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Foods That Can Change the Way You Smell

Added/Modified on December 6, 2016

If, as the saying goes, you are what you eat, most of us spend a ton of money and effort trying to hide who we are. Americans spent more than $3.7 billion on gum and breath mints in 2004, and that’s just for the bad breath [source: Francella]. Add perfumes, deodorants and antiperspirants to the mix … it’s obvious that we don’t want to walk around smelling like this morning’s everything bagel and half-caf macchiato.

No matter how hard you try, though, there are some food smells you just can’t get rid of. Some give you bad breath, while others find more surprising ways of making their presence known. Want to make a good, unstinky first impression? Steer clear of these five foods.

1: Onions

Like garlic, onions are good for you. Rich in fiber and beneficial sulfurous compounds, they’re thought to lower cholesterol, improve circulation and possibly even help prevent colon cancer. The downside: bad breath.

Onions owe their uncanny ability to stick with you to volatile sulfur compounds, which vaporize the instant they hit the air. As your body digests onions, these compounds find their way into the blood and then to the lungs. Breath mints and brushing can only cover up onion breath, not get rid of it.

Onions’ stinky side doesn’t have to keep you from enjoying them, though. Cooking onions helps to break down the compounds behind onion breath. What’s more, onions grown in soil with low sulfur content contain fewer of the offending compounds, and they’re sweeter to boot.

2: Alcohol

As anyone who’s endured the company of the over-served can tell you, the rank breath that comes from having one too many is all about quantity. You probably won’t notice the smell of one or two drinks, but as the number climbs, so does the concentration of alcohol in the blood … and on the breath. Like garlic, alcohol makes its way from the blood to the lungs, and a breathalyzer — and nearby noses — pick up on it. Breath mints and mouthwash can’t cover it up. The only thing that works is time.

Alcohol can lead to bad breath in a couple of other ways, too. First, alcohol consumption can lead to dehydration, which creates an ideal environment for the bacteria behind bad breath. Second, alcohol molecules can bond to the plaque that builds up along teeth and gums, making what’s already a source of bad breath that much worse.

3: Garlic

Thanks to a seemingly endless flood of vampire novels, movies and TV shows, most of us know by now that garlic is a great way to keep Dracula at bay. Of course, garlic is a great way to keep practically anyone from invading your personal space. After all, nothing seems to stick around quite like garlic … it can hang around on your breath for up to 72 hours, according to the Mayo Clinic.

A sulfurous compound called allicin gives garlic the power to overwhelm breath mints and chewing gum of any flavor. As allicin breaks down down in the stomach, it gives off a variety of volatile compounds that remind you of the slice of pizza you ate hours before. Those compounds make their way into your blood and work their way out through your lungs.

While garlic may not be the best food for first dates and family functions, it can work wonders for your health. Some studies have found garlic can increase blood flow and, as a result, it may lower your risk of heart disease.

4: Asparagus

Some foods give you bad breath. Others seem to seep out of your pores long after you’ve consumed them. And then there’s asparagus, which has the dubious distinction of making your urine smell something like spoiled cabbage. As it turns out, exactly how this happens is still something of a mystery. Scientists have narrowed the list of suspects to a variety of tongue-twisting chemical compounds like S-methyl thioesters and methanethiol, but pinpointing the specific culprit is tricky business.

While there’s still some debate about why asparagus gives your pee such a distinct odor, researchers have come to a consensus on one thing: Nobody is immune. That may surprise you if you’re in the 60 to 80 percent of people who can gorge on asparagus and never catch a whiff of its aftereffect. In that case, you have your genes to thank. Folks who don’t notice the odor of asparagus pee just don’t have the ability to smell it.

5: The Durian Fruit

The durian may be the only controversial fruit on the planet. If you love it, its savory, complex flavor and custardlike texture really make it measure up to its title of “king of fruits.” But if you don’t, its potent smell — described as dirty laundry, a dumpster or moldy cheese — can send you running. The durian smells so bad that it’s been banned from public places in some parts of the world.

The fruits contain 39 volatile compounds, including sulfurous substances that are probably behind its piercing smell. If you eat one, your durian breath can hang on for hours.

Researcher Songpol Somsri of Thailand’s Horticultural Research Institute has cultivated an odorless durian in an attempt to fight off the fruit’s critics. And yet its devotees carry on, searching for ever-smellier durian in their quest for the perfect variety.

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