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Why Are Oysters Considered an Aphrodisiac?

If you’ve ever wondered why oysters have a reputation as an aphrodisiac –and who hasn’t? – blame it on Italian bon vivant and adventurer Giacomo Casanova (you may have heard of him).

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Casanova’s notorious biography The Story of My Life is filled with tales of his legendary exploits with women and was fascinating enough even over 200 years later that it was made into a movie. Casanova claimed to eat 50 oysters for breakfast every day and swore they were the reason for his boundless energy and libido. Hence the origins of the belief that oysters affect libido.

Is there anything to it? Probably not. Oysters are a good source of zinc, which is indeed necessary for a healthy male sperm count. But sperm count has little to do with desire.

In 2005, some interesting research came out showing that there are indeed two weird and unusual amino acids found in oysters that were shown – at least in animals – to increase testosterone production. Now, testosterone is indeed a hormone that affects sexual desire in both sexes. But desire is complex, and it depends on many factors and circumstances. My opinion is that any tiny boost in testosterone you might theoretically get from eating a dozen oysters is unlikely to matter much.

Part of oysters’ aphrodisiac “brand” is the sensuality of the eating experience itself. And since desire all happens in the organ between your ears, anything you think is an aphrodisiac can easily become an aphrodisiac. It just doesn’t have much to do with zinc or amino acids.

Although oysters might not deliver the dose of desire some hope for, there are still plenty of reasons to enjoy this shellfish. Oysters are sustainability superstars, and they’re responsible for purifying and filtering their aquatic environments. Plus, they’re packed with good-for-you nutrients. One serving contains over 75 percent of the recommended daily total of vitamin D and selenium, two nutrients that are fantastic for brain health.

Ready to give oysters a try? Learn how to buy, shuck and bake this shellfish here.

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