Whether your urine smells like sulfur, is fishy or fruity, or is giving off a just-popped-a-bag-of-popcorn aroma, learn why your pee might have you saying pee-ew.
Can what you eat affect the smell of urine?
So, what causes strong-smelling urine? Your diet is at the top of the list, with certain foods impacting the pungency of urine more than others. Asparagus is one of the most well-known. But why does asparagus make your pee smell, exactly? That signature smell is due to its high asparagusic acid content.
- Jenny Beth Kroplin, RD, LDN, CLC, registered dietitian based in Nashville, TN
- John Mayer, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life
- Kaytee Hadley, MS, RDN, CPT, registered dietitian and certified personal trainer based in Richmond, Virginia
- Michael Ingber, MD, board-certified urologist and female pelvic medicine specialist
"Asparagus is considered to be a natural diuretic supporting the kidneys and bladder. As the body naturally digests and breaks down the sulfuric compounds in asparagus, asparagusic acid, it can leave the urine smelling just like asparagus," Jenny Beth Kroplin, RD, a Nashville-based registered dietitian and wellness expert, previously told Well+Good. "Some research points toward two natural chemicals found in asparagus, methanethiol and S-methyl thioester, which through the digestive process can give the urine the sulfurous asparagus odor."
Now that you know why asparagus makes your pee smell, you're probably wondering what other foods have the same effect on your body. While not everyone will experience smelly pee from eating certain foods, these are some lesser-known culprits that can give urine a distinct odor.
What foods make your pee smell? 8 lesser-known culprits of strong-smelling urine
1. Brussels sprouts
Asking yourself, "Why does my pee smell?" It could be the Brussels sprouts wings you ate last night. When your body breaks down the veggie during digestion, it produces methyl mercaptan, a gas that's well-known for giving urine a foul odor.
Onions make you cry... and they also make your urine stinky. Like Brussels sprouts, methyl mercaptan occurs naturally in the vegetable. Along with causing strong-smelling urine, the gas is also responsible for bad breath.
3. Animal products
If your urine smells fishy, it could be due to trimethylaminuria or “fish odor syndrome”—a rare condition that prevents someone from properly breaking down the compound trimethylamine. Because of that, the compound builds up and exits the body via sweat, breath, and urine. The reason urine smells fishy is generally from eating the following foods: animal products (such as milk, eggs, meat, and seafood), certain plant-based foods (like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, peas, beans, and peanuts), soy products, and fish oil supplements.
Unfortunately, there's currently no cure for trimethylaminuria. With that being said, making some changes to your daily routine can help. According to the Cleveland Clinic, you can speak with a doctor to find a treatment for fishy-smelling urine that will likely involve changes to your diet and hygiene (and potentially taking medication) to make the odor less noticeable.
When you drink coffee, the result can be a coffee-like smell when you go to the bathroom—which, luckily, isn’t nearly as unpleasant as when your urine smells fishy. “When your body breaks down the compounds in coffee, the byproducts are filtered out through the kidneys and can make your urine smell like your morning cup of joe,” says Kaytee Hadley, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian based in Richmond, Virginia. It also serves as a great reminder that you might want to cut back on the Starbucks a bit.
If your urine smells like sulfur, curry could be to blame. The spice is certainly comforting—especially during the colder months—but it might come at a cost. Cumin, one of its prime ingredients, contains sulfur compounds and may cause your pee to stink.
Garlic and onions are in the same family, so it's no wonder both pungent-smelling veggies make your urine smell like sulfur. “The allium family contains elevated levels of sulfur-containing compounds that can leach through our pores, bloodstream, and urine, give us bad breath, and combine with bacteria in our sweat for a not-so-attractive body odor," Kroplin previously told Well+Good. (Like other foods high in sulfur, they can also make your poop smell.) But there are plenty of benefits that come from dealing with the stench, like garlic’s ability to fight inflammation, and 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, that’s because “the body treats alcohol like a toxin because the liver can only metabolize about 12 ounces of beer an hour.” The rest exits your body through oxidation, a process that breaks down the toxins in alcohol and excretes them through your breath, sweat, and—you guessed it—urine.
Unfortunately, the more alcohol someone drinks, the smellier their pee will be. “The higher the alcohol content of the drink or drinks the person consumed the night before, the more alcohol oxidation a person’s body will go through, which means more stink-causing diacetic acid,” Dr. Mayer previously told Well+Good.
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. That includes vagina smells and tastes, as experts say some people claim pineapple makes you, umm, “sweeter.”
Why does my pee smell stronger than usual? 8 more reasons
What causes strong-smelling urine aside from food? According to New Jersey-based urologist Michael Ingber, MD, there are quite a few things that can tweak your pee’s scent, making your urine smell like ammonia, popcorn, or beyond. Some people may even be looking for treatment for fishy-smelling urine. "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.
Are you drinking enough water? If you want healthier pee, that’s a good place to start. "Hydration status affects not only the color of urine but also the odor," says Dr. Ingber. 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 notice goes from clear or light yellow to a darker hue).
The great news is that the fix is simple. According to Hadley, simply drinking enough water—and electrolytes, if needed—can resolve the issue quickly. While the amount of water you need can differ depending on how much you exercise, where you live, and other health conditions, the average daily fluid intake is 11.5 cups a day for women and 15.5 cups for men.
Dr. Ingber says 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. Hadley notes antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs may affect the smell of urine, too.
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," says Dr. Ingber. "If you have this condition—usually diagnosed early in life—your urine may smell like, you guessed it: maple syrup." 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). If you have one of these infections, a change in urine could be a possible side effect. If your urine smells like sulfur—and it’s not due to ingesting B vitamins, sulfa drugs, or sulfur-containing foods like asparagus and broccoli—Hadley says that could be a warning sign as well. “It could signal a bladder infection, urinary tract infection (UTI), or prostatitis and should be checked by a doctor,” she says.
5. Excess ketones
Ever ask yourself, “Why does my pee smell like popcorn?” Dr. Ingber says having excess ketones is what causes urine to smell differently, whether that’s a sweet or popcorn-like scent. "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."
Although vitamins play a critical role in maintaining optimal health, you may be surprised to learn that most of them end up in your urine. Vitamins typically fall into two main groups: fat-soluble (easily stored in the body) versus water-soluble (easily washed out of the body). After consuming vitamin-rich foods, you may find that your pee smells stronger than usual and has a darker tinge to it.
Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and vitamin B complex (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, biotin, folate, and cobalamin). Research shows that these water-soluble vitamins quickly dissolve in water upon entering the body and aren’t stored for later use—aka, most of it ends up getting flushed away. Although most changes to your pee due to vitamin intake are harmless, if urine becomes red or extremely dark-colored, seeking medical attention is advised.
7. Urinary tract infection
One of the first symptoms of a urinary tract infection is changes in the smell of the urine, followed by pain and discomfort when urinating. As your body fights this bacterial infection in the urethra, urine might become cloudy, brown, or red with an unusual odor. To keep the infection from worsening, consult a doctor for the best form of treatment. And to learn more about ways to prevent them from occurring, read these ways to stave off a UTI.
Have you noticed that your urine smells like ammonia? Aside from having the urge to pee constantly, an ammonia-like odor is something some pregnant people also point out, which is potentially triggered by various hormonal and lifestyle changes. During pregnancy, some people may also experience increased sensitivity to the olfactory system, possibly due to hyperosmia (a heightened sense of smell), making natural changes to urine smell more noticeable. Although most of these changes are normal, if you notice blood in your urine or if it becomes pink, red, or brown, it’s important to contact your doctor.
When should you see a doctor?
Now you know 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’ll notice a difference in odor. But if you aren't sure what's causing your pee to smell, it's best to see a doctor or urologist who can determine if it's related to one of the non-diet causes highlighted above—and help you get the necessary treatment. It could be the yellow flag your body's waving to grab your attention.
“If you haven’t had any medication or dietary changes that could be to blame for smelly urine, it’s best to see your doctor right away,” says Hadley. “This could be a signal that something more serious is going on—especially if you have other symptoms like not feeling well or your pee is also cloudy or bloody.”
Dr. Ingber says people who are pregnant, 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, they can run tests to make sure there isn't an infection or other problem.
Frequently asked questions about smelly pee
What drinks make your pee smell?
Wondering what causes strong-smelling urine in terms of beverages? If you’re a regular coffee drinker, you might be surprised to learn it could be responsible for some unpleasant-smelling pee. According to Hadley, as your body breaks it down, the byproducts are filtered out through your kidneys. This can leave your pee smelling like the coffee you just drank. Make sure you're getting enough water so that your body stays properly hydrated and your urine is less concentrated.
What does UTI pee smell like?
Urine that smells like sulfur could be a warning sign of a urinary tract infection, says Hadley. (Just note that asparagus makes your pee smell like sulfur, too. So if you’ve been eating loads of sulfur-containing foods, the odor could be due to that instead of a UTI.) If your urine smells like ammonia, that could signal a UTI as well. If you're suspicious that a UTI could be the culprit—especially if you’re also experiencing other UTI symptoms like painful urination or cloudy or bloody urine—speak with your doctor about treatment options.
What does diabetes pee smell like?
If your urine smells sweet or fruity, never ignore it. “Diabetic ketoacidosis is a very serious and life-threatening condition when blood glucose skyrockets because the body can’t remove the sugar from the bloodstream and has to use ketones as fuel instead,” says Hadley. “If your urine smells sweet or fruity, this is a telltale sign that your body is in ketosis, and you should seek medical attention immediately.”
Why does my pee smell like popcorn?
If your pee smells like popcorn, it could be a signal to get medical attention. “A common cause of popcorn-smelling urine is the body using ketones instead of sugar as fuel,” Hadley says. “This can occur with uncontrolled diabetes, which is dangerous.”
- Pelchat, Marcia Levin et al. “Excretion and perception of a characteristic odor in urine after asparagus ingestion: a psychophysical and genetic study.” Chemical senses vol. 36,1 (2011): 9-17. doi:10.1093/chemse/bjq081
- Messenger, Jeffrey et al. “A review of trimethylaminuria: (fish odor syndrome).” The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology vol. 6,11 (2013): 45-8.
- Wagenstaller, Maria, and Andrea Buettner. “Coffee Aroma Constituents and Odorant Metabolites in Human Urine.” Metabolomics, 2013, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11306-013-0581-2.
- Cameron, E Leslie. “Pregnancy and olfaction: a review.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 5 67. 6 Feb. 2014, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00067
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