Celebrate love with these select bites.
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and some of you may be feeling a bit underwhelmed in the romance department. Let’s face it, the modern Western lifestyle is not very friendly to the human libido.
Poor nutrition, lack of sleep, exercise (too much or too little), off-the-chart stress and around-the-clock responsibilities may put your sex life on the back burner. Illness, stress, relationship issues, depression, sleep apnea, alcohol use, and medications can all be a recipe for a lagging libido.
The reality is that sex drive and sexual function involve a complex myriad of biochemical and psychological conditions—and our ever-changing hormones are key. For men, libido hinges primarily on testosterone, but for women it tends to be more of a “waltz” between estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. For both genders, other hormones and neurotransmitters—DHEA, pregnenolone, prolactin, cortisol, dopamine and serotonin—all have their supportive roles to play.
For both men and women, testosterone is critical for keeping the fires burning into menopause and beyond. As many as 13 million Americans may have low testosterone, and as those levels dwindle, so does sexual desire and performance.
One of the safest and most effective ways to enhance testosterone levels is to supplement with testosterone’s precursor, natural progesterone. Natural progesterone can reduce menopausal symptoms, improve mood, benefit sleep, assist in weight loss and help maintain bone strength. For more about this, refer to my older post about low testosterone and natural progesterone, or pick up a copy of my book Before the Change: Taking Charge of Your Perimenopause.
Another way to rescue a waning sexual appetite is to consume more libido-boosting foods. The list of touted natural aphrodisiacs is long, but peering into the scientific literature can help narrow down the choices. The following foods boast some sex-drive-boosting potential, in addition to overall health benefits. Other foods can also be beneficial but the following six are a great starting point—and some are guaranteed to surprise you.
1. Flaxseed Makes You “Strong Like Bull”
A recent study found that buffalo bulls who had flaxseed oil added to their feed showed increased mating behaviors and better semen quality. All bull jokes aside, this study demonstrates a major point: flaxseed is one powerfully phytoestrogenic food.
Flaxseed and flaxseed oil are simply loaded with lignans, a type of polyphenol that reduces estrogenic activity in the body. Flaxseed has 800 times as many lignans than any other food, and these lignans bind to estrogen receptor sites, which is a huge bonus if you happen to be estrogen dominant. Lignans boost testosterone levels, which is why they have so much impact on sex drive.
Given the latest research, flaxseed could turn you from sleepy sloth into raging bull in the bedroom!
In addition to promoting hormone harmony, flaxseeds also offer heart, bone, digestive and metabolic benefits, as well as reducing your risk for various types of cancer, including breast cancer. There is one glitch, however. While lignan-rich flax seeds are extremely health promoting, they do contain cyanogenic glycosides that metabolize into thiocyanate, a chemical with the potential, over time, to suppress your thyroid’s ability to take up iodine, and this may increase your risk for goiter. There are a few easy ways to avoid this problem.
• Consume flaxseed oil, which is free of cyanogenic glycosides.
• Consume a maximum of three to four tablespoons of ground flaxseeds per day. The beneficial oils in flaxseeds are far more bioavailable from ground flaxseeds than whole. An easy way to eat them is tossed into your daily protein shake or cran-water.
• Lightly toasting your flaxseeds deactivates and decomposes cyanogenic glycosides, while preserving their beneficial omega-3s. Simply spread the seeds out on a baking sheet and toast them in a 250-degree F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until crispy. (Please note: A temperature above 300 degrees will damage the seeds by converting their oils into the unhealthy trans form.)
2. Dark Chocolate May Cure Dwindling Desire
Chocolate lovers, get ready to do your happy dance—research reveals that chocolate is an aphrodisiac! Eating chocolate stimulates the secretion of endorphins, producing sensations similar to “runners high.” A notable 2006 study showed chocolate to have a positive effect on women’s sexual health, in terms of sexual arousal and satisfaction. Chocolate’s natural mood-altering effects result from several psychoactive compounds:
• Phenylethylamine: Chocolate releases phenylethylamine in the brain which stimulates dopamine production, pleasurable sensations, feelings well-being and aphrodisiac effects.
• Theobromine: a stimulating alkaloid that is similar to caffeine.
• Methylxanthines: Compounds that increase your body’s sensitivity, ensuring that your skin registers even the slightest touch.
• N-acylethanolamines: Activate cannabinoid receptors or increase endocannabinoid levels, which increases sensitivity to touch
• Serotonin: Chocolate stimulates serotonin, which can stimulate libido and feelings of well-being.
• Kisspeptin: Dubbed “mental Viagra,” kisspeptin is the hormone that kick-starts puberty—and it happens to occur naturally in chocolate. Young men injected with kisspeptin showed a flurry of activity in the parts of their brain activated by sexual arousal and romance. A study from Edinburgh University showed that kisspeptin fuels testosterone production.
It’s okay to indulge in a little chocolate—just make sure you’re choosing low-sugar, high-quality dark chocolate, because sugar is the first thing that will kill romance! Sugar lowers testosterone and human growth hormone, raises insulin, and creates an overall hormonal domino effect. Excess sugar may contribute to irregular menstrual cycles, erectile dysfunction and even those dreaded man boobs. Look for cacao content of at least 70 percent, with 85 percent being optimal.
Another great “whey” to get your chocolate fix is with UNI KEY’s Fat Flush Whey Protein. A favorite with many Fat Flushers, it boasts 100% pure unsweetened Guittard cocoa that contains the highest flavanol content of any product I’ve seen on the market. It’s also free of any harsh alkalis that are so often found in commercial chocolate protein powders. The cocoa is then blended with non-denatured (unheated), hormone-free whey protein made from high quality (and highly sought-after) A2 milk protein from New Zealand cows.
You’ll be delighted by how many delicious options there are to enjoy it! One of my favorites is using it to make a Fat Flush-friendly pancake—perfect for breakfast in bed on Valentine’s Day morning! To spread the love, UNI KEY is offering 20% off Fat Flush Whey Protein through February 17th, 2017. For those who aren’t fans of chocolate, this discount also applies to the vanilla version! Simply use the code WHEY20 at checkout to redeem your discount.
3. An Apple a Day Does That?
You already know that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but it may also keep you and your partner at play—at least if you’re a woman. A 2014 Italian study discovered daily apple consumption associated with better sexual function among women.
Other studies have illuminated the link between overall good health and intake of phytoestrogens, polyphenols, and antioxidants, but this was the first study to link sexual function specifically with daily apple consumption. Researchers speculate that apples’ benefits come from their abundant polyphenols and antioxidants, which facilitate arousal by increasing blood flow to the genitals. Not only that, but apples contain phloridzin, a common phytoestrogen structurally similar to estradiol, the female sex hormone that plays a significant role in vaginal lubrication. Who knew?
4. Full-Fat Dairy for Fabulous Hormones
In case you haven’t heard, fat is in! Clean saturated fat from plants and healthy, happy pasture-raised animals offers a multitude of health benefits. Many studies now confirm whole-fat dairy has no association with weight gain or cardiovascular disease, and full fat dairy—as long as it comes from good sources—may offer special benefits for sexual health.
Our bodies require abundant saturated fats for hormone production. The cholesterol in full-fat dairy is required for progesterone production. Studies show women who consume more full-fat dairy before their periods experience fewer PMS symptoms and fertility.
In addition to cholesterol, full-fat dairy from pasture-raised cows is rich in essential fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D and K2, which are important for overall endocrine function. Calcium plays a role in estrogen-progesterone balance and reduces stress by helping bring down cortisol levels.
Raw dairy products are the best as they contain beneficial enzymes that increase nutrient absorption. If raw dairy is not available, the next best thing is low-temperature pasteurized (sometimes called “flash pasteurized”) and non-homogenized milk. As always, the less processed the better.
5. Maca—A Superfood for Super Sex
When it comes to libido, maca has made quite a name for itself. Maca is a root vegetable from the cruciferous family (like broccoli and cabbage), native to the Peruvian Andes. In fact, maca is the highest altitude crop in the world, growing at 10,000 feet above sea level.
Maca root has long been regarded for its aphrodisiac effects. Studies show it increases sexual desire and satisfaction for both men and women by stimulating the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, which in turn regulate other glands such as the adrenals, thyroid, pancreas, ovaries and testicles. Maca may improve fertility but it’s also an adaptogen, helping your body cope with stress. Studies support its ability to boost immune function and increase energy, stamina and mental focus.
Interestingly, maca appears to increase libido without altering serum testosterone and estrogen levels and may be useful for countering SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction, as well as relieving the symptoms of PMS and PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome).
6. Tigernuts Put a Tiger in Your Tank
Their name alone was probably enough to lure scientists into investigating tigernuts for their aphrodisiac properties. Tigernuts (Cyperus esculentus) are actually NOT nuts but rather ancient little tuberous roots from a wild African grass. Unknown to Westerners until recently, tigernuts have made quite an appearance on the nutrition scene—but it appears they might be much more than a friendly paleo food. In 2015, researchers noted tigernut consumption produced the following effects on the copulatory behavior of rats:
Tigernuts stimulated sexual motivation in both highly and moderately active rats, indicated by reduced mount and intromission latencies in these rats compared to controls. Furthermore, tigernut improved sexual performance, indicated by increased intromission frequency and ratio, in treated moderately active rats compared to controls. Serum testosterone levels increased significantly after tigernut administration.
This was a preliminary study, of course, but nevertheless impressive! Tigernuts offer a wealth of nutritional benefits and are unmatched for sweetness and flavor, with notes of caramel. You can’t get any more “paleo” than tigernuts, which are thought to be the original “trail mix.”
The nutritional profile of tigernuts is a combination of beneficial starches, fiber, monounsaturated fats, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes. These little gems are about 33 percent fiber and, gram for gram, contain almost six times as much sugar as sweet potatoes, yet amazingly still boast a low glycemic index. This is courtesy of their “resistant starch” (meaning, resistant to digestion) which makes its way to your large intestine to nourish your gut bacteria—so yes, it’s a prebiotic. Tigernuts can be eaten whole or ground, raw or roasted—even used as a gluten-free flour.
My favorite way to consume tigernuts is blended into a traditional drink called horchata (Horchata de Chufa). You can make your own horchata by blending tigernuts with water (plus spices and fruit as desired). It’s essentially the same process as for making nut milks, the most delicious of them all. For more about the health of tigernuts, refer to this article.
There are many natural boosts for a lagging libido, but these six will get you started. It may not happen overnight, but little lifestyle changes can add up to big benefits over time. A romantic cocktail consisting of horchata, spiked with a pinch of maca root and dusted with a little natural cocoa, might just make this Valentine’s Day a very memorable one!