I may not shower frequently, but I don't want to be offensively smelly. But there are plenty of foods — most of them good for you — that can definitely affect the way you smell. (Whether you think they are bad smells or not is personal.)
But first, a little primer on how and why we sweat to better understand why we might smell. We have two kinds of sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine glands. Eccrine glands help control our body temperature, and they are found in our underarms, the soles of our feet, the palms of our hands, and on our foreheads. Most of this sweat doesn't smell all that much. If you are relatively clean, you'll notice that after a hard workout, your skin doesn't smell that terrible. Mostly the sweat created during a workout and emitted via the eccrine glands is just water, salt and trace minerals, though it can pick up odors from foods you eat.
Usually the "B.O." odor you smell after a workout is already existent bacteria that is in your clothes, and especially sports bras or shorts, and socks. (Yes, the smells can erupt even if the clothes are clean. In fact the bacteria can travel around and spread in the washing machine.)
Apocrine glands are found around the armpits, lower abdominal area and genitals, and they don't sweat for cooling purposes, but to get rid of wastes, especially fats and proteins. The bacteria on your skin in these areas feed on the proteins in sweat and it is those bacteria that produce their own waste products that do smell.
Point being that it's not usually "you" that stinks post-workout or long day — it's the bacteria living on you.
But there are foods that can cause you to smell funky from the inside out. Keep in mind that they might make some people smell more than others, for reasons that are not totally understood, but are probably related to biology, metabolism and genes.
You've definitely smelled wine or beer breath on someone who has just been drinking, but alcohol wafts off the body for some time after the last drink has been quaffed. If you've had a lot to drink the night before, you can smell all through the next day, as your body metabolizes the stuff. It comes out through your pores as you sweat, and via your breath. People who have an alcohol addiction might smell of it most of the time.
A 2006 Czech study compared the scents of men who ate red meat with their vegetarian friends, and women (who were the judges in this particular study) deemed the vegetarian sweat more appealing on several levels. Of course, this is a correlative study, and so it could be that the diets of the vegetarians were healthier overall — the less processed food you eat, the better you'll smell. Or it could be another factor that meant meat-eaters smelled more, so a larger test would need to be done to prove that meat-eating is causative of smelliness, though this seems to be one of those pieces of data that's proven anecdotally as well. Just ask a bunch of straight women who have dated veggies and meat-eaters.
When garlic is cut or crushed, it releases various sulfur compounds (aka "stinkers") which stick around, and not just on the breath. These sulfur compounds can be excreted through sweat and urine as your body digests whatever you ate with the garlic. And, somewhat unfortunately, "Humans and animals are exquisitely sensitive to the most tiny amounts of sulfur compounds," Eric Block, a professor of chemistry at the State University of New York in Albany told NPR. You have to either consume a lot of garlic in one sitting or eat it regularly to really notice a body odor from it, but it is pungent stuff. There is even some evidence that is exactly where garlic's health benefits come from. Whether it's garlic breath or body odor, the best solution is to get the people around it to eat it too, as then it's less noticeable to everyone. You can also try masking it with citrus (like lemon or orange oil).
A mix of several potent herbs and spices, curry mixtures tend to contain turmeric and cumin, both of which are known for their extremely healthful properties, as evidence for that grows daily. The health benefits, together with its delicious flavor, means curry will be sticking around. Literally. Curry smells tend to "stick to you" when you cook with them or are in a place they are being cooked. The scent can also come out through your pores after you have eaten it. Many cuisines around the world utilize curry, from Mediterranean to Indian and Pakistani dishes to Thai and many American chefs have been including it in new and creative ways as well.
Yup, asparagus makes your pee smell terrible, probably due to methyl mercaptan, an enzyme that among people with the gene, metabolizes quickly (15-30 minutes). Not everyone has the gene to break down asparagus, and not everyone has the gene to be able to smell it, but most of us have both. Asparagus only makes your pee smell, and doesn't contribute to body odors, so that's one advantage over the other foods on this list. The other is that asparagus is way too delicious and nutritious to stop eating because of a fleeting smell!
An herb that's mostly used in Mediterranean and Indian cooking, fenugreek (right) contains an aromatic compound called solotone, which makes those who consume it emit a maple syrup-like odor. It was the source of the mysterious smell in New York City a few years ago (the factory emitting the odor was processing fenugreek) and it is eaten raw or cooked with other foods.
Broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts are healthy on many levels. They add fiber to your diet, are good for better digestion and gut health, are filled with vitamins and minerals, and they fill you up quickly so you're less likely to eat less healthy foods. But, like garlic, they emit sulfur as they break down and it can cause some odor. However, it depends on the quantity you eat and your particular body.
Yes, onions release sulfur compounds too, though they can be reduced if the onion is cooked. Some evidence also points to drinking lots of fluid with your onions, garlic and broccoli or cabbage can dilute the smell.
I happen to love all of these "smelly" foods (save meat, as I'm a 20-plus year vegetarian). What about you? Would you let their stinkiness stop you?
Related on MNN:
- 9 of the worst-smelling flowers in the world
- My sense of smell improved after I nixed chemical fragrances
- 17 top stinky cheeses