When it comes to your love life, the impact of your diet could go beyond having a few extra pounds around the waist—what you eat may also influence how pleasing your body smells to members of the opposite sex. Scientists have long observed such a link in animal research—female salamanders are attracted to males that eat nutrient-rich diets, for example—and something similar may be true in humans, some preliminary studies suggest.
In a series of experiments published in 2016 in Appetite, 42 men snacked on raw garlic or swallowed garlic capsules, then wore cotton pads under their armpits for 12 hours. The same men also donated pads after wearing them on a garlic-free diet. The pungent samples were later evaluated by 14 women, who collectively rated the body odor of garlic eaters as more pleasant, attractive and masculine compared with that of men who did not ingest any garlic. The men needed to eat at least four cloves or one 1,000-milligram garlic-extract capsule to have a measurable effect. Because garlic enhances levels of antioxidants in the body and kills harmful bacteria, it could change the way our sweat smells, signaling healthiness to potential mates, the researchers hypothesize. “Women may also use cues in body odor to find a partner who can secure quality food,” says ethologist Jitka Fialová of Charles University in Prague, the study's lead author.
Garlic is not the only food that might boost a man's sex appeal. For a 2016 study published in Evolution and Human Behavior, psychologists at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, had several women rate the smell of T-shirts worn by 43 men for 24 hours. The men filled out questionnaires about the foods they ate, and researchers measured the yellowness of the men's skin to gauge their consumption of carotenoids—pigments found in veggies and fruits such as pumpkins, carrots or apricots. Previous studies have found that carotenoid-induced yellowish skin is more visually attractive to potential partners—at least among Caucasians. In this study, the women reported the scent of men who indulged in carotenoid-rich foods to be fruity, sweet and particularly pleasant. These findings, too, could be explained by our evolved skills for finding healthy partners because low plasma carotenoid levels are associated with infection and greater mortality.
So how soon before a date should you pile on the garlic and veggies? Is it really going to sway things your way? And do men find women who eat the same diets as attractive? The jury is still out on these questions. One thing is certain, though—garlic breath is no aphrodisiac, so time your consumption wisely.