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We already know that smelling nice (or at least not unpleasant) during the quest for a romantic partner is helpful, to say the least. And we’ve all heard the advice about staying away from certain foods (onions, garlic), lest their powerful fragrances get in the way of a kiss goodnight.
But actually, the truth goes a little deeper—and maybe onions and garlic aren’t the enemy. Because according to a fascinating new study out of Sydney’s Macquarie University, women can actually smell when a potential mate has a healthy diet.
In a study published in the journal Evolution & Human Behavior, researchers recruited a panel of of healthy male participants and studied their individual diets and skin tones using a quantitative machine called a spectrophotometer. The men were given clean shirts and asked to exercise until they got nice and sweaty. Then, not unlike a perfume lab, researchers brought in a panel of women to smell the sweat and give notes—what smelled pleasant or unpleasant, floral, sweet, sour, and so on.
What they found was that women could essentially smell when a man’s diet was high in fruits and vegetables, and were more attracted to their sweat. Subjects with produce-rich diets were noted by the women as having pleasant-smelling sweat that was floral and fruity. Meanwhile, men whose diets were skimpy on produce but heavy on carbohydrates like pasta and bread had “stronger smelling, less pleasant sweat.” Interestingly, women also reported across the board that men whose diets were rich in meat smelled more intense, but not necessarily better or worse.
“Women basically found that men who ate more vegetables smelled nicer," Ian D. Stephen, one of the paper’s authors, told NPR.
Moreover, those who ate lots of fruits and vegetables also looked objectively more healthy according to the spectrophotometer, thanks to the carotenoids that give plants their bright red and orange colors, which then get into our skin. Not surprisingly, women also found these men more physically attractive.
Far be it from me to suggest that anyone cut down on the carbs they love, but we should all take this study as a cue to load up on fruits and vegetables, since they apparently lead to inner and outer beauty, however subjective that may be.