You’re grabbing dinner, and then it happens: You catch a whiff of your own not-so-fresh breath or, worse, notice your friend leaning back a smidge. When odour-causing bacteria attack food particles in your mouth, they release sulphur compounds, which cause an embarrassing stink. It gets worse if you have a dry mouth or if your dental-hygiene habits have been sliding, since saliva, flossing and brushing all help to wash away bacteria.
See your dentist about persistent halitosis (bad breath), because it could be a sign of a much bigger issue, such as gum disease. A few foods, however, can temporarily freshen your breath. Look for these items to help clear up any unpleasant funk:
“Fennel seeds have antiseptic qualities that can reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth,” says periodontist Vera Tang. Chewing on the seeds is surprisingly refreshing and also stimulates saliva production, preventing dry mouth, she advises.
Try this: Keep a bag of fennel seeds in your handbag, or serve fennel tea after a meal by steeping 1 to 2 teaspoons of fennel seeds in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes. Cooking for guests?
Add up to 1½ teaspoons of crushed fennel seeds to marinara sauce and toss with whole-wheat pasta and parmesan.
They help remove some of the debris on teeth that attracts bacteria. “Crunchy fruits and vegetables could be considered nature’s toothbrush, because they scrub teeth and stimulate saliva that washes away bacteria that cause bad breath,” says dietitian Wendy Bazilian. They’re no replacement for a real toothbrush, but they can come in handy for bad-breath emergencies.
Try this: Keep an apple on hand each day for nacking. For a dinner party, chop a large apple and combine it with shredded cabbage and grated carrots for a crunchy coleslaw. Serve with a simple dressing made with plain Greek-style yoghurt and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Eating yoghurt regularly could help quell mouth odours. “Bad breath can be the result of acid reflux or an imbalance of bacteria in the mouth and gut,” Wendy says. “The probiotics in yoghurt can help by creating an environment of good bacteria that promotes healthy digestion.” Choose unsweetened plain Greek yoghurt, since bad breath-causing bacteria feast on sugar.
Try this: Top a slice of rye toast with plain Greek yogurt, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper.
This is perhaps the best-known folk remedy for bad breath, but really any green, leafy herb could work, including basil or (of course) mint. “The chlorophyll in these herbs may help neutralise odour on contact,” Dr Tang says. Even more likely, the aromatic oils in parsley may simply help mask the smell for a little while.
Try this: Make a fresh party dish by combining 4 cups of pre-soaked quinoa with ⅓ cup of coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted, ¼ cup of coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or coriander, and salt and pepper. At a restaurant, ask for fish or salad with an extra bunch of parsley.
First published: 4 Nov 2019