Foods to boost your libido

Foods to boost your libido

With sex a near-ubiquitous feature in today’s society, it’s easy to worry there’s something wrong with us if our desire should ever take a dip. But the truth is, there’s no such thing as a ‘normal’ libido and everything from relationship problems to anxiety and even alcohol consumption can cause them to change.

And then there’s our hormones. Both men and women have cycles of libido intensity that are largely driven by hormonal activity. Although everyone is different, some women do report a dip in their sex drives in their 40s and 50s caused by fluctuating levels of hormones during the menopause transition. Levels of testosterone in men can also decline over the years, albeit at a more gradual rate.

With causes of low libido so wide-ranging, where does diet fit into the picture? There are several well-established links between nutrition and a lack of interest in sex. For example, stress can contribute to the rapid depletion of magnesium[1], a mineral that can contribute to a good libido. In women, eating a diet high in sugar can promote increased fat storage which in turn prompts the endocrine system to produce more oestriol from fat stores. This increases levels of the sex hormone-binding globulin, which mops up the androgens that drive libido[2]. A high-sugar diet has also been shown to lower the amount of testosterone produced by men[3].

If you’ve had a low libido for a long period of time and find it distressing, your first stop should always be your GP. It’s important to rule out any health conditions or medication side effects, and your GP is a good first port of call if you feel like anxiety or hormonal fluctuations are part of the problem. But if you just feel like your bedroom vitality could do with a little nudge in the right direction, here are some foods which could help fan the flames of desire...


We always knew it was the food of love! One study found that women who ate more chocolate had higher Female Sexual Function Index scores than women who did not eat it at all[4].

The cacao pod/bean (the seed from which chocolate is made) is very nutritionally rich. The main active alkaloid of cacao is theobromine, which has a stimulatory effect on the nervous and cardiac systems. Cacao also contains phenylethylamine, an organic compound that has positive effects on mood[5]. Some scientists say it is responsible for the brain chemicals involved with love and romance. It is these two chemicals combined that seem to have that magical aphrodisiac effect.

And, as an added bonus, the polyphenols in cacao also act as an antioxidant, protecting against free radical damage[6].

Tip: Choose chocolate with a minimum of 85% cacao content. The darker the chocolate, the richer the cacao meaning higher levels of libido-boosting nutrients like theobromine and polyphenols.

Zinc-rich foods

Zinc is an essential mineral that is involved in the function of the immune system, the production of DNA and even sperm. One study found that zinc supplementation increased testosterone production, a hormone that is critical to sex drive[7].

The body cannot manufacture zinc, therefore we must ensure we eat enough in our daily diets to keep us firing on all cylinders. Zinc-rich foods include pumpkin seeds, almonds and legumes.

Tip: Planning a romantic meal to get you in the mood? Put oysters on the menu. Not only are they high in zinc, they also contain specific amino acids and serotonin, which are integral in the neural pathway of the pleasure response[8].

Inessa Advanced Multivitamin also contains zinc.


If beetroot conjures images of the little red, vinegary cubes found in a 1980s salad bar, it might be hard to believe the humble root vegetable is actually a potent libido booster. But beetroot has a long history as an aphrodisiac. Ancient Romans believed it promoted amorous feelings while in Greek mythology, Aphrodite ate beetroot to enhance her sex appeal.

So could there be truth behind the folklore? Beetroot is naturally rich in nitrates which the stomach converts to nitric oxide. This dilates the blood vessels and improves circulation, increasing blood flow to those sensitive areas. Beetroot is rich in iron, potassium, manganese and vitamin C so therefore supports stamina and energy. Beets also contain high amounts of boron, a trace mineral that increases the level of sex hormones in the human body[9].

Beetroot also contains powerful antioxidants (which gives it that rich, gorgeous colour) and can support detoxification and metabolism of hormones, promoting better hormone harmony.


The Buddhist bible, the Shurangama Sutra forbids the eating of garlic, saying it stimulates unwanted sexual desire. This could be down to an enzyme in garlic called allinase, that is released when garlic is chopped or crushed. The resulting compound is called allicin, which is known to improve blood flow in the sexual organs of both men and women[10].

In addition to increasing blood flow, some studies have found that garlic may help promote male fertility. One review of 18 studies concluded that garlic helped boost sperm production and increase levels of testosterone, which may be due to its antioxidant properties[11.

In a recent animal study, S-allyl cysteine, a compound found in garlic, increased testosterone production in mice[12]. Another animal study also showed that aged garlic extract could protect against changes in sperm production and testosterone levels caused by chemotherapy[13].


Maca is a plant in the cruciferous vegetable family known for its adaptogenic properties or ability to help your body adapt to and cope with stress. But there is also lots of promising research looking into its positive health benefits, including maca’s influence on libido.

In a double-blind 2002 study, researchers gave 57 men either maca or a placebo for 12 weeks. After 8 weeks, men in the two maca groups reported heightened sexual desire[14]

Another study looked at 20 men who suffered with depression and were on on SSRIs – antidepressants that often decrease sex drive. Results found that 3g of maca daily significantly increased self-reported libido[15]. A similar study looking at 45 women on antidepressants found maca had the same effect[16].

A fourth study of eight endurance athletes found that maca extract increased self-reported sexual desire (though it did not improve endurance training)[17].

These studies were small and they relied on self-reporting. That said, they were also all double-blind, placebo-controlled, and randomized, and each one showed the same pattern of results: maca increased libido. Add in a 2001 study showing that both 1.5g and 3g of daily maca increased sperm count and sperm motility, plus another one showing that it improved erectile dysfunction[18] and it seems like there may be something to the claim that maca is an aphrodisiac.

Tip: Maca is easy to incorporate into your diet. Try a maca root powder and mix it into smoothies or even in porridge.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy ‘Menopause supplements: The best vitamins for women experiencing the menopause’



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Inessa Team

Our team pull together science-backed information to bring you up to date health and wellness insights.

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