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How Much of My Smelly Sweat Can I Blame on My Diet?

I don’t know what’s stronger — me or last night’s garlic chicken

Your Friday night post-work gathering began innocently enough: You ordered a Rusty Nail from the bar and followed it up with spicy wings as an appetizer. It was when your friends successfully cajoled you to stay for dinner and dessert that the evening began to go completely off-the-rails. You ordered the surf-and-turf special — consisting of a New York strip drenched in fresh garlic butter — and a slow-baked salmon replete with onions and lemon juice. You decided to order a Sazerac as your after-dinner digestif, except you made the further mistake of glancing at the dessert menu in between sips of your cocktail. That’s when you discovered that slices of Oreo cheesecake straight from the Cheesecake Factory menu were being offered for a limited time.

The next morning, you trudged into your local gym, changed into your Old Navy discount fitness clothes, and located a vacant StairMaster between two active exercisers who were already busy ascending steps. About five minutes into your stair-climbing session, you caught a glimpse of your fellow trainees giving you the scummy side-eye — and holding their noses — before they quickly concluded their workouts, wiped down their machines and bolted. 

That’s when your paranoia set in. They certainly couldn’t have objected to anything you’d said; might it have been something you’d emitted?

Did something I ate make my sweat extra smelly?

Under the right (or wrong) circumstances, everything you ate that evening may have made your sweat extra smelly. In fact, further analysis is likely to reveal that there wasn’t a single decision you made at your post-work gathering that would have caused your body’s aroma to enter into a more pleasant range. 

Let’s just make sure it doesn’t happen again, okay? Here’s how every mealtime selection you made contributed to your (hopefully) short-lived reputation as the gym’s smelly guy.

The Aperitif and Appetizer. The first thing you ordered was a Rusty Nail, demonstrating that you know the simplest way to turn a low-value blended scotch into a classy highland cocktail. Unfortunately, since your body essentially treats alcohol like it’s poison, it goes into overdrive trying to dispose of it before it tends to anything else. This results in the alcohol being broken down into acetate, and in a noticeable odor being carried by your breath, and also escorted out through your pores. 

Next, you had spicy chicken wings. I’m going to exclude everything else that may have been included in this particular poultry recipe and concentrate on the spices. When digested, a number of spices release sulfur-containing compounds that have the ability to remain in the skin and produce an unpleasant odor when they exit your pores.

Dinner. Do I even have to tell you what the problem was with including garlic with your turf or onions with your surf? Well, I’m going to do it anyway. 

Garlic and onions are both members of the allium family, and all alliums contain sulfuric compounds the same way spices do. They’ll also permeate your skin and diffuse an odor through your pores in a similar fashion. Garlic and onions are nearly impossible to avoid; they’re the most common ingredients in almost any pre-packaged spice blend. However, you didn’t do yourself any favors by ordering these alliums freshly cooked, and they certainly didn’t grant you the superhuman strength they provide Wario, even if they did enable you to mirror his unpleasant odor.

Meanwhile, your New York strip may have appeared harmless, but the way in which red meat is digested results in amino acids trailing behind in your intestines, being broken down by enzymes and then mixing with the bacteria of your skin as you perspire. In 2006, a study was conducted demonstrating how the odors of people who consumed lots of meat were rated as less attractive than people who consumed higher quantities of vegetables. Apparently, Homer Simpson was wrong all along; you do win friends with salad.

Finally, what you may not have known about yourself is that you’re also one of the roughly 200,000 people who suffers from trimethylaminuria, or “Fish Odor Syndrome.” This is a condition possessed by people whose bodies are unable to process trimethylamine — a chemical produced in the gut when breaking down specific foods, including seafood — into a different chemical that doesn’t emit a strong odor. Your vulnerability to such a malodorous malady simply appears to have been the unfortunate luck of the genetic draw.

Dessert and a Digestif. It’s easy enough to guess at the massive amount of calories in the Oreo cheesecake, but what you may not have realized is that the consumption of processed food and refined sugar can cause a pair of unwelcome side effects, including excessive sweating caused by a spike in insulin and the feeding of bacteria and fungus on the skin, causing it to grow and generate even more pungent odors.

Well, now I know why everyone wanted nothing to do with me at the gym.

Yep. The fact that you are what you eat has a lot more to do with your body than mere macros and micros. There are processes that are constantly underway well beneath the surface of your skin, but also right within it, and the very same essential amino acids that add to your protein’s completeness may also be augmenting the acridity of your aroma. 

This doesn’t mean you should never make food selections that slightly sour your smell. What it means is that you should be cognizant of the ways in which your diet might be soiling your scent. You already knew that you were an acquired taste; you can’t also afford to be harsh on the nose.