Aphrodisiacs promise enhanced libido and a little more oomph in the bedroom, but most are unsubstantiated, and no natural aphrodisiacs have been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Still, there are some promising possibilities that have been used by many cultures -- and plausible explanations why they might work. For instance, zinc is a mineral responsible for the production of sex hormones such as testosterone, and many people are zinc deficient -- so foods high in zinc may be considered aphrodisiacs. Others improve blood flow. In general, anything that promotes good health is likely to improve sexual health in the process. Here are 31 foods to consider putting on the Valentine's Day menu -- if nothing else, don't knock the placebo effect.
Asparagus is a great source of folic acid, which the body uses for histamine production, which is necessary for reaching orgasm. Though human evidence is lacking, research shows that asparagus extracts increase libido in rats.
When split down the center, a fig looks an awful lot like female genitalia. While it may or may not contain aphrodisiac properties, it does contain a lot of potassium, which helps keep the cardiovascular system healthy for intense physical activity.
The avocado has had a reputation as an aphrodisiac since Aztec times -- the Aztecs called it ahuacatl, or "testicle." It also contains vitamins A and E, magnesium, and loads of potassium.
Bananas certainly look phallic but also are known for their potassium content. They are rich in magnesium and B vitamins that help provide an energy boost. Plus, they contain the bromelain enzyme, which some claim enhances the male libido.
Chili peppers contain capsaicin, which heats up the body and improves blood flow. Better yet, it stimulates the production of endorphins, which make you feel good. They may also help send signals of sexual arousal -- flushed skin, swollen lips, and sweating are signs of being ready for action.
Surely the most clich閐 aphrodisiac, chocolate contains phenylethylamine, the "love chemical," which the body produces at high levels during orgasm -- but it's debatable whether the chemical goes on to be absorbed by the brain when it's consumed in chocolate. Chocolate also contains tryptophan, a building block of serotonin, a "feel good" neurotransmitter.
Oysters are another classic aphrodisiac, and another one that looks highly suggestive. If they work, it's because of the massive amounts of zinc they contain.
Pomegranates have been used as aphrodisiacs for centuries. They contain large amounts of certain antioxidants that support healthy blood flow.
Red wine is full of healthy antioxidants, improves blood flow, and helps make people more relaxed. Of course, it's best consumed in moderation -- more than a couple of glasses, and the depressive effects of alcohol likely will cause problems in the performance department.
Almonds are a symbol of fertility, but they are also loaded with vitamin E -- the "sex vitamin," which is good for fertility -- and magnesium, a muscle relaxant.
Pumpkin seeds are chock-full of magnesium, which acts as a muscle relaxant and helps stimulate the production of testosterone, which increases sex drive in men and women.
Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fats, which improve blood circulation. They are also high in zinc, iron, and potassium. Perhaps most importantly, walnuts are high in arginine, which many say helps the body produce nitric oxide, dilating the blood vessels and enhancing blood flow.
Salmon is a nutritional powerhouse, with plenty of calcium and vitamins A, D, and B. They are also a fantastic source of omega-3 fats.
Olive oil is full of healthy, monounsaturated fats, such as oleic acid, which are necessary for the production of sex hormones, cardiovascular health, and healthy blood flow. As a bonus, olive oil has a lot of antioxidants and is rich in vitamin E.
Watermelon contains large amounts of citrulline, which relaxes blood vessels and improves circulation in much the same way as Viagra -- although watermelon isn't as organ-specific as Viagra.
Celery's shape isn't the only thing that suggests it might act as an aphrodisiac; it also contains androsterone, a potent male pheromone. Men who eat a lot of celery, then, may appear more sexually attractive to women around them.
Honey is made through pollination -- hint, hint. More important, though, it is a significant source of boron. Boron helps the body metabolize estrogen and may increase testosterone production, leading to increased sexual desire in men and women.
Pine nuts have been used in the Mediterranean as an aphrodisiac for a long time. They are rich in zinc and have some boron, as well.
Arugula, or "rocket seed," was touted by ancient Greek philosophers and used by ancient Romans as an aphrodisiac. The thinking goes that the antioxidants in the leafy green block harmful contaminants from the environment that can harm the libido.
Maca is a root vegetable found in the Andes that has a long history of use as a sexual stimulant. Research has shown that it is good for sexual health in men and women and increases desire, though it doesn't appear to affect the production of sex hormones.
Ginseng has been used as an aphrodisiac for millennia among practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine. It contains tetracyclic triterpenoid saponins, which enhance physical performance and vitality by having a steroid-like effect on the human brain.
Saffron, a spice commonly used in Spanish, Italian, and Indian cuisine, has a long reputation as an aphrodisiac; it is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible's Song of Songs. According to a study by researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, saffron and ginseng are proven natural aphrodisiacs.
Vanilla also has a long history of use as an aphrodisiac, dating back to the Aztecs. It is used often in perfumes for its sensual scent. When consumed, it acts as a mild nerve stimulant, increasing pleasure.
Basil is a common herb, well known for its use in Italian dishes. It contains important nutrients such as magnesium and potassium but is also said to increase heart rate and improve blood flow.
Garlic may make breath smell, but it contains allicin, which improves blood circulation and may improve sexual performance. Don't forget to carry some mints!
Ginger is mostly known as a digestive aid but is also used as an aphrodisiac due to its ability to improve circulation and increase body temperature.
The scent of cinnamon has historically been used as an aphrodisiac. Consider what the Bible says in Proverbs: "I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come let us take our fill of love till morning." It is also a "warming" spice that heats up the body and, presumably, increases sex drive.
Cardamom was referred to as an aphrodisiac in the "One Thousand and One Nights" collection of Arabic folk tales. It contains a compound called cineole, which increases blood flow.
Nutmeg is another traditional "warming" spice that is said to be an aphrodisiac. In a number of studies of rats and mice, nutmeg has been shown to significantly increase mating behavior.
The spices in chai tea help with blood flow. Chai has less caffeine than other teas or coffees, so it is a good aphrodisiac option for after dinner.
Caffeine is, of course, energizing. It tends to elevate mood, stimulate blood flow, and increase stamina. Researchers at Southwestern University also found that caffeine seemed to make female rats want to get it on, although it is uncertain whether this finding would apply to humans.