginine which is necessary for the dilation of blood vessels, and for the proper function of erectile tissue in men and women. Erectile tissue is found in the male penis, the female vagina and clitoris, and the nipples of men and women. Nuts and seeds also contain good levels of Zinc which helps balance testosterone.
Beetroot is a rich source of 'plant nitrates' which promote blood vessel health and proper blood flow to the genitalia. You might enjoy our delicious Beetroot Hummus recipe.
Raw fruits and vegetables
Raw fruits and vegetables are rich in Vitamin C which promotes the health of the blood vessel walls, making them more receptive to nitric oxide and healthy blood flow.
Foods to avoid for a healthy libido
While there are some great foods to improve sex drive, there are also definite no-no's. Here are the foods and drinks to avoid if you're struggling with libido.
It may make your breath smell good but too much mint can lower levels of testosterone in the body, affecting your libido.
Coffee is a big 'no' when it comes to having a healthy sex drive. Coffee can increase feelings of anxiety which is detrimental for a healthy libido. Discover the best alternatives to caffeine.
If you're eating out on a romantic date, choose a jug of tap water instead of bottled water. While not harmful, studies show bottled water contains 'xenoestrogens' (from the plastic packaging), which can interfere with your natural hormone balance in your brain, testis and ovaries, putting a dampener on libido.
Too much wine
Although one glass of red wine may relax you, two glasses may hamper your sexual performance. The alcohol decreases the ability to get or maintain an erection. Too much alcohol also affects your ability to orgasm. Read more in 5 risks of alcohol consumption.
Artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame, can interfere with your production of serotonin, your 'happy hormone' that put you in the mood for sexual activity.
Junk and processed food
Overly processed foods are devoid of nutrients and typically high in unhealthy fats and sugars which can increase cholesterol levels, and inhibit blood flow to the genitals. Processed foods are also one of the most common causes of IBS and bloating.
If you're looking for a healthier libido and better sex drive for you or your partner, your diet really can help! Choose chocolate, garlic, ginkgo biloba, nuts and seeds, beetroot and raw fruits and vegetables, and avoid wine, coffee, bottled water, mint, artificial sweeteners and junk food.
You may also enjoy reading:
View our range of vegan vitamins and supplements.
Want to hear more from our nutritionists? Sign up to our newsletter for tips, advice and offers: