We’ve all been there. We’ve enjoyed a delicious, savory, flavor filled meal and then later realized we could smell ourselves. Or worse yet, somebody mentions we smell. . . different. Garlic breath. Asparagus pee. Pungent sweat. The truth of the matter is, it’s just how our bodies break down certain foods.
Whether it’s bad breathe, sweat, urine, or gas, if you are eating high levels of certain foods, foul-smelling compounds they contain may be excreted and result in a change to your body odor. Those compounds are known as VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
Here’s a rundown of 6 types of foods that may be changing your scent.
Allium vegetables, such as onions, garlic, scallions, and leeks are high in sulfur-containing compounds. The compounds can leach through our urine, pores, bloodstream, and our breath. When combined with all the other factors that contribute to body odor- like naturally occurring microbes on the skin that metabolize compounds in sweat and produce their own scent- it can be a brewing storm of stink.
But let’s not completely bash these vegetables. They are full of nutrients including vitamin B, vitamin C, folate, potassium, selenium, and more. These types of vegetables also help your body absorb zinc and iron, which help support your immune system and vascular health.
Asparagus has many health benefits including being a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber which support gut health. Eating asparagus can also help lower blood pressure, and is also a great food to incorporate into your diet if you’re trying to lose weight as it has few calories but many nutrients.
But, similar to allium vegetables, asparagus contains sulfuric compounds which can result in your urine smelling of asparagus. Research shows that it is likely due to two natural chemicals in asparagus, methanethiol and S-methyl thioester. During the digestive process, they end up giving urine the sulfur-like scent. Interestingly, not everybody will experience the same result after eating asparagus.
For some people, body odor might be caused by foods that contain sulfur, such as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, says Lily Talakoub, M.D., a dermatologist at McLean Dermatology and Skincare Center. “Regardless of whether you eat them raw or if you cook them, it’s the way the body breaks it down,” she says. But some sources say if you incorporate these into your diet slowly, rather than eating bowl fulls of cruciferous vegetables suddenly, you’re less likely to experience the change in body odor.
Not everybody that eats fish will end up smelling like rotten fish. But for some with a metabolic disorder called trimethylaminuria (TMAU), the result of eating fish can be unpleasant. People that have TMAU aren’t able to break down trimethylamine, a compound that causes the fishy smell. Found in other foods as well- like eggs and some vegetables- when the body digests foods it produces trimethylamine in the intestines. As it builds up in your body, it’s released through your urine, breath, sweat, and semen, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. It is a rare condition that can be addressed by cutting down on foods rich in trimethylamine or using special soaps and washes.
“Alcohol can smell from the breath, pores, and urine,” Jenny Beth Kroplin, registered dietician explains, “The body identifies alcohol as a toxin, so as the alcohol breaks down in the body, it turns into acetic acid. What the body can’t metabolize is excreted in other pathways through a process called oxidation. The oxidation process breaks the toxins down into diacetic acid, carbon dioxide, and water which is eliminated through sweat, urine, and, breathe.” One way to help reduce the smell if you’ve had one too many drinks is to increase your water intake – which will also help you combat the effects of a hangover- and will flush the toxins from your system.
If you’ve ever read up on the Keto diet, you may be familiar with one side effect of consuming higher amounts of red meat being “keto breath’. This is largely attributed to the process of ketosis. Robert Graham, MD, co-founder of FRESH Med, explains, “When the body is in ketosis, it produces these chemicals called ketones [which] exit the body via your breath, and some through your sweat. One of these ketones is known as acetone.” Acetone, most commonly identified as nail polish remover, has a strong, pungent scent. It is so pungent that a new test developed by Technical Research Center of Finland actually determines whether your body is in ketosis or not by testing acetone levels in exhaled breath.
In addition to the process of ketosis, the amino acids in red meat also leave a residue in your intestines during digestion. Intestinal enzymes break down that residue, which then mixes with bacteria on your skin during perspiration and intensifies your odor. For most people that consume a typical amount of red meat (recommended to be no more than three portions per week) will not experience a change in body odor. If you do, speak to your provider to talk about how to shift your diet to address the scent.
Bottom line, if you’re getting a foul odor from consuming any of these, the best option is to decrease the amount you eat or spread it out over a longer period of time. If it still persists see your provider.