Here’s a fun conversation starter (or ender) for you to whip out the next time you’re on a bad date: Poop is not actually supposed to smell bad.
While poop has its own…special aroma, it’s not supposed to stink so badly that you regret even having the ability to smell. If it does, that can have some implications for your health. “What [usually] causes stinky smelling poops is when a person has a hard time absorbing all the nutrition from the food before it comes out,” says Brigitte Zeitlin, RD, founder of BZ Nutrition in New York City. This is known as malabsorption, she says, and it’s often caused by gut issues like Crohn’s and colitis.
However, if this doesn’t apply to you and yet you’re consistently stinking up your bathroom, check in with what you’re eating. There are certain healthy foods—particularly foods high in sulfur—that can make your BMs smell super bad, Zeitlin says. (Other common stink-inducing foods include lactose, alcohol, and sugar alcohols.)
It’s important to mention up-front that sulfur is not inherently bad. It’s a common element that your body needs to produce the antioxidant glutathione as well as support blood and digestive function. It’s also great for your skin and hair, Zeitlin says. “Adding in sulfur-rich foods has been shown to help fight acne and reduce other skin issues like rosascea and dry, scaly skin patches. And studies have shown that sulfur has an antibacterial effect against the bacteria that causes acne and dermatitis,” she says.
Instead of cutting out healthy foods for the sake of a better poop, Zeitlin suggests keeping a food diary to see if there are certain eats that cause worse stools than others. “Every physical body is different and will respond differently to different foods, so figuring out what feels best for you and your body is crucial; a food diary will help nail this down,” she says. However, if limiting seemingly-problematic foods doesn’t help, Zeitlin says you should seek a medical professional—since again, this could be a sign of bigger gut issues.
As for problematic foods, here are a few foods high in sulfur that might be responsible for particularly smelly poops:
Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and cabbage, are high in sulfur and thus if eaten in excess, could result in some unpleasant bathroom experiences. “These foods can make some people feel bloated and gassy because of the amount of fiber they contain,” Zeitlin adds. “If you experience bloat from these foods, but love eating them, it would be better on your gut to eat them cooked instead of raw,” she suggests—since cooking will help break down some of the fiber for easier digestion.
That’s right—red meat, poultry, fish, pork, and eggs can all make your gas smell, too, says Zeitlin. That’s because certain amino acids found in animal-based protein contain sulfur. What’s more, if you have the steak with wine or beer, it might be even stinkier, as alcohol can also be a trigger for unpleasant, malodorous BMs.
You might love seasoning vegetables and meats with onions and garlic, but those can lead to rank breath and poops, says Zeitlin. Thanks, sulfur! They’re also FODMAP foods, meaning they might cause a reaction in those with IBS or other gut sensitivities.
Let’s be real, garlic is delicious—and comes with some impressive benefits that make it worth the smell:
I know medjool dates are *the* snack to eat right now, but dried fruit is typically high in sulfur (it’s used to preserve the fruit)—and when eaten in large portions, can make your gas smell bad. Stick to a small serving and swap for fresh when you can to keep gas in check.
This one is the biggest betrayal of all. “Dairy products are rich in sulfur,” says Zeitlin. “However not everyone who eats cheese has foul-smelling poops. If you are lactose-intolerant or have a milk protein allergy and you eat dairy products, your gut will not be able to absorb the food properly and cause your poops to smell worse than others,” she says. “That smell may come out with a sulfur aroma to it, but it is from the lactose—not the sulfur—that caused the smell,” she says.