Food May Affect Your Odor

(RxWiki News) If you have good personal hygiene but still have stinky odor, you may want to see if your diet has something to do with how you smell.

Something you probably didn’t know about the late Steve Jobs is that the founder of Apple swore off deodorant in his younger days, thinking that his vegan diet would leave him smelling sweet. Though his coworkers begged to differ, maybe Jobs was onto something.

All of us have our own “odor signature,” largely determined by genetics, overall health, and, of course, personal hygiene. But what we eat can also play a role. That is why researchers who do studies on human body odors often tell their subjects to avoid foods thought to affect the results, including:

  • Vinegar
  • Blue cheese
  • Radishes
  • Cabbage
  • Fermented dairy products
  • Chilies
  • Onions
  • Garlic

Research on how foods affect body odor is limited, but here’s what we know.

  • Plants in the Brassicagenus, including broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, can affect body odor because of the vegetables’ sulfur compounds. So can foods in the Allium genus, which include onions and garlic, also due to their sulfur compounds. To see how pungent these compounds can be, try this experiment:
    • Rub crushed raw garlic on the sole of your foot.
    • Within about 20 minutes, you’re likely to taste it in your mouth.
    • If you like garlic but not the mouth odor, try drinking milk after eating it.
  • Going meatless may indeed have some olfactory benefits. In a small study1, women rated men’s body odors (taken from their armpits) as more attractive and pleasant and less intense when the men ate no meat for two weeks, compared to when they ate red meat. But it’s not clear how much meat you have to eat for it to affect body odor, how long the effects last, or whether fish or poultry have a similar effect.
  • When you consume alcohol, most is metabolized in the liver into acetic acid. But some is released through sweat and the respiratory system. So if you overdo alcohol, not only will your breath smell, but the odor may also come out of your pores.
  • Various foods eaten by breastfeeding women (from carrots and garlic to mint and vanilla) affect the flavor of their breast milk. Interestingly, a mom’s prenatal diet—if it regularly includes strong spices such as curry, cumin, or fenugreek—may affect her newborn’s body odor.
  • In some cases, there is an interaction between your genes, diet, and body odor.
    • For example, people with the inherited metabolic disorder trimethylaminuria develop a fishy odor when they eat fish and some other high-protein foods.
    • The smell is due to an inability to break down the compound trimethylamine, which then builds up in the body and is released in sweat, breath, and urine.
    • Though the disorder is rare, the authors of a 2007 paperfound that many people with unexplained body odor tested positive for it.
  • Though not a body odor issue per se, asparagus is notorious for making urine smell funny.
    • Some have likened it to rotten or boiled cabbage.
    • It has long been debated whether only some people are capable of producing the odor or whether all people produce it but only some people can smell it.
    • In a 2011 study3, researchers confirmed that people differ both in their ability to produce the odor and in their ability to perceive it, due to genetic variations.
    • This is certainly no reason to stop eating asparagus. No one but you is likely to notice it.

Bottom line

If you have good hygiene but find that you have an unpleasant odor (or other people tell you so), you might look into your diet.  



  1. J. Havlicek. Chemical Senses, October, 2006.
  2. Chris Whittle. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, April, 2007.
  3. University of South Florida and Monell Chemical Senses Center