Explainer:

  • Forget oysters and powdered rhino horn; improving your sex life is a lot simpler than tracking down esoteric—not to mention mostly unproven—aphrodisiacs. In fact, you’re probably eating many of the vitamins and nutrients that support a robust sex life right now—just not in sufficient quantities.

    “One of the best things you can do to ensure a healthy sex life is to eat a well balanced diet,” says Beverly Whipple, PhD, RN, professor emeritus at Rutgers University and coauthor of Science of Orgasm and The Orgasm Answer Guide.

    These diet dos and don’ts will not only improve your romantic life, they’ll improve your overall health as well.

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  • Do: Eat a balanced breakfast

    Image: Peanut butter on bread
    BurkeTriolo Productions
    Peanut butter on toast is a great option for a balanced breakfast including protein and fiber.

    Your meal should include protein and fiber, such as yogurt with fresh berries or peanut butter on whole wheat toast. This combo takes longer to digest, so you’ll have steady energy all morning, which in turn prevents you from making unhealthy choices later on, says Susan Kleiner, PhD, a registered dietician and author of Power Eating. More energy means you won’t be a moody grump when you get home from work, so you can enjoy time with your partner.

  • Don't : Load up on carbs

    Eating carbohydrate-rich meals, like a bagel with cream cheese, is a disaster—your blood sugar will spike and then plummet, leaving you sluggish. You won’t be in the mood for anything—except a nap.

  • Do: Drink plenty of liquids

    Keeping hydrated helps you stay mentally and physically alert all day and helps you go the extra distance at night. “If you're low on fluids, you will be low on those important sexual fluids too,” points out Kleiner. “Drink a couple of cups of water when you rise in the morning after your overnight fast; this is the most dehydrated time of the day.” Keep sipping low-calorie beverages and snacking on foods with high water content throughout the day.

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  • Don't: Overdo the lattes

    Sure, coffee or tea in the morning gets your engine going and helps you focus, but quaffing caffeinated beverages like energy drinks, iced tea, coffee, and cola all day long can leave you jittery by day’s end and in no mood for R&R.

    “Too much caffeine is a central nervous stimulant,” warns Leslie Bonci, a registered dietician and director of sports medicine nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “You may end up chasing each other around the bed and be too wound up to get down to business!”

  • Do: Flavor veggies with olive oil and munch on nuts

    Fats are necessary to produce the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen, notes Whipple. If you adhere to a very-low-fat diet, you won’t have adequate levels of those hormones—both of which are important for women—and your desire will flag. However, be sure to eat healthy unsaturated fats—the kind found in olive oil, fatty fish, and walnuts.

    Also include some fats that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish and nuts. Omega-3s may lift your spirits if you suffer from mild depression or bipolar disorder. According to a review published in the French journal Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, omega-3 fatty acids may also help prevent premenstrual syndrome and postmenopausal hot flashes—uncomfortable states that can definitely dampen your mojo.

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  • Don't: Eat too much red meat and processed baked goods

    Unhealthy saturated and trans fats, on the other hand, contribute to clogged arteries and lowered blood flow. “When the blood supply is blocked, there is less blood flowing to the genitals,” says Whipple. “Women won’t feel as lubricated and will have less feelings of arousal.”

    And men won’t be able to get erections as easily. In one study, researchers examined the cholesterol levels and sex lives of 3,250 men between ages 26 and 83. As cholesterol levels rose, so did the likelihood of suffering from erectile dysfunction. The authors of the study, conducted at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, concluded that high levels of total cholesterol and a low level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL—aka good cholesterol) are risk factors for erectile dysfunction.

  • Do: Eat chicken, fish, and lean protein

    When you don’t have enough protein in your diet, the brain’s level of dopamine—the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of happiness and romance—drops, leaving you feeling blah and definitely not in a frolicking frame of mind. Dopamine may also help with erectile dysfunction in men, says Bonci. “An active woman should have at least 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily,” adds Kleiner. “Divide your body weight in half, and that is the least amount of protein that you should have in a day.”

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  • Don't: Snack on calorie-laden junk food

    It’s not good for you, and it will likely add inches to your girth. If you feel fat and unattractive, you certainly won’t want to throw off your clothes and hop into bed for sex. “A lot of women tell me they don’t feel sexy enough for sex,” says Judith Reichman, MD, a gynecologist and an author of four books, including I’m Not in the Mood: What Every Woman Should Know about Improving Her Libido. And body image has a lot to do with it. Eat well and eat moderately.

  • Do: Enjoy a glass of wine with dinner

    Image: A man holds a glass of red wine
    Victor Fraile  /  Reuters file
    A small glass of wine with dinner will get you in the mood for intimacy. But too much wine may dampen your desire.
    A small cocktail or glass of wine at night can help get you in the mood for intimacy by giving you a sense of relaxation and calm—perfect precursors for lovemaking, says Reichman.

  • Don't: Drink two or more alcoholic beverages

    But too much wine, beer, or liquor can backfire by depressing your central nervous system, making you sleepy and dampening your feelings of desire, says Reichman, who also cautions that some studies indicate a link between excessive alcohol consumption and breast cancer. And let’s face it: It’s harder to perform when your reflexes are slow. What’s more, once the alcohol is metabolized—presumably while you are asleep—the depressant effect will wear off, and you may wake up and have trouble falling back to sleep. And we all know that tossing and turning are not much fun for one’s bedmate.

  • Do: Nibble on dark chocolate after dinner

    Image: Dark chocolate
    Eric Risberg  /  AP
    A few squares of dark chocolate can be the perfect segue to a bedroom rendezvous.

    Chocolate makes you feel happy—for real! A few squares in the evening can be the perfect segue to a bedroom rendezvous. In one German study in the journal Appetite, women were given either an apple, a piece of chocolate, or nothing and asked to rate their mood after consuming them. The researchers found that when women ate chocolate, they immediately experienced a mood boost—a much higher spike than after eating an apple (no surprise there!) and that boost stayed for the duration of the observation period, about 90 minutes. Keep a bar of high-quality dark chocolate in your bedside table. “One of the rewards for being human is sex,” says Reichman. “If you want to have sex, it helps to be in an upbeat mood.”

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  • Don't: Have a big meal before bed

    Typically, a large meal increases blood flow to the gut—“the wrong organ,” notes Bonci. “If you feel full and fat, romance is probably not in the air.” However, don’t starve yourself just to have a flat stomach. A grumbling stomach isn't romantic, either, and too many hours without food may leave you tired or lightheaded.

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