Sex life been a bit sluggish of late? The problem may lie in the kitchen, not the bedroom. Reason: The foods you eat affect—for better or worse—your body’s production of the hormones needed for a healthy libido and the hormones that dampen desire.

Michael Aziz, MD, author of The Perfect 10 Diet: 10 Key Hormones That Hold the Secret to Losing Weight and Feeling Great—Fast!, said that specific foods can stimulate or sap a woman’s sex drive. Libido-boosting diet is not a quick fix because there is no scientific proof that eating a particular food just prior to sex can spark arousal. Rather, the idea is to adopt a healthy lifestyle—including a hormone-optimizing diet—to improve your sex life.

“Libido is affected by many things, of course, including your relationship with your partner, your emotional state, stress level, sleep quality and overall health. But regardless of these, if you make certain changes to your diet, you are taking a valuable step toward improving your sex life,” Dr. Aziz said.

Are you ready to ensure that your desire for sex and ability to enjoy it are functioning at their best? Here’s what you need to know…

The older we get, the more helpful the right diet can be in keeping our sex drive alive. “Estrogen and progesterone, the female hormones that promote sexual desire, deplete naturally with age. So does testosterone, which plays a crucial role in women’s libido even though it is known as a ‘male’ sex hormone. But sex hormones don’t tell the whole story, because growth and stress hormones also affect sexual desire. And all of these are influenced by what you eat,” Dr. Aziz explained.

There’s no exact prescription for the “right” amount of a particular libido-enhancing nutrient. No one can promise you, “Eat two oysters every day and you’ll be frisky every night.” Instead, your goal is for your diet to incorporate moderate-to-ample amounts of the nutrients needed for optimal hormonal balance.

Be sure that your diet includes…

Natural fats. We have had it drilled into our heads that we should severely restrict all fats to reduce heart disease risk and maintain a healthy weight—but to produce sex hormones, the body needs some saturated and monounsaturated fats, Dr. Aziz said. Natural hormone-balancing fats are found in avocados, butter, fish, nuts, olive oil and whole milk.

Cholesterol-rich foods. Here is another group that seems counterintuitive, but the type of cholesterol found in foods is not the same as the type that clogs arteries. Actually, dietary cholesterol aids in the production of sex hormones—so include moderate amounts of eggs, liver, organic red meats and shellfish in your diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids. You know that these protect against heart disease… but did you know that what’s good for your heart is also good for your genitals? Reason: Omega-3s improve blood flow, and the more blood that reaches the genitals, the more aroused you feel. From a hormonal standpoint, omega-3s optimize female sex hormone production… and as a bonus, they help maintain the moisture and health of vaginal tissues. Good sources include fatty fish (halibut, mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna) as well as eggs, flaxseed oil and walnuts.

Zinc. This mineral is essential to support the production of female and male sex hormones. Oysters are particularly rich in zinc… clams, crabs, lobster and shrimp are good sources, too. Zinc also is found in barley, buckwheat, cheese, chickpeas, nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts), oat bran, poultry, red meat, seeds (pumpkin, squash, sunflower) and spinach.

Citrulline. This amino acid converts to arginine, a substance that dilates blood vessels, and thus improves blood flow (“like a natural Viagra,” Dr. Aziz said). Citrulline is abundant in watermelon… it also is found in cantaloupe, cucumbers and milk.

Limit these libido killers…

Sugar. Eating sweets triggers production of the stress hormone cortisol. This interferes with arousal because, to create that cortisol, the body uses up some of the sex hormone progesterone. Sugar also impairs production of the steroid hormone DHEA, a precursor the body uses to create sex hormones.

Alcohol. A drink can increase desire by lowering inhibitions—but it also shuts down sex hormones. If you do drink, Dr. Aziz recommended limiting yourself to no more than three servings per week.

Manufactured fats. Trans fats—such as those in margarine, hydrogenated oils and vegetable shortening—damage DHEA and interfere with production of female and male sex hormones.

Caffeine. In addition to breaking down testosterone, excessive caffeine can disrupt production of human growth hormone (HGH)—and as Dr. Aziz said, HGH is “the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth.” Best: Limit caffeine intake to no more than two servings per day to help keep your libido lively.