There is no escaping it, whether you are married, dating or single, February is all about Valentine’s Day, or so all the shops and media would have us believe. It seems that Valentine’s Day has become a little like marmite, you either love it or hate it, but whichever camp you fall into and whether you are with special someone or not this year, food is something that often plays a big part in Valentine’s celebrations or commiserations.
It’s all about chemistry
Hormones. It might be a small word, but it is one that is associated with causing havoc and certainly has a lot to answer for once the presence of them become apparent in teenage years. Yet hormones have a big part to play in feelings of love and are responsible for feelings of attachment and bonding to loved ones. When we are in love, especially in the first few weeks and months of infatuation in a new exciting relationship, certain hormones increase and are released in the body, including one called Norepinephrine. This little chemical is the one responsible for those first feelings of joy, giddiness and excitement when we first meet someone we really like, in other words it’s responsible for ‘chemistry’. So how does this then relate to food? Well, as much as Norepinephrine makes you giddy in love, it also reduces appetite, which is why people often lose their appetite in the early stages of falling in love.
Unfortunately this doesn’t last. That initial, powerful chemistry felt between two people will naturally reduce as familiarity increases and hormone levels return to normal and restores appetite. For all the single people reading this, do not despair, there is some good news. Studies have shown that both men and women who are married are twice as likely to be obese compared to their single peers, so if you feel miserable this Valentine’s Day just think of that and smile!
Many people get pleasure from food and this is mainly because eating involves four out of our five senses: taste, touch, smell and sight. These are powerful senses and all of them can stimulate chemical changes in the body that can improve mood and promote feelings of happiness and pleasure.
Aphrodisiacs –Myth of Fact?
Many people are aware that certain foods throughout history, have been noted for their aphrodisiac properties and yes, some foods indeed have shown a positive effect in this respect. Sometimes this has scientific backing, when the components of food have an actual effect on the body in some way and other times it’s more simply a case of the look of the food resembling certain body parts, or because it is eaten in a suggestive way.
One item that is especially common on Valentine’s Day is chocolate. Casanova, arguably one of the world’s most famous lovers, declared chocolate as the world’s best aphrodisiac, second only to champagne, but is there any truth in this? Good quality, dark chocolate with a high cocoa content contains a compound called Phenylethylamine (PEA), which we know increases the action of another hormone called Dopamine. This is responsible for feelings of pleasure, wellbeing and euphoria and is released during sex. The connection there is clear, however whether there is actually enough PEA in chocolate to have this effect is questionable. Some studies have shown that eating chocolate causes natural opiates to be produced in the brain, which would explain why chocolate definitely has the ‘feel good factor’. Looking at the evidence though, it may well be more the romantic gesture of actually being given chocolates that has an aphrodisiac affect, as opposed to chocolate consumption itself!
Probably one of the most well-known foods that always appears in the aphrodisiac discussion is Oysters. Evidently their appearance is highly suggestive, but it is most probably the intimate way in which they are eaten that makes this food a contender for top aphrodisiac. They are however very high in zinc, which is vital in male fertility especially as low zinc levels negatively impact on semen production and can also play a part in erectile dysfunction. Zinc is also needed for production of male and female sex hormones, so oysters could certainly give a boost to libido!
Red Chilli peppers are perhaps not the first food you would think of when it comes to aphrodisiacs, however spicy foods have often been thought of as stimulating foods, which can make you hot under the collar in more ways than one! Chilli peppers bright red color is of course synonymous with love, which probably helps their reputation in the love stakes. However, capsaicin, the active component of chilli peppers, releases endorphins in the body. These are ‘feel good hormones’ and in larger quantities they increase heart rate and perspiration levels, which are all physiological effects that mimic what occurs during love and arousal and this gives the chilli pepper its aphrodisiac status.
If you want to cook up a bit of a ‘love potion’ this Valentine’s Day then the use of certain herbs and spices could be beneficial. In folklore and medieval times, there was literally a herb or spice for every occasion and when it came to love, there was no exception. Saffron, nutmeg and ginseng have all been shown to have aphrodisiac properties, with Cleopatra an apparent advocate of the libido boosting properties of saffron! Ginseng has been shown to improve sexual desire and energy levels and can be drunk easily in the form of tea. Perhaps the connection with some herbs and love are best left in the stories of folklore, as some do stretch the imagination a little. However, if you like a good story and fancy trying something different, why not add dill to your bath water, which was said in folklore to attract the opposite sex. Or if you feel things are moving too slowly in your relationship then burning cinnamon sticks was said to speed things up!! Luckily if you try these, you don’t have to worry about being burnt at the stake now and if nothing else, you will certainly smell nice!
You cannot write about food and love and not include honey. Honey has historically symbolized, love, sexuality and eroticism and although it’s hard to say just how long honey has been in existence, honey bees date back 150 million years. We can take from that that honey has been around quite a long time and its popularity as a sweetener remains high.
Honey is made through pollination and is a symbol of procreation, which explains perfectly the common saying of the ‘birds and the bees’. The well-known Greek physician Hippocrates, prescribed honey for sexual vigour and advocated the drinking of milk and honey to induce love and ecstasy. Why not try out this delicious ‘love inducing’ drink this Valentine’s Day, using Delamere Dairy’s goats’ milk and a good quality dark honey. Warm milk works better here, as this allows the honey to mix with the milk more evenly. Not only will you be taking Hippocrates advice, but with honeys anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and high antioxidant level, you will be getting a health boost too.
Honey was seen by most, especially Romans, Egyptians and Greeks, as having magical properties most probably because they believed the bee to have special powers. Cupid, the God of love, is often pictured around bees, near a bee hive or actually being stung and this is said to represent that life’s pleasures are mixed with pain and also represents the sting, or pain of love.
On a more scientific note, honey contains the trace mineral Boron, which has been shown to promote testosterone production in men and generally raise the levels of natural sex hormones in both men and women. So if you are looking for something sweet this Valentine’s Day, I’d recommend reaching for the honey!
Whatever you decide to eat this Valentine’s Day, hopefully cupid’s bow will find its way to its destination, but there is no harm in giving it a helping hand by using one of the delicious foods mentioned above. If however you are taking the approach of ‘the way to your loved one’s heart is through their stomach’, you better make sure your cooking skills are up to par!
Some Medicinal Plants with Aphrodisiac Potential: A current status 2013. Journal of Acute Disease
Foods that Changed History: How Foods Shaped Civilization from the Ancient World to the Present, 2015. Christopher Cumo
The Role of Nutraceuticals in Male Fertility, 2014. Urologic Clinics of North America