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The best and worst foods for your breath

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Bad breath? It's something only your best friend can tell you but it's better to know than not.

Smelly breath, which is called halitosis, can make you feel self-conscious. It may even put off potential dates and affect relationships. Fear not, there's often a simple solution.

If your breath is more dragon than fairy princess it may well be down to your diet or dental hygiene. A few tweaks of what you are eating and a more thorough brushing regime and you'll be likely to have fresh, clean breath in no time.

Does my breath smell?

Asking a trusted mate is one way to find out if your breath is a tad whiffy but even they may be too embarrassed to tell you.

To find out for yourself lick the side of your wrist with your tongue wait 10 seconds for the saliva to dry. If your wrist smells nasty your breath probably smells the same.

The worst foods for bad breath

If you're having curried sardine sandwiches for lunch every day it's not surprising that your breath may be stinky but there are less obvious culprits in your diet.

1. Garlic and onions. Eating too much garlic not only keeps away the vampires it might work with mere mortals too. Garlic, together with its larger relative the onion, contains sulphur compounds that can hang around in your mouth.

Specialist dietitian and member of the British Dietetic Association, Ana-Kristina Skrapac says: "You can sense the aromatic flavour and odours of the garlic and onions as you eat them, more so when they are in raw form, and this is what flavours the breath."

2. Coffee. Drinking coffee makes your mouth more acidic and drier. Bacteria love a dry mouth and that's why too much coffee can cause bad breath. "It's the flavour compounds in the coffee that stay in your mouth rather than dissolve away that cause the smell," says Ana-Kristina.

3. Alcohol. Your breath after a night of boozing can smell pretty rank. Even a few glasses of beer or wine can make it less than sweet. Alcohol, like coffee, has a drying effect. If you wake up dehydrated, with minimal saliva and a dry mouth, your breath may well be a little grim because of it.

4. Dairy foods. Dairy is high in proteins, which the bacteria in your gut digest and break down. This creates sulphur compounds like hydrogen sulphide, which make breath smell.

5. Low calorie diets. Eating too little can also cause bad breath. Fasting, low carb diets and other restrictive diets can lead to halitosis. If a diet causes the body to break down fat it produces chemicals called ketones, which have a distinctive smell on your breath, a bit like nail varnish remover. "It's the metabolic process which causes the bad breath when your body goes from burning glucose to sparing glucose and producing ketones instead," explains Ana-Kristina.

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