7 Foods That Might Be Giving You Body Odor

Sometimes even healthy food can affect how you smell.

Green asparagus urine smell pee body odor
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Sure, the smell of your last meal can linger around your house–for better or worse–but it can also change your smell.

What causes body odor? Not sweat itself, which has no scent–it's basically water and electrolytes. Instead, body odor comes from a sort of chemical reaction.

"Most normal body odors are the interaction of skin bacteria with secretions in the area," said George Preti, Ph.D., a member of Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.

Food might alter this smell because certain byproducts get secreted as our bodies break down what we eat, then react with the bacteria on our skin, explained John Swartzberg, MD, chair of the editorial board of the University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter.

There's not a huge amount of scientific evidence pointing to which foods are the worst offenders, but there's enough anecdotal evidence to give us a sense of the foods that cause body odor.

Here's what we know.


Excessive amounts of alcohol can certainly be detected on your breath, hence the roadside breath tests that can tell if you're over the legal driving limit.

You may not know that alcohol can also emanate off your skin.

"The alcohol is metabolized in the liver and broken into acetaldehyde that goes through your lungs into your breath, but it also gets to the pores," Dr. Swartzberg explained.

To avoid smelling like alcohol, stick to just one or two glasses. "It's dose-dependent and individually based," said Kristen Smith, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.


Asparagus doesn't contribute to body odor so much as it alters how your urine smells after you eat it. Most people produce stinky chemicals that are excreted in urine as their bodies break down asparagus, but interestingly, not everybody can sense the resulting odor.

"Some people just can't smell it," said Dr. Swartzberg. "They don't have the receptors in their olfactory bulbs."

What spells the difference? Just like so many other things, genetics.

If you wait it out, the smell in your urine should go away within about 14 hours. If you're concerned about the smell, you may want to eat other vegetables instead—but perhaps not cruciferous vegetables.

Cruciferous Vegetables

Cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts—among other cruciferous produce—contain ample amounts of sulfur, said Smith.

This might lead to body odor in some people, but a lot of the evidence for cruciferous vegetables contributing to body odor (through your breath, sweat, or flatulence) is anecdotal, noted Smith.

Regardless, there's a strong argument for eating these foods anyway. They have a lot of fiber and contain plenty of beta-carotene, vitamins C, E, and K, and folate. In addition to being good for general health, there's some evidence they may also reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

If you're worried about the smell, eat cruciferous vegetables in moderation while adding other, less-smelly vegetables to your plate. Eating vegetables has generally been associated with a more pleasant body odor.


People with a rare disorder called trimethylaminuria give off a strong fishy odor because their bodies cannot break down trimethylamine, a chemical compound that smells like rotten fish. Many types of seafood can exacerbate this smell.

Eating fish twice per week has rewards such as improved memory and a healthy heart. Fortunately, freshwater fish have less trimethylamine and are less likely to exacerbate symptoms of trimethylaminuria.

Consult a healthcare provider if your body has a persistent, unpleasant smell you can't explain. If you have trimethylaminuria, work with a healthcare provider or dietitian to decide on a diet that will minimize your symptoms yet offer all the nutrients you need.


If there's any sort of food-related odor that's infamous, it's garlic breath. Garlic breath is the result of sulfur compounds, and it can last for nearly a day.

A 2016 study found that eating garlic with apples, lettuce, or mint leaves can reduce the risk of garlic breath. While experts aren't completely sure why it works, phenolic compounds are believed to play a role.


Eating onions is ill-advised if you want to make a good first impression, and for the same reason as garlic: Onions break down into sulfur compounds.

"Many of these volatile sulfur compounds have a high odor impact and can be detected at very low concentrations," said Preti, an adjunct dermatology professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. In other words, a little goes a very long way.

It's sometimes hard to distinguish between garlic or onion breath and garlic or onion body odor, Preti added.

There hasn't been as much research on combating onion breath, but since it has the same cause as garlic breath, the same steps that can alleviate garlic breath may apply here, too. Of course, most of us could use more apples and greens in our diets.

Red Meat

Here's another reason to limit the amount of red meat you ingest–particularly if you're a man.

In a small study, researchers randomized a group of 17 men to either eat red meat or abstain for two weeks, then they switched groups. Women analyzed body odor from the men's armpits at the end of each session, saying that the body odor of the men was more pleasant and attractive when they didn't eat red meat.

However, not all meat necessarily leads to bad body odor. A 2017 study found that, on average, men who ate meat had a more pleasant body odor.

To satisfy your meat cravings, eat less red meat and opt for skinless chicken instead. It's better for your health, anyway.

A Quick Review

Some foods are certainly smellier than others. Foods like red meat, broccoli, and garlic are common culprits of body odor. While it may be best to eat some of these foods (like red meat) much less often, others are core components of a healthy diet.

Some smells can be alleviated to some degree—for example, having an apple before your meal may alleviate onion breath. Otherwise, just keep in mind that food-related odors happen to everyone.

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Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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