When you think of vaginal health, what you had for dinner last night probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But research shows that what we eat can seriously impact how our lady business does its business. Here are the most common ways that what you’re eating could be harming you — and what to eat instead to fix it.
The first time a nurse asked me if my vaginal discharge “looked like cottage cheese” was the day I officially lost my innocence — at least when it came to female health issues. What woman hasn’t felt an itch down there and wondered if her vagina had become a petri dish for yeasty bacteria? But there are things you can do to protect against the dreaded infection.
Foods that harm: Yeast feeds on sugar, and so eating too many sugars, particularly the processed kinds, can lead to an overgrowth of yeast in your vagina, according to research by the University of Maryland. Obviously this includes candy, ice cream, chocolates, cupcakes and other sweets, but the scientists say the biggest culprits may be foods we don’t typically think of as having high sugar, like alcohol and cheese.
Foods that heal: Yogurt to the rescue! Natural sources of probiotics can help encourage the growth of good bacteria, while quashing the nasty bugs that make us itch and burn. So, load up on fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi. The researchers also recommend adding garlic, oregano, sage, cinnamon and cloves to your food — not only do they add healthy flavor, but they also have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
Characterized by a red, swollen, painful vagina and vulva (sometimes with bonus pus-filled lesions!), this infection is what happens when you don’t effectively treat other, more minor, gynecological problems. According to the University of Maryland’s research, some women are simply more prone to this über-infection.
Foods that harm: Again (always?) sugar is the bad guy. It may look all innocent in the sugar bowl, but the researchers say it can wreak havoc on the delicate balance of microorganisms in your muffin. They add that any foods you’re allergic or sensitive to may also cause a flare-up. Wheat, dairy, corn and food preservatives are common offenders.
Foods that heal: Probiotics like yogurt and kefir are great, but the scientists also recommend eating plenty of nuts, beans and berries for added nutrients and B vitamins.
Nothing can take the sex out of sexy times like dryness down there. At best, it’s uncomfortable — at worst, it can cause vaginal tearing and abrasions. (Ouch!) Foreplay is generally the best protection against and remedy for dryness, but your diet can play a role too.
Foods that harm: Alcohol is dehydrating — drink too much and your lady garden could go into a serious drought. According to research from Brown University, not only can booze increase dryness down under, but it can also decrease sensation and even block orgasm.
Foods that heal: The most common cause of vaginal dryness, however, is low estrogen, thanks to aging, medication, illness or environmental factors. But according to an Italian study, you can naturally raise estrogen and increase lubrication by eating natural sources of soy like edamame, tofu and miso.
To be clear: However your vag smells — as long as you’re not suffering from an infection — is totally fine. Each lady flower has its own unique perfume, and there’s nothing pathological about yours. That said, have you ever gone to the bathroom, got a whiff and thought that just ain’t right? Food can definitely influence how your vaginal secretions smell and there are times when you (or your partner) may want to change them a bit.
Foods that harm: Meat, dairy, garlic, strong spices, alcohol and smoking can leave you smelling less than fresh, according to the Berkeley Wellness Center. Even good-for-you veggies like broccoli, onions, cabbage and asparagus can leave behind a not-so-good smell. (Oh, asparagus, why you so tasty going in and so stinky coming out?)
Foods that heal: No need to cut broccoli or meat out of your diet, but if you’re concerned about your odor make sure they’re just one part of an overall healthy diet where no one food overpowers the rest, say the docs. And to sweeten your scent, many women swear by eating pineapple, citrus, mint or cinnamon — although there’s no research to support that, it certainly can’t hurt to eat more of those healthy, tasty treats!