If you suffer from bad breath, you’d be aware that it’s probably caused by the foods you eat. By eating a diet for healthy teeth it’s possible to get rid of bad breath naturally.
As we’ve discussed in other posts, there are many possible bad breath causes. Bad breath can indicate a serious underlying health issue and if it persists, your dentist or specialist will need to perform tests to check for the root causes of bad breath.
So, how can you get rid of bad breath by changing your diet?
These steps help to eliminate foods that cause bad breath.
Step 1: Identify foods that cause short-term vs chronic bad breath
Step 2: Bad breath caused by protein digestion
Step 3: Bad breath caused by short chain fatty acids
Step 4: Bad breath caused by carbohydrate digestion
Step 5: Foods to eat to cure bad breath naturally
The foods you eat impact many of the processes in your body that can cause bad breath.
Researchers have identified compounds that cause halitosis. By knowing which foods release these compounds, you can eliminate them from your bad breath diet.
The changes you need to make will depend on your current health and diet. Let’s start with the most common foods you should avoid in your diet to cure different types of bad breath.
Step 1: Foods that cause short-term vs chronic bad breath
First, we need to identify what type of bad breath you suffer from.
Bad breath can be a short or long term. Short-term (transient) bad breath occurs when you eat a food containing compounds that make your breath smell.
This is the simplest form of bad breath to cure. Once you remove the odor-producing food, the bad breath subsides. If you’re not sure if your bad breath is transient or chronic, then this may be a simple way to check.
Below is a list of foods known to cause bad breath short term, in otherwise healthy, bad-breath-free people. Eliminating these from your diet for a certain period may cure your transient bad breath.
Foods that can cause temporary bad breath:
- Garlic and onions – both rich in sulfur compounds that leave a distinct odor in even the healthiest mouth
- Tuna/fish – breaks down to trimethylamine, which has its own ‘fishy’ odor that can cause bad breath
- Spicy foods, chili, and curries – Can cause digestive unrest that may cause bad breath
- Carbonated and flavored drinks
Another thing to avoid seems obvious: Cigarette smoking, although smokers themselves are often unable to tell if they have bad breath or not.
Try removing these foods from your diet and avoiding cigarettes for 2 weeks and see if your bad breath improves.
If it doesn’t, then it’s time to dig deeper. It’s likely that an underlying condition is causing your bad breath.
Step 2: Bad breath causes – protein digestion
The most common causes of bad breath come from the mouth. Oral microbiota that break dietary proteins are usually to blame.
Protein breakdown is a function of normal mouth and gut microbiota. However, an imbalance in the oral and gut microbiome can create a build-up of by-products that causes bad breath. This means bad breath can be a sign of bacterial imbalance in these areas due to your diet.
The by-products that cause bad breath are typically Volatile Sulfide Compounds (VSCs).
There are three volatile sulfur compounds well known to cause bad breath.
Here are three types of bad breath caused by VSCs:
- Rotten egg smell
- Rotten cabbage or ‘poo’ breath
- Fishy or rotten cabbage breath
So let’s look at the compounds in your bad breath diet:
‘Rotten egg’ bad breath: Hydrogen sulfide (H2S)
If you suffer from ‘rotten egg’ breath, it’s due to the amino acid ‘cysteine’.
When you consume the semi-essential amino acid cysteine, the body breaks it down into hydrogen sulfide. The result is the pungent, eggy smell associated with the volatile compounds.
- Cysteine -> Hydrogen sulfide (H2S)
Hydrogen sulfide may also participate in the bacteria-induced inflammatory response in gum diseases. Therefore, bad breath may be an early sign of gum disease.
Foods rich in cysteine are often high in protein. They include:
- Beef & lamb
- Sunflower seeds
- Chia seeds
- Chicken, turkey, and pork
- Sulfur-containing veggies
Some vegetables in the brassica family tend to cause more gas than any other veggies because they contain sulfur. These include cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale.
They’re usually less gas-forming eaten cooked rather than raw, but they might still be a problem. Eat them in small quantities at one time, avoid eating too many types in one day and chew them well.
This is a comprehensive list and cutting out all these foods for life is impractical. However, trial and error will show you which foods you need to reduce or eliminate to rebalance your oral microbiome.
To begin with, pick out a few culprit foods that you eat the most and reduce them for two weeks. Monitor your bad breath to see if it improves.
‘Ocean-like or rotten cabbage’ bad breath: Dimethyl sulfide
90% of bad breath is due to the breakdown of hydrogen or dimethyl sulfide. If ‘ocean or fishy smell’ fits your bad breath, try reducing foods that produce this VSC.
Foods that contain the VSC dimethyl sulfide:
‘Rotten cabbage or poo’ bad breath: Methyl mercaptan
The breakdown of the essential amino acid methionine creates the toxic by-product methyl mercaptan.
Its presence within a periodontal pocket suggests involvement in the induction and/or progression of gum disease. Therefore, bad breath may also signal gum disease.
- Methionine -> Methyl mercaptan
Foods rich in methionine include:
- Cheese (Parmesan has the highest levels)
- Brazil nuts
- Lean beef & lamb
- Chicken and turkey breast and pork sirloin
Again, try removing these foods from your bad breath diet and see if you have improvement in your mouth odor. If this elimination helps, you should ALSO see your dentist to check your gum health.
Other types of protein waste products as bad breath causes
Imbalances in the oral microbiome will change how you break down proteins. When you eat amino-acid rich protein foods it can cause different types of bad breath.
These are some of the less common waste products of amino acids into the mouth.
- Cadaverine – the smell we associate with corpses.
- Putrescine – the compound responsible for much of the foul odor produced by decaying meat.
- Skatole – the smell of human fecal matter.
- Isovaleric Acid – the smell of sweaty feet.
Most of these gases are associated with the breakdown of high protein food, including meats and dairy. Reducing these foods from your diet may help to alleviate your bad breath. However, the presence of these gases suggests you should see your dentist for a full check-up.
Step 3: Bad breath causes – short chain fatty acids
These are important for the digestive system, but if bacteria release them in the wrong place, they can cause bad breath.
Here are the main types of bad breath caused by short chain fatty acids in your diet.
- Vomit bad breath – Butyric acid
This smell is produced by the bacterial consumption of fiber and as a product of anaerobic fermentation (including in the colon and as body odor). It is also found in milk, especially goat, sheep and buffalo milk, butter, parmesan cheese. When released in the mouth it has an unpleasant smell and acid taste, with a sweetish aftertaste.
- Foot odor bad breath – Isovaleric Acid
Present in foot odor. It’s also found in cheese and some beers.
- Body odor bad breath – Propionic acid
The pungent ‘body odor’ smell found in Swiss cheese.
If you experience bad breath symptoms associated with these smells, try cutting out dairy. It’s the biggest source of dietary short chain fatty acids.
Step 4: Bad breath causes – carbohydrate digestion
The improper breakdown of carbohydrates can be associated with gas, bloating and reflux.
In turn, these can cause bad breath. The problem stems from imbalances starting in the digestive system and gut microbiome.
Let’s look at the types of carbohydrate that can cause digestive problems and bad breath.
- Bad breath causes – sugar and simple carbohydrates
Both sugar and white flour drive bacterial imbalance and should be avoided.
Bacteria that cause bad breath use sugars as a super fuel. This means that rather than improving bad breath, sugary candy, mints, and chewing gum may cause the anaerobic bacteria to become more active.
This creates even more offensive, sulfur compounds, making your bad breath worse. Strong mint or fruit flavors mask foul breath but do nothing to combat the bacteria causing this problem.
In addition, other types of bacteria in your mouth use sugars to produce glycan strands, which cause thick layers of plaque on your teeth and gums. These glycan strands lead to tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath.
- Bad breath causes – starchy, high-fiber foods
Starches and dietary fibers like potatoes, grains, seeds/nuts, corn, and beans contribute a lot of healthy fiber to your diet, but can also increase gas.
Generally, high-fiber foods are good for the digestive system and important for forming healthy stools. But they also take some work to break down. Their carbohydrate content can also contribute to fermentation. If you have imbalances in your gut microbiome, this process can cause gas.
Eliminating these foods from your diet for a certain period can help get rid of bad breath. However, again you should investigate the underlying imbalances in your digestive system.
- Bad breath causes – FODMAP Carbohydrates
SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) is a digestive system condition. If you suffer from SIBO, bacteria that normally live in the large intestine have colonized the small intestine.
Removing FODMAP carbohydrates from your bad breath diet may allow the overgrowth to subside.
These short chain carbohydrates are easily fermentable by these gut bacteria and imbalances can cause bloating and bad breath.
Which foods contain FODMAP carbohydrates?
- Oligosaccharides: wheat, rye, barley, onions, leek, shallots, garlic, legumes, lentils, artichokes
- Disaccharides: milk, yogurt, custard, ice-cream
- Monosaccharides – simple sugars (fructose) honey, mango, watermelon, apples, pears, added sugar
- Polyols: apricots, nectarines, plums, cauliflower
Low FODMAP diets aim to allow the rebalancing of your gut bacteria. By starving the bacteria living in the small intestine – where they shouldn’t be – you should be able to eventually reintroduce these foods without bloating or gas. However, if bad breath and bloating persist, you may need further testing.
It may also be the most effective cure for your bad breath.
There are other dietary changes that may improve your bad breath. These are foods to add to your bad breath diet rather than avoid.
Step 5: Foods that may help to get rid of bad breath naturally
1) Natural acidic foods to cure bad breath
Although we associate harmful bacteria with acidic environments, the anaerobic bugs that cause gum disease and often, bad breath, can create an ALKALINE environment in the mouth. This means that if your bad breath is caused by these bugs, introducing acidic foods may help.
Try increasing your intake of these acidic foods:
- Apple Cider Vinegar
You can add these to salads or when cooking meats. You can also try drinking lemon or grapefruit juice, or apple cider vinegar, diluted in a cup of water.
WARNING: Always be careful with acid exposure to your teeth, and always consult your dentist first.
2) Natural micronutrients to get rid of bad breath
Zinc and magnesium
While deficiency in a number of micronutrients is linked to bad breath, zinc and magnesium are both thought to interact with sulfur. This interaction can help prevent and cure bad breath.
Ions of metals such as zinc and magnesium may neutralize sulfur molecules before they form odor. We know that zinc ions have an affinity for sulfur, forming sulfides with low solubility.
This means they can have an ‘anti-VSC’ effect.
Oral products containing zinc are also effective in reducing or inhibiting oral malodor. One study showed a 1% zinc acetate solution had anti-VSC effects throughout the test period.
Good sources of magnesium and zinc include:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Kidney beans
However, these may be unsuitable if your bad breath is gas related.
Alternatively, try taking zinc and magnesium supplements to naturally get rid of bad breath.
3) Increase Your Chlorophyll Intake
Green leafy veggies are loaded with chlorophyll, a powerful antioxidant, and deodorizer that can be effective in your fight against bad breath and body odor.
Spinach and parsley pack the biggest chlorophyll punch, at approximately 24mg and 19mg per half cup respectively. Other great sources of chlorophyll include:
- Green beans
4) Add Botanical Herbs to Your Diet
The biggest cause of bad breath that originates in areas other than the mouth is poor digestion of foods. Herbs often contain natural substances that can improve your digestion and help to keep your digestive system healthy.
These substances can increase digestive juices, including hydrochloric acid, pancreatic juice, and bile to digest fats.
Try adding these herbs to your diet
5) Eat Plenty of Non-FODMAP Dietary Fiber
Dietary fiber feeds the probiotic bacteria in your mouth and gut. These species prevent the buildup of harmful bacteria. In order to repopulate your digestive system with probiotic bacteria, try eating plenty of non-FODMAP dietary fiber sources.
Good sources of non-FODMAP dietary fiber include:
- Green beans
For a great bad-breath-busting meal, try combining steps 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5!
Here’s our suggested recipe for a meal to naturally cure your bad breath, showing the steps included:
Try a mixture of broccoli (2), zucchini (2) and lentils (5) cooked in dill, fennel and cumin (4) with apple cider vinegar (1). Serve this dish with an arugula salad (3) dressed with olive oil, lemon (1) and pumpkin seeds (2).
Can you create your own delicious recipes that combine our bad-breath-busting foods?
Now we want to hear from you. Please leave your questions in the comments below.
For more information on Dr. Lin’s clinical protocol that highlights the steps parents can take to prevent dental problems in their children: Click here.
Want to know more? Dr Steven Lin’s book, The Dental Diet, is available to order today. An exploration of ancestral medicine, the human microbiome and epigenetics it’s a complete guide to the mouth-body connection. Take the journey and the 40-day delicious food program for life-changing oral and whole health.
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Is there a connection between pre-diabetes and bad breath? I noticed that my dad and I both had bad breath and we have both been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Just can’t be a coincidence, it must be an effect on the kidneys, acid-base inbalance.
Dr Steven Lin says
Hi, yes there can be systemic causes of bad breath, including metabolic imbalance.
They are described here in this article.
Hope it helps.
I have a very bad breath and I hope to follow the diet.
Thambirajah Thiagarajah says
I was looking for a very good information for a long time.
Thank you Dr. Steven Lin.
Thank you so much for this. Hope this helps!
Where can I buy the probiotics please?
John Nguyen says
Heya! If the meats listed are the main causes of my bad breath. What am i suppose to eat, if i cant have turkey, chicken, seafood, beef, lean beef and more? Im 6’1 and underweight and trying to gain weight. I have a combination of these bad breaths its awful. Im willing to rod these but would pork be a good substitute and instead of milk can i do almond milk?
Thank you for this article. I adjusted my diet 4-5 months ago. I was feeling my glucose level was elevating and shifting up and down too quickly throughout the day. I now have a bad taste in my mouth and my dentist can not identify any dental issues. After reading this article, it confirms what I felt was a diet has contributed. Which relieves my concerns. I also have read that the metallic taste is a cause of ketosis balance and a sign of healthy organs.
Dr Amrit Kumar borah says
Is there any way of testing the breath/mouth to be sure which of the types of imbalance is the cause of my breath?
Sorry to hear that. Here is an article that explores all the known causes of bad breath beyond the mouth.
Testing options available: https://www.drstevenlin.com/9-steps-to-cure-bad-breath-and-professional-testing-options/
You can also consider a probiotic regime: https://www.drstevenlin.com/probiotics-and-the-oral-microbiome-2/page/3/
Hope this helps!