Sure, gifting your honey with candy hearts, chocolate truffles and other sweet treats will definitely earn you brownie points this Valentine’s Day, but when it comes to planning your meal for the big night, there are other foods that will help get your libido racing, too.
We spoke with nutrition and fitness expert J.J. Virgin, costar of TLC’s reality series Freaky Eaters and author of Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy, about great foods that will help put you in the mood for love—and a few others to steer clear of when you’re hoping for a night full of romance. An edited version of the interview follows.
MORE: Can certain foods really affect your libido or put you in that romantic mood?
J.J. Virgin: In general, food is information, and I think people discount the impact food can have on your energy levels and your overall mood. There are certain things food can do that can either enhance your libido or enhance your performance and add to your stamina—or just make you feel absolutely unsexy, bloated and tired. So one of the big things to look at with food is something called dopamine, which we know as this neurotransmitter of desire. It’s what happens when people fall in love: Dopamine goes up, they don’t want to eat, they just keep thinking about that person all the time. One of the other big neurotransmitters is serotonin, and that’s the one that can help us feel happy but also feel sleepy and can kind of crush your sex drive if you eat a lot of carbs and sugar. So you don’t want to go and have a big pasta dinner on Valentine’s Day. Avoid the snooze food.
MORE: What is the all-time sexiest food?
JJV: You always think of finger foods as being a little more sexy and hot. It’s like the 9½ Weeks thing—the all-time sexiest food movie. But there also happen to be a lot of foods with aphrodisiac qualities. When I think of sexy foods, I think of oysters. They are sexy foods because they’re rich in tyrosine [an amino acid], which raises dopamine, and they are rich in zinc, which raises testosterone and helps improve sperm count.
Another good one people don’t know about that’s pretty interesting is celery. Celery raises something called androstenedione, and it actually causes men to emit an odor that’s basically irresistible to women. So take some celery and put some almond butter on it. Almonds are rich in zinc and arginine, and arginine raises nitrous oxide, which helps improve blood flow.
MORE: You also say sushi is good for the libido.
JJV: Fish is rich in omega-3, so that’s going to help with blood flow and reduce inflammation. And then eat your sushi with some wasabi, because hot and spicy food is going to help increase desire and mimic how you feel during sex, with endorphins releasing.
MORE: We’ve heard hot coffee can work, too.
JJV: Coffee and wine are really rich sources of antioxidants and polyphenols. I think we tend to look at those and think, huh? How can those be good? Coffee and wine are both actually health foods in moderation. Also, when you drink hot coffee, you get a good adrenaline response, which can be exciting. And then drinking red wine—just a little bit, or you’ll fall asleep—can help with blood flow and circulation from the polyphenols.
MORE: Are there certain foods you should avoid if you’re hoping for some romance after dinner?
JJV: I don’t know about you, but I don’t find feeling bloated very sexy. Sparkling water wouldn’t be what I’d be drinking. And I avoid things that seem to be more inflammatory and more bloating—dairy and gluten. I’d be really careful of a high-carb meal, which will put you sleep. Overeating is another one that’s not sexy, and neither are bloating vegetables. As much as I love them—and I’m a big fan of cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and broccoli—they don’t make you feel sexy later. They give you a bit of a bloating stomach, so I’d be cool on that part of it as well.