You are what you eat, as they say, which means, if you smell like a gallon of milk that spent two weeks sunbathing on the dashboard of a car parked in Death Valley, hey, you might be able to blame that random gallon of milk you found (and drank) on the dashboard of a car parked in Death Valley. In all seriousness, though, what you eat has a huge impact on how you smell and how you look. “Diet has a major effect on a person’s hygiene,” confirms nutritionist David Friedman, author of Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction. “Everything from bad breath to skin health to flatulence to body odor can be attributed to our food choices.”
Eating greasy foods, for example, can result in you having a greasy face. “Greasy foods, like burgers and pizzas, can lead to acne,” Friedman reiterates. “Milk is another culprit: Dairy products are mucous-forming and difficult to digest, which is why 70 percent of the world’s population are lactose intolerant. When this lactose is fermented in the colon, it can cause foul-smelling flatulence, too. Consuming dairy can also promote excess sebum production, which causes acne or hard, painful bumps under the skin.”
And if you have chronic bad breath, maybe you should think about going vegetarian. “Eating red meat can cause bad breath, because humans don’t have the enzymes in their saliva to fully digest it,” says Friedman (red meat also does your heart dirty, so keeping your intake to a minimum is a good idea for several reasons). “The number one reason why people need the Heimlich maneuver is because a piece of undigested meat has gotten stuck in their esophagus. When remnants of meat remain between our gut and teeth, it putrefies and can cause bad breath.”
Okay, admittedly, some veggies can cause offensive odors, too. “There are plant foods that can also cause us to lose friends,” Friedman confirms. “Cruciferous veggies, like broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, can be odor offenders, because they contain sulfur, which can cause breath that stinks like rotten eggs and also comes out in our sweat.”
In which case, if your body seems to be a stank factory, Friedman recommends swapping some of the cruciferous veggies in your diet — but not all of them, because they’re super healthy! — for leafy greens, instead. “It’s better to eat green, leafy vegetables, which contain chlorophyll,” he says. “This is the pigment that makes plants green and is known for fighting bad breath. Chlorophyll acts as a deodorizer, eliminating smells in the mouth and throat, and aids with digestion, which, when poor, can contribute to bad breath and body odor.”
All of this comes with a caveat, though — that is, your body might react to certain foods in unique ways, as I explained in a previous article about foods you can use to hack your fart smells (obviously, some of my best, most inspired work):
“While these foods are common culprits when it comes to affecting the smell of your gas, that scent also often depends on your individual digestive system. For instance, people with lactose intolerance are unable to fully digest lactose, the sugar in milk, and as that sugar lingers in the gastrointestinal tract, it produces more and more odor. People can also be intolerant to other sugars, like fructose, which is found in fresh fruit, corn syrup and some processed foods. Similarly, sugar alcohols, like sorbitol and xylitol, which are found in diet sodas, sugar-free candies and some chewing gum, also pass through the gastrointestinal tract somewhat undigested, where bacteria can feast along the away, contributing to the production of gross-smelling gas.”
In the end, then, if you have a problem with hygiene and suspect that your diet may be the cause, any changes you make should be done with a high level of consideration (and perhaps the help of a professional). You can safely, however, immediately stop drinking random gallons of milk.