Jun 19, 2016 by

Personal Health

Check your local farmer’s market for natural alternatives to commercial DEET sprays.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Summertime is upon us once again, which means beach days, outdoor concerts, and of course, mosquitoes. With the threat of Zika and other mosquito-borne illnesses looming—and the usual annoyance of bug bites—we took a look at some of the food-based options for warding off those annoying insects. Below are four foods said to naturally ward off summer’s biggest party crashers.


Nootkatone, found in grapefruit and other citrus fruit, is effective against mosquitoes, ticks and bed bugs, so consuming citrus fruits or dousing your body in grapefruit essential oil may keep those pesky critters at bay during the summer months. The compound nootkatone “is nongreasy, dries very quickly, and it has a very pleasant, citrus-y grapefruit odor to it,” CDC scientist Marc Dolan said in an interview with NPR.

A word of caution, though: grapefruit and other citrus can interact with some medications, including erythromycin, diazepam and lovastatin, causing potentially dangerous adverse reactions.


A North Carolina State University study from 2002 found IBI-246, a substance produced by tomatoes, repels mosquitoes more effectively than DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), the most common toxic chemical used to ward off the insects.

Dr. Michael Roe said the fruit could be used in commercial insect repellents. ”What this means is that the toxicology has been done, which is a big step toward commercialization,” Roe said. “It’s found in tomatoes, it’s natural, it can be obtained organically, it’s safe and it’s at least as effective as DEET; all features that the public would want for a new-generation insect repellent.”


Vampires aren’t the only bloodsuckers deterred by the pungent scent of garlic. An amino acid present in garlic bulbs converts into allicin in the blood, which helps deter bugs. Meanwhile, as the Examiner reports, “sulfur compounds in the breath and on the skin after eating garlic help keep mosquitoes away.”


While scientific evidence of onion’s effectiveness against mosquitoes is scarce, according to the National Gardening Association, onions repel cabbage moths, carrot flies and even moles, as well as rust flies. Alderleaf Wilderness College (a speciality school for “tradiitional ecological knowledge“) notes, “diets high in … onions have been noted to help reduce the attraction of mosquitoes.”

In addition to loading up on the aforementioned foods, people wishing to avoid annoying bug bites should stay away from foods high in potassium, salt and lactic acid, such as bananas, avocados and dried fruit. And becasue mosquitoes are very attracted to warm temperatures, if you’re hanging outside at an evening barbecue, your best bet is to lay off the alcohol which raises your body temperature and makes you much more attractive to warmth-seeking insects.

Elizabeth Preza is an AlterNet staff writer focusing on politics, media and cultural criticism. Follow her on Twitter @lizacisms.

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