You're dying for a piece of pizza for lunch, but worry about garlic breath during an afternoon meeting with your boss. Scientists may have solved your dilemma.
A new study shows that choosing certain foods to go with garlicky entrees can minimize the herb's effect on your breath. The study, published in the September issue of the Journal of Food Science, found that eating raw apple, fresh mint leaves or lettuce can greatly reduce the lingering scent of garlic after a meal.
“At a maximum, the mint takes out 75 percent,” says study coauthor Sheryl Barringer. “If you’re really worried about garlic breath and you’re going to an important meeting, then you shouldn’t do anything that will make you more nervous. But practically speaking you could eat mint or an apple and not worry about it.”
When it comes to "deodorizing the breath of garlic odor, the important constituents in apples and mint are compounds called phenols, Barringer says. “They are in raw fruits and vegetables,” she says, adding that people are most familiar with these compounds because they’ve gotten attention due of their connection with the health effects of red wine, dark chocolate, blueberries, and raspberries.
What makes garlic and other foods detectible by our noses are the volatiles — molecules that are so small they drift into the air, explains Barringer.
To test the effectiveness of various foods to deodorize garlic, Barringer and her coauthor gave study volunteers a small amount of fresh garlic to chew on for 25 seconds. The volunteers were asked to chase the garlic with one of the following:
- freshly made apple juice
- heated apple
- raw or heated lettuce
- raw or juiced fresh mint leaves
- green tea
The assumption was that the water and lettuce would serve as “control” foods, meaning they’d have no impact on garlic breath. The heated items would tell researchers how important enzymes were, since these compounds tend to speed chemical reactions.
After the volunteers had consumed the garlic along with the test foods, the constituents in their breath were analyzed with mass spectrometry.
The green tea and water had no impact on the garlic volatiles. Raw apples and mint greatly decreased their levels in the volunteers’ breath. Heated apples and mint also were effective, but slightly less than their raw counterparts. So apple pie after that slice of pizza could work, too, Barringer says.
Mouthwash doesn't work?
One surprise: lettuce had an impact somewhere between apples and mint. “That was a little weird,” Barringer says. “It’s lower in the phenolic compounds. That points to more study. Is there something else in lettuce that we haven’t noticed yet?”
The new findings “make a lot of sense,” says Dr. Harold Katz, a dentist and the founder of The California Breath Clinics. “They’re using foods instead of antimicrobials. That’s smart.”
People often try to kill garlic breath by brushing their teeth and rinsing their mouths out with alcohol-based mouthwashes. Not only are both of those methods futile in battling garlic breath, but they also could exacerbate traditional bad breath by drying out the mouth, Katz said.
“Saliva is nature’s way of keeping your breath fresh,” he said.
Would eating more than one of these foods fight garlic breath even more?
Barringer isn't sure. But it's entirely possible that eating a salad with that piece of pizza and a slice of apple pie afterwards, might completely wipe out any trace of garlic.