It’s easy to plan for the best-case Valentine’s Day scenario: You’re in control of lighting the candles, setting the playlist, getting the flowers, and so on. But even the best-laid plans for getting laid can be easily felled by biology.
None of the aphrodisiac superstars that we pull out every Valentine’s Day ― oysters, wine and chocolate, for instance ― can save you from a big bout of burps, gas or bad breath. Because ― let’s be real ― these things happen, and when they do, it’s not hot for either victim. Food-induced discomfort and embarrassment is more than enough to freeze the hottest of sexy times.
But because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, we’re here to help save the night as nutritionists share what food and drinks might be vibe killers as opposed to thrillers.
Avoid garlic and onions, which can affect more than just your breath
Kissing is one of the most intimate things you can do with another person, but it’s hard to focus on the pleasure sensor of your brain when the olfactories are shouting for attention. If you want to spend the night up close and personal, stay away from garlic and onions (we know it’s hard), if only for the day or so leading up to it.
“Garlic produces a sulfur-containing gas called allyl methyl sulfide (AMS), which comes up from the stomach and lungs,” said Sandra Panattieri, a practicing clinical nutritionist.
“This gets absorbed into the blood during the metabolism of garlic … which can result in AMS coming out of your skin. Imagine that odor while trying to be intimate?” she said with a laugh.
It may be hard to avoid as “lots of restaurants cook with garlic,” pointed out registered dietitian Karalynn Chiazzese, “but you can avoid eating chunks of it in your dish. And if cooking for your date, garlic-infused oil is easier on the stomach than fresh garlic or garlic powder,” and is less potent, which means you can mint it away a little more easily.
Avoid foods that can get stuck in your teeth, and not just broccoli
You also might want to avoid food that might make for awkward moments of the mouth, like things that commonly get stuck in your teeth. Classic culprits include spinach, broccoli, popcorn kernels, corn on the cob and poppy seeds. Certain meats, like ribs and steak, can also get lodged. But things you may not think about are white bread, crackers, and other hard, dry snacks that turn into pulp that can mold to your tooth and gum crevices.
Avoid these gassy foods up to a couple of days in advance
For a long, leisurely ride into Pleasuretown, don’t count on gas as a propelling fuel. You won’t be able to let go and relax if you’re struggling against, well, letting go! Although fiber’s great for your health, things like “the musical fruit” may not be the ideal soundtrack for your special night. Sure, you can pop a Beano, as Chiazzese suggested ― “it contains the digestive enzyme alpha-galactosidase, which helps the digestion of beans,” she said ― but who needs one more pre-date task?
Also, crucifers like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage are known to cause gas, as are other high-FODMAP ingredients such as beans and onions, which may trigger irritable bowel syndrome and other unpredictable gut discomfort. “In addition, the bloating from these vegetables can last for a couple of days, and that could ruin a romantic sleepover,” Panattieri said.
Last but not least, for those who have gluten or lactose sensitivity, stay upwind of anything that uses wheat, rye or barley or anything with dairy, including butter, certain cheeses and ice cream, respectively. In fact, even if you do tolerate milk products well, exercise caution, Panattieri advised. “Dairy products retain water, thus causing bloating and possible gas.”
Avoid fatty foods
Even though it’s popular, keto may not be the best key to the bedroom door. Keto breath is a real thing, and some believe “keto crotch” is, too. Moreover, according to Christine DeLozier, author of “Diet for Great Sex: Food for Male and Female Sexual Health” and certified holistic nutritional counselor, “testosterone will fall after a very fatty meal. This has the potential to reduce libido quite noticeably” for anyone, regardless of sex or gender. Plus, fatty foods tend to be things we overeat; she called out burgers, fries, creamy sauces, fish fries, nachos, fried chicken, mac and cheese, lasagna, dips, pies and pizza.
“Overeating in general causes fatigue that can impair performance and desire,” she explained. And yes, that includes classic Valentine’s Day treats like chocolate, candies, cakes and cheesecake.
Plus, DeLozier added, “to prepare our bodies for a night of lovemaking, we want abundant blood flow to where we need it most. We all know that males need good blood supply for sex, but most people don’t realize that it’s also essential for female sexual pleasure and climax. In research, a high-fat meal increased arterial stiffness within two hours of eating it. Arterial stillness reduces blood flow, and is not what we want for great sex.” However, that’s bad fats: the omega-3s, the saturated stuff, and the trans fat. Good fats like fish actually “improve the elasticity of blood vessels after eating it,” she said.
Cut out inflammatory foods
When it comes to a highly anticipated evening of romance, feeling enflamed with the heat of passion is great. Inflamed, however … not so much.
Inflammation is a general term for anything that aggravates your body and triggers a response, including muscle cramping or feeling tender around your gut. A poor diet can be the cause, as certain foods may cause your muscles to seize more easily and “blow up your joints like a helium balloon,” as Panattieri put it, making you less than limber for bedroom acrobatics.
Additionally, “inflammatory foods can make you feel sluggish because they are hard to digest,” Panattieri said.
Speaking of which, sugary foods ― particularly those with high fructose corn syrup, she cautioned ― and yeasty ones like bagels, bread, rolls and other raised refined white flour products fit under this category. Dairy gets a second mention; these are joined by general “sauces, condiments, processed meats, high sodium foods and trans fats,” per the doctor ― all ingredients already linked to diseases and disorders.
Alcohol can get you in the mood, but then quickly out of it
“One or two drinks may help you feel sexier, more confident, boost arousal and increase sexual desire,” Chiazzese confirmed. “However, a drink too many can actually have undesirable effects since alcohol impacts your central nervous system.” Roughly translated, that can affect how powerful those fireworks are later … or if they can even get lit in the first place.
Panattieri has similar cautions. “As much as alcohol can help get in the mood, too much of it could make you tired and result in a poor performance in the bedroom. Poor performance or pleasure? Which do you think your partner will prefer?” she asked. She also brought up another point: “The sugar in beer, called maltose, can cause gas and bloating ― not great when naked and too close for comfort!”
The same goes for other fizzy drinks, from mixers to sodas to seltzers. Even the ones that don’t contain calories still “create air bubbles that build up in your stomach” from the carbonation, she pointed out. “If you like to belch and fart, then soft drinks are your friend. Otherwise, the gas will slow down your metabolism” and the night’s agenda.
Watch out for dessert
A big part of Valentine’s Day is indulgence, and that usually means giving in to your sweet tooth. But if you’re saving room for a dessert of a different type, you might want to skip the one served at the table. DeLozier said, “Eating simple sugars increases arterial stiffness in the post-meal period,” the peak time for after-date quality time.
Unfortunately, the workaround of swapping in sugar isn’t fail-safe, either. Panattieri warned against artificial sweeteners, “especially sorbitol. It contains chemicals, which can be fermented by gut bacteria, resulting in gas, bloating, inflammation, cramping, constipation or diarrhea.”
You should also be mindful of sweet foods beyond the obvious, such as raw apples ― which have fiber and fructose that may cause gas discomfort ― and protein drinks. Many pre-made protein drinks can also have similar effects, so don’t think you’re better off skipping dinner. Panattieri pointed out that some may “contain chemicals, artificial sweeteners, lactose, and hidden ingredients that will rot your gut so bad[ly] that it’ll reduce your overall energy while creating gas and bloating.” She recommends that if you need the supplement, buy organic, low-ingredient shakes or make your own at home.
How to get the love train back on track
The list of foods to avoid might seem daunting, but it really comes down to a few basic principles. Avoid the following things:
your typical bad-breath culprits
eating too much fiber
food high in saturated or trans fat or sugar
excess booze and bubbles
anything that may trigger preexisting conditions, such as acid reflux or chronic inflammation
Look to whole, minimally processed food and ingredients that will stimulate blood flow, such as “potassium-rich squash, flavonoids and nitrate-rich foods,” DeLozier recommended. A heart-healthy menu ought to do the trick, and for this special night, it’s more than just coincidentally apropos.