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Can What You Eat Make You Sweat?

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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sometimes I dread going out for Italian food.

Don't get me wrong. Italian ranks among my absolute favorite cuisines. It's just that every time my husband and I go out for Italian, the overpowering aroma of "eau de garlic" follows him around for days. The scent is strong enough to withstand hot showers, extra-strength mouthwash -- even cologne.

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My husband's affliction made me wonder: Why do the smells of certain foods stick with us more than others? And why do some foods make us sweat more?

Two experts shared their insights on why some of the most delicious foods cause us to sweat -- and why some produce unappetizing aromas.

Why Some Foods Make You Sweat

Bite into a nuclear hot wing and see how long it takes for those little beads of sweat to pop up on your forehead. The heat you're feeling comes from capsaicin -- a chemical found in the hot peppers used to make your wings.

Capsaicin stimulates nerve receptors in your mouth and essentially "tricks" your nervous system into thinking you're hot. Your body acts much like it does when you're outside in 90-degree heat. Your internal thermostat -- the hypothalamus in your brain -- sends out a signal to activate your sweat glands. Sweat reaches your skin and evaporates, taking the heat from your body with it.

Foods that are hot temperature-wise can also make you sweat. "Hot coffee, hot tea, and hot soups can sometimes make people sweat, even though their whole core body temperature isn't hot," says Dee Anna Glaser, MD, professor of dermatology at St. Louis University School of Medicine.

You Eat, Therefore You Smell

The B.O.-inducing culprits in certain aromatic foods are volatile organic compounds that are released as the body metabolizes these foods, says George Preti, PhD, an organic chemist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.

These compounds make their way into your bloodstream and eventually find a route out of your body. "They come out in your urine, your breath, and your sweat," Preti says.

Why these food compounds make some people smell and not others might have to do with a number of different factors, including how much of the offending substance you eat, the metabolic enzymes in your saliva that break foods down, or your genes, Preti says.

The Most Offensive Foods

Ask anyone which food is to blame for stinky breath and body odor and you're likely to hear "garlic." The reason why it's the garlic and not the tomatoes in Italian food that makes people reek lies in the unique make-up of these foods.

"Smells are based on the chemical nature of the molecule that you're smelling," Glaser says.

In garlic's case, the chemical that you smell on your breath and skin is sulfur. If you've ever gotten a whiff of straight sulfur, you know that it gives off a distinctive and very strong rotten egg smell. "The sulfur compounds just happen to produce a lot of odor that we can perceive at very low thresholds," says Preti.

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