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We all know someone who "really ought to use deodorant." Sometimes, however, conventional deodorants don't work, because the underlying problem is something in the diet. Here are 7 odor-inducing foods and the problems they cause.

My grandmother, who was born in 1892, used to express puzzlement about deodorants, which weren't really commonly used in the United States until about 1960. "How will we able to recognize people by their smell," she asked when deodorants first started appearing at the market, "if they all use deodorant?"

Body odor hasn't always been considered to be a bad thing. However, in the modern era, most of us would prefer that our aromas not be the one thing that people remember about us. Everyone has a characteristic, although often undetectable, odor signature, in which overall health, age, genetics, and personal hygiene all play a part.

When you've showered, changed into clean clothes, brushed your teeth, gargled with mouthwash, and slathered or sprayed deodorant on all the places that ordinarily need deodorizing, however, the problem may be food. Here are seven common culprits.

1. Cabbage Family Vegetables.

All of the crucifers, the cabbage family vegetables, including, of course, cabbage, broccoli, turnips, kohlrabi, mizuna, mustard greens, and kale, contain cancer-protective sulfur compounds known as isothiocyanates. These compounds that reduce the risk of certain kinds of cancer are also the chemicals that stink up the kitchen when you cook cabbage and related veggies, and in some diners that can cause a sewer gas smell that emanates from the skin.

One way to avoid smelling like cabbage is simply not to eat cabbage. However, the way your liver processes isothiocyanates also plays a part in generating body odor. Avoid eating these plant foods any time you have been working in the garden with "organic" pesticides can reduce their impact on body odor. The liver uses the same enzyme to process the stinky sulfur compounds as it uses to detoxify the pesticide that has entered the bloodstream.

2. Red Meat

In the early 1900's, my grandmother opined, women could tell how financially successful a man was by his body odor. Men who earned enough money to have steak on a regular basis had a "meaty" smell that the women to whom they were suitors found attractive. 

My grandmother and her girlfriends, it turns out, didn't just dream up the idea that red meat affects body odor. An article published in the scientific journal Chemical Senses in 2006 reported that women could detect a difference in body odor — which they regarded favorably — in men who had abstained from read meat for two weeks.

3. Alcohol

When you take a drink, your liver (usually) converts the alcohol in the beverage into acetic acid, the same acid found in vinegar. Not everyone, however, has enough of the liver enzyme that converts alcohol into acetic acid to cover two drinks, three drinks, or more, so their bodies expel alcohol through the breath and through the skin, often carrying some of the compounds that give the alcoholic beverage its characteristic taste. People who lack this enzyme may readily smell like beer, or daiquiris, or dry wine, depending on their beverage of choice. Hard liquor is harder for the liver to process but causes less body odor, but this is not a justification for drinking more high-proof alcoholic beverages.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Thiebaud N, Johnson MC, Butler JL, Bell GA, Ferguson KL, Fadool AR, Fadool JC, Gale AM, Gale DS, Fadool DA. Hyperlipidemic diet causes loss of olfactory sensory neurons, reduces olfactory discrimination, and disrupts odor-reversal learning.J Neurosci. 2014 May 14. 34(20):6970-84. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3366-13.2014. PMID: 24828650.
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