Some foods that make your pee smell are totally healthy. Asparagus, for starters, gives your urine that signature smell because of its high asparagusic acid content. When this compound is broken down during digestion, you're left with the stinky culprits: sulfur-containing chemicals such as methanethiol and S-methyl thioesters (which, turns out, only some people can smell).
Asparagus isn't the only food that will give your urine a distinct odor, however. Keep reading for more reasons your pee might have you saying pee-ew!
8 other foods that make your pee smell
1. Brussels sprouts
If you've been snacking on Brussels sprouts wings lately, your pee is about to give you away. When your body breaks down the veggie during digestion, it produces methyl mercaptan, a gas that's well-known for making your urine smell less-than-stellar.
Onions make you cry, and they also make your urine stinky. Like Brussels sprouts, methyl mercaptan occurs naturally in the vegetable. Along with changing your pee, the gas is also responsible for bad breath.
Yep, eating fish could cause your urine to smell fishy, too. According to the University of California, Berkeley, those who have the metabolic disorder trimethylaminuria can't properly break down the compound trimethylamine. Because of that, the compound builds up and exits the body via sweat, your breath, and urine.
If you're an avid coffee drinker, expect a scent. When your body breaks it down, byproducts of coffee called metabolites wind up in your urine. And the result is a coffee-like smell when you go to the bathroom. It also serves as a great reminder that you might want to cut back on the Starbucks a bit.
Learn more about the benefits of coffee in the video below:
Curry is certainly comforting during the winter months, but it might come at a cost. Because cumin—one of its prime ingredients—contains sulfur compounds, it can cause your pee to stink.
Garlic and onions are in the same family, so it's no wonder both pungent-smelling veggies also product strong-smelling urine. But there are plenty of benefits that come from dealing with the stench, like its ability to fight inflammation, cancer, and protect your liver.
Watch the video below to learn about the health benefits of garlic:
After a night with one too many margaritas, your body's most important goal is getting all that alcohol out of your system. According to clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD, it does so through oxidation, a process that breaks down the toxins in alcohol and excretes them through your breath, sweat, and—you guessed it—urine.
Phew! Not all foods produce foul-smelling pee. One that actually makes your urine smell good is pineapple. When you eat the high-sugar fruit, sometimes your body fluids start smelling sweet, too.
Other reasons besides food that your pee is smelly
According to urologist Michael Ingber, MD, there are reasons besides what you eat that could tweak your pee's scent. "Lots of things contribute to the odor of urine. Some may be normal, others may be a sign that something is wrong," he says. Here, Dr. Ingber highlights the most common non-diet-related reasons for a change in urine smell, including when to see a doctor.
"Hydration status affects not only the color of urine, but also the odor," Dr. Ingber says. He explains that when you're dehydrated, the kidneys concentrate the urine and hold on to excess water. This, he says, changes your pee's smell along with its color (which you may notices goes from clear or light yellow to a darker hue).
Dr. Ingber also says that certain medications can change the way your pee smells, primarily sulfa drugs, which are used to treat infections as well as diabetes. "These medications can cause urine to have a rotten egg smell," he says.
3. Rare genetic conditions
"Rarely, certain genetic conditions can cause urine odor. For example, maple syrup urine disease is a rare disease that affects the body's ability to metabolize certain amino acids," Dr. Ingber says. "If you have this condition—usually diagnosed early in life—your urine may smell like, you guessed it: maple syrup." (Please speak with a doctor if your urine regularly smells like maple syrup; this condition can lead to organ damage.)
Sometimes, Dr. Ingber says pee changes smell because of an infection, such as E. coli or staph (Staphylococcal). So if you have one of these infections, a change in urine could be a possible side effect.
5. Excess ketones
Dr. Ingber says having excess ketones can also cause pee to smell differently. "We see this in people who have diabetes when their sugars aren't well controlled, or when they get into a 'ketoacidosis' crisis," he says. "This is a medical emergency, and requires urgent attention."
In general, if you aren't sure what's causing your pee to smell different than usual, it's best to see a urologist who can see if it's related to one of the non-diet causes highlighted above—and help you get the necessary treatment. Dr. Ingber says people who are pregnant or have diabetes or an autoimmune condition are especially encouraged to see a doctor if their pee smell changes and they aren't sure why. That way, the doctor can run tests to make sure there isn't an infection or other problem.
"There are some home devices one can use now, which are really cool, and often can help you avoid traveling to a doctor," he adds. "For example, ScanWell Health has an app which turns your smartphone into our $15,000 urinalysis machine we use in the office. You can pee on a urine test strip, the app will scan it, and tell you the likelihood of it being an infection. If it's positive, you can connect with a doctor on the app to get antibiotics."
The bottom line is that what you eat can absolutely change the way your pee smells. If you've been loading up on any of the foods highlighted on the list above, chances are you will notice a slight change. But if you have any reason to believe it could be due to a cause other than diet, book some face time with your doc. It could be the yellow flag your body's waving to grab your attention.
Updated with new writing and reporting by Emily Laurence. Originally published March 7, 2019.
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