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How 7 Different Foods Affect Your Body Odor

Beyond the usual offenders like garlic and onions, foods like red meat, fish and spices can cause a stink effect as well

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Ever notice how spicy or pungent foods can make your body smell ... well, strong? You probably can guess that an order of garlic bread or a bowl of onion soup will affect your breath, but did you know that other foods in your diet may impact your body’s odor, too?

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You may know that sweat is tied to body odor, but there’s a reason why you’ll often get a stronger whiff of something coming from your underarms and groin area. That’s because your apocrine sweat glands — which are connected to your hair follicles — are responsible for spots like armpits.

When the perspiration from these glands mixes in with bacteria on your skin’s surface, that’s where the scent comes from.

And this odor can be magnified or affected depending on what you eat — whether it’s from spicy foods that make you sweat more or sulfur-rich foods like garlic being carried through your sweat.

Gastroenterologist Christine Lee, MD, explains this phenomenon, as well as the different types of foods and how they impact your odor after eating them.

What foods affect my body odor?

Essentially, the foods that will impact your body odor the most are the ones that are high in sulfuric acid. Here are the foods that can cause a change to your scent and why:

Spices

Spices like curry, cumin, and fenugreek can pack a punch when they attach to your tongue and teeth. Not only can these spices linger for hours on your breath, but they can also stick to your hair, skin and clothes. These spices also contain volatile compounds that can be absorbed into your bloodstream and released through your sweat glands, leading to a distinct odor.

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Garlic and onion

Binding to your mouth, these plant cousins are well-known sources of bad breath.

For some people, they can also boost metabolism, body heat and sweat. Dr. Lee explains that this can cause the bacteria on your skin to mingle with sweat that you secrete through your apocrine glands, leading to a buildup of unpleasant odor.

Red meat

If you’re a fan of steak dinners, this is another body odor source to know about. When you eat red meat, it can release odorless proteins through perspiration. “But when these proteins mingle with skin bacteria, their odor intensifies,” Dr. Lee explains.

Cruciferous veggies

Your favorite nutritional veggies and sides may also be causing some unexpected odor. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower release sulfuric acid. This scent is intensified by sweat, breath or gas.

Asparagus

If asparagus is a part of your regular veggie diet, you may have noticed its effect on your pee. When the asparagusic acid found in asparagus is digested by your body, it’s then converted into sulfuric acid. This gives your urine a strong sulfuric stench. But as everyone metabolizes food differently, not everyone will experience this. Plus, in some cases, certain genetic variations may prevent you from detecting the odor. So, if you don’t smell it, don’t sweat it.

Alcohol

Surprisingly, a cocktail at happy hour or even a wine with dinner can also cause some unwanted odor. Alcohol is metabolized into acetic acid, which is released through your skin’s pores, as well as your breath.

Fish

Depending on your genes, fish could be one of the things that affect your body odor. In very rare cases, our bodies convert a seafood byproduct called choline into the fishy-smelling trimethylamine. This compound travels through your body and is released through your breath and skin.

But people who have trimethylaminuria experience a fishy odor from other foods, including beans, broccoli, cauliflower, peanuts and soy products. But this incredibly rare condition affects only a few hundred individuals, and most people will be able to eat fish without concern.

How to stay on top of body odor

Body odor is a natural part of life, but it can be stressful and, at times, embarrassing. If you’re noticing more body odor than usual, it may be a good idea to reassess your hygiene habits, as well as the foods you’re eating. 

Here are some good habits for decreasing body odor:

  • Practice good personal hygiene: The most effective way to prevent body odor is by having a consistent and thorough bathing routine. This means take regular showers and washing your body thoroughly — focusing on areas where those apocrine glands are, like your groin and armpit areas. Use an antibacterial soap to kill odor-causing bacteria on your skin and make sure to wash your towels and bathrobes regularly.
  • Wear breathable clothing: Especially when you’re in a hot climate or know you’ll be working up a sweat, it’s good to wear loose-fitting clothing made of natural fabrics such as cotton or linen. Avoid synthetic fabrics such as polyester or nylon — these can trap sweat and bacteria and magnify your body’s smell.
  • Use antiperspirants and deodorants: Antiperspirants work by reducing the amount of sweat that is produced, while deodorants mask odor.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Drinking plenty of water can help flush out toxins and reduce body odor. Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
  • Tweak your diet: If you find that certain foods are causing you to have unpleasant body odor, you may want to adjust your diet. For example, if you’re prone to bad breath or body odor after eating garlic or onions, you may want to avoid these foods or use them sparingly. You can also try switching to using herbs and spices to add flavor to your meals.

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The bottom line

It’s worth noting that body odor is affected by other factors, too, like genetics, personal hygiene and certain medical conditions. If you’re concerned about your body odor, you may want to assess your diet or talk to a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying medical conditions.

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