Sex File: Can food get you in the mood? 

"Pushing yourselves to try new things - whether that's an experience or even just new flavours and textures - can also take you out of your comfort zone..."
Sex File: Can food get you in the mood? 

Picture: iStock

Do some foods really act as aphrodisiacs? I was planning to cook a special meal for my girlfriend and thought it would be exciting to try some foods that would get us in the mood for later, but I don't know where to start. I've heard oysters do the trick, but neither of us really likes shellfish.

As old wives' tales go, the myth of the aphrodisiac is very old indeed. The word originates from the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, and all through history food has been imbued with sexual symbolism. Although there is no scientific proof that aphrodisiacs work, there is no definitive proof they don't either. 

And does it matter? According to a report in the National Library of Medicine, the average placebo response in trials is 34% - which means that if you believe that a food has sexual properties, you have at least a 34% chance of experiencing a boost to your libido. 

Even if you are explicitly told an aphrodisiac won't work, it can still have an impact on you - the ritual of ingesting an oyster or some dark chocolate in the hope that it will have an effect can be enough to generate a placebo response.

Like most myths, there is an element of truth to aphrodisiacs and in the past 50 years scientific analysis has identified some of the specific ingredients in these foods that could have an impact on sexual desire or sexual function. Oysters, for example, have been found to contain high quantities of zinc, which can stimulate and increase blood flow, and also plays a vital role in the production of semen and testosterone - hence the aphrodisiac link, though that is almost certainly a myth. 

Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, an ingredient related to adrenaline, which is released when you fall in love. It also contains tryptophan, a substance that's converted in our brains into serotonin, also linked with arousal. Pumpkins, beef and walnuts contain the amino acid L-arginine, which converts to nitric oxide in the body, increasing blood flow. 

The same is true for foods high in omega 3 fatty acids such as salmon and avocado. Quercetin, which is found in apples, berries, grapes, red wine and garlic, has anti-inflammatory properties that can also improve blood flow. The only problem is that you would have to ingest large quantities of these ingredients to have any sort of impact on your sex drive.

The good news is that most aphrodisiacs are extremely tasty. So maybe the science doesn't really matter. Focus instead on the act of cooking for your partner, which may make you feel closer to each other in itself. Combining one or all of these ingredients would guarantee a romantic meal. Why not try figs dipped in dark chocolate or a dish based around pomegranate used as a symbol of love in literature?

They can do more than just taste good too. Pushing yourselves to try new things - whether that's an experience or even just new flavours and textures - can also take you out of your comfort zone, increasing openness in your relationship. 

Being experimental, especially when shared between two people, creates anticipation, which serves to increase adrenaline, escalate excitement and boost arousal. If you're not much of a chef, go for finger foods that you can feed each other, as this will increase intimacy.

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