What to Eat to Repel Mosquitoes — and What to Avoid

There’s always one friend in the group that mosquitoes LOVE, share this with them!

Nothing ruins a day outside faster than a swarm of mosquitoes. These bloodthirsty insects not only cause uncomfortable, itchy bites, they can also carry a host of diseases.

If you’re a natural mosquito magnet, it makes sense to do what you can to lower the risk of being bitten. While there’s no substitute for applying bug spray, the foods you eat may play a role in how attractive you are to mosquitoes.

So, what draws mosquitoes to you in the first place and, more importantly, what can you do to keep them at bay? Here’s what research and an entomologist recommend.

What attracts mosquitoes in the first place?

There are several factors that make humans a mosquito target. “Mosquitoes are attracted to the carbon dioxide we exhale, our body heat, and chemicals on our skin and in our sweat and breath,” says Eva Buckner, Ph.D., assistant professor and state extension specialist at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory.

Mosquitoes “smell” people, and scent is one of the main senses that mosquitoes use to find food, Buckner says. Food for mosquitoes varies by sex: Adult female mosquitoes feast on blood and nectar, while adult male mosquitoes just eat nectar.

“Mosquitoes have sensory hairs located primarily on their antennae and mouth parts,” Buckner says. “When an odor is detected by neurons within the sensory hairs, a chemical signal is sent to the brain.”

In general, anything that is sweet will draw mosquitoes in (probably because it suggests nectar is nearby), along with your body odor and certain chemicals. Having higher concentrations of uric acid, lactic acid, and ammonia acid in your sweat may also bring mosquitoes around, too. Not that you can help this, but research also finds that mosquitoes seem to be more attracted to people with type O blood over other types.

What foods should you avoid?

It’s important to get this out of the way upfront: While there have been studies around mosquitoes and food, they aren’t robust. Meaning, there’s still work to be done here. However, research has found a link between the following foods (and drinks) and how much mosquitoes are drawn in.

Stinky cheeses

“Mosquitoes have been shown to be attracted to carboxylic acids produced by bacteria on our skin,” Buckner says. But carboxylic acids include butyric acid, which is a compound present in “stinky” cheeses like Limburger.

Sweet foods and desserts

This could potentially be an issue while you’re eating a food, especially if it has a sweet floral scent, Buckner says. “Mosquitoes are attracted to certain floral scents produced by nectar-producing plants,” she says. “So, if there is an overlap in volatiles given off by nectar-producing plants that mosquitoes are attracted to and the sweet floral scent coming from what someone is eating, a mosquito could be attracted to the food and person eating it at the time.” Keep in mind that this applies to drinks, too. So, if your go-to beverage has a floral scent or ingredient, you could be unintentionally bringing mosquitoes around.


File this under the “limited evidence” category. One study investigated the attractiveness of people after they ate bananas or grapes with two species of mosquitoes, and found that the bugs were drawn to the banana group. But this is just one study and it only tested two types of mosquitoes. (Buckner points out that there are more than 3,000 species worldwide.)


Two studies have found that drinking beer increases the attractiveness of people to mosquitoes. Again, there were limited species investigated (each looked at one type of mosquito out of 3,000). Researchers also weren’t able to pinpoint why the beer might have made people seem tastier to mosquitoes. “The authors could only hypothesize drinking beer changed some chemical being released in breath or by skin,” Buckner says.

What to eat to help repel mosquitoes

Like foods that attract mosquitoes, there’s limited evidence that eating certain foods will keep them away. But if you want to try to give yourself an extra leg up in mosquito bite prevention, it doesn’t hurt to chow down on these foods.

Foods with sweet basil, sage, and rosemary

One study on mosquitoes and human scent found that mosquitoes were turned off by someone with high concentrations of the scent of eucalyptol on their skin. Eucalyptol is an aromatic compound found in sweet basil, sage, rosemary, and cardamom. The researchers concluded that this high concentration was probably due to the person’s diet.

Anything with garlic or onions

Foods with garlic and onions contain a compound called allicin. Research has linked allicin with a lowered risk of contracting malaria, a serious infection that’s transferred through mosquito bites. That said, it’s not clear how much garlic and onions you’d need to eat to get this effect.


Grapefruit contains a compound called nootkatone, which gives it that unique aroma. One study of nootkatone on two types of mosquitoes found that it was effective at repelling mosquitoes at a rate comparable to DEET or picaridin—aka common bug repellent ingredients. While the study looked at nootkatone applied to the skin, there is a chance that it could discourage mosquitoes while you eat grapefruit.

The Upshot

If you really want to hedge your bets with keeping mosquitoes away, Buckner says it’s really best to follow tried and true strategies like wearing loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and pants, and using EPA-registered insect repellents. But if you want to kick things up a notch, it doesn’t hurt to add some basil, grapefruit, and garlic to your diet, too.

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