COVID-19 Vaccine: For up-to-date information on eligibility and availability, click here.
Back to Living Better

The health benefits of smelly foods

You’ve probably noticed many healthy foods can be quite smelly, such as broccoli, hardboiled eggs and onions. But did you know that what gives them their strong aromas can also make them nutritious?

Nancy Waldeck, a chef at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, shares her favorite “smelly” foods, how to cook them and how to downplay strong scents while getting the health benefits.

Bold flavors that are great for your health

“No. 1 on every anti-inflammatory food list is garlic,” says Waldeck. “Garlic can be sweet or stinky based on how it is cooked. One of my favorite ways to ‘tame’ garlic is to roast it.”

Second on her list of healthy, smelly foods are anchovies.

“They are a super way to add a salty, briny flavor to a dish without adding extra salt,” she explains. “I start many of my tomato sauces by chopping a tin of anchovies and letting them cook or ‘melt’ down in a hot skillet before adding other ingredients.”

Other boldly scented and healthy foods include:

  • Alliums (including garlic, onions and leeks)

  • Cheeses

  • Cruciferous vegetables (such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts)

  • Fermented foods (like sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir)

  • Fish (including anchovies, sardines and tuna)

  • Hardboiled eggs

  • Vinegar

Health benefits of strong-smelling foods

Many strongly scented foods – like those in the allium family, eggs and cruciferous vegetables – contain sulfur, which gives them their aroma.

“The organosulfur compounds that make you cry when you chop onions is the reason that everything from the allium family is super good for you,” says Waldeck. “So, no matter whether it's the sweet, mild flavor from leeks, or the spicy zing of a yellow onion, all of them are flavorful and packed with nutrition.”

Research has indicated that the organosulfur compounds in alliums may slow or prevent the formation of cancer in the colon, esophagus, lungs, mammary glands and stomach. While more research is needed, the authors of this study suspect allium vegetables and organosulfur compounds might help prevent cancer in humans as well.

Cruciferous vegetables are rich in glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing substances that give them a slightly bitter taste and strong smell. Researchers are studying the possible cancer-fighting benefits of glucosinolates.

Other smelly foods simply add bold flavor to your dishes, which means you need less salt, sugar and fat for flavor.

How to downplay the aroma of smelly foods

If you enjoy cooking and eating strongly scented foods, you know their aromas can linger long after the kitchen is closed. Waldeck recommends the following tips to downplay foods’ smells:

  • Roast them. Try roasting the smelly vegetables or onions instead of boiling them. “Roasting creates a creamy texture with a crusty exterior,” she says.

  • Use the microwave. Try microwaving cruciferous veggies. Place the cauliflower or broccoli in a glass bowl, cover with parchment and microwave for 2 to 3 minutes until crisp-tender. “If you do choose to boil or steam, don’t overcook them,” says Waldeck. “That's when it becomes super smelly.”

  • Wrap up leftovers well. Make sure to wrap leftovers securely when putting them in the fridge.

  • Use baking soda in the refrigerator. Place a small bowl of baking soda in the refrigerator to absorb odors.

  • Use vinegar or cinnamon to freshen your kitchen. “For fishy or oniony smells that linger after cooking, leave a bowl of white vinegar on your countertop overnight,” she recommends. “Or you can simmer cinnamon sticks, lemon peels and ground ginger in water on the stove for at least 15 minutes to take care of any stinky smells.”

Check out more recipes and nutrition tips from Cancer Wellness experts.

Schedule your appointment online

Piedmont App

Download the Piedmont Now app

  • Directions
  • Indoor Hospital Navigation
  • Find & Save Physicians
  • Online Scheduling

Download the app today!

Get the Piedmont Now on Google Play Get the Piedmont Now on iTunes App Store