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Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

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Can What You Eat Make You Sweat?

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.

Garlic isn't alone in making us smell. Some of its relatives in the alliaceous family, including the onion, can also produce a particularly pungent sweat.

The other notorious odor-producing food family is cruciferae, which includes broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. Cruciferous vegetables are also loaded with sulfur-containing compounds.

Aromatic spices like curry and cumin can leave a lingering aroma on your skin. That's why you smell like an Indian restaurant for hours after you've eaten at one.

Even a food that doesn't itself have a strong odor can change the way you smell, particularly if you eat enough of it. In one study, a panel of female sniffers was asked to compare the sweat of people who had pigged out on meat for two weeks to the sweat of non-meat eaters. The panel's conclusion: The meat eaters had a more intense and less attractive odor than the non-meat eaters.

How Can I Reduce Food Odors?

There's no magic pill that will stop your sweat from smelling after you've eaten a big plate of pasta with garlic sauce. The only way to prevent smelly sweat is to avoid the offending food entirely.

Glaser says some of her patients have tried drinking a lot of fluid after eating stinky foods. They've told her that the practice reduces body odors, although it doesn't eliminate them.

Sometimes it helps to eat the cooked -- rather than the raw -- form of a food. For example, roasted garlic tends to be less stinky on some people than raw garlic.

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