Good stuff to make you taste bad

by Lena Llis

Mosquitos are evil, like politicians or vampires. But what if there was something tasty that you could eat to keep them away?

I love soaking in the sun and enjoying delicious tropical fruits, in gorgeously hot climates. However, I do not love the mosquitos which inevitably come with this environment. Having lived in Asia, I have led a long and arduous battle against these dreadful little abominations, to limited success. Alas, the mosquito can only truly be defeated with a well-aimed thwack. But there are some strategies which can help to varying degrees. One of these is eating the right things.

Evil mosquitoMosquitos are attracted to animals (including humans) based on different factors, but mainly smell. Coating yourself in repellant, whether chemical or natural, helps to block the attractive scents you are giving off and replaces them with those that mosquitos don’t enjoy so much. But the smells your body releases are also dependent on your diet, so to a certain degree it is possible to influence your own attractive, or repellant, aroma.

Mosquitos like a couple of things:

  1. Carbon Dioxide: which you breathe out. You give out more of this when your body temperature is higher, and after exercise.

  2. Lactic Acid: which you give off more after exercise, and after consuming certain foods – those with a high salt content, and high potassium.

Obviously you cannot prevent yourself from releasing carbon dioxide and lactic acid. But taking measures to give off less of these may help. For carbon dioxide, food won’t be a factor (sleeping in a cool room, without exercising a lot before hand, will be best). But lactic acid can be influenced by what you eat.

Cutting down on salty foods is fairly simple. Just avoid ready-made meals, and other processed foods, which will be packed with salts to increase their shelf life. Resist the urge to douse your meals in salt, and stay away from salty snacks. Hopefully this is will help reduce your lactic acid levels (and your chances of cardio-vascular disease).

Potassium is a little trickier. You certainly don’t want to avoid it altogether, as it is a nutrient your body needs. It is also found in most fruit and veg, and cutting those out of your diet will lead to much worse consequences than a few bug bites! But you can stay away from the really high potassium level foods, such as bananas, spinach, and potatoes.

These dietary changes are aimed at reducing chemicals which may draw mosquitos to you, but what about actively eating foods that could help repel them? Here the answers are not so clear.

Garlic is commonly associated with repelling insects. The pungent aroma puts many creatures off, so it seems reasonable enough that mosquitos might not like it either. Rubbing yourself with garlic cream, or going around with a chain of garlic around your neck, might actually keep bloodsuckers away even outside of bad vampire movies! Of course, it will keep everyone else away too. It is not clear if eating garlic helps or not. Perhaps if you breathe on approaching mosquitos you can chase them off…

Marmite, the British yeast-based spread (and its relatives such as Vegemite) are sometimes claimed to be mosquito repellents too. However, there isn’t much evidence for this, and given the saltiness of the spread I would assume it might even do the opposite.

Then there is a whole litany of things such as tomatoes, chilies, onions etc. which are thought by some to act as mossie repellents. The evidence for these is scant or non-existent though, and as someone who eats lots of all of those, I can’t say I’ve ever noticed any such benefits.

You best bet in the war on this horrid insects is probably a multi-pronged attack. Limit your diet to reduce your lactic acid levels, rub yourself in garlic and other repellents, and arm yourself with swatters and wooden stakes, for whichever blood drinker comes your way.