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The Power of Smell

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The Power Of Smell: How Our Nose Can Help Us Make Healthier Choices

Researchers generally agree that between 75% and 95% of what we experience as flavor comes from our sense of smell. This makes it an integral part of our experience of food, and one we rarely think of in isolation, but understanding the power smell has over our taste can arm us with a powerful tool to make healthy food choices and handle negative patterns around eating.

Managing Food Intake

A problem many of us face, whether we’re aiming to lose weight or simply ensure that we’re eating healthy quantities of wholesome foods, is portion control. Taking smaller bites of our food leads to an earlier onset of satiety, and research suggests that strong aromas encourage us to take smaller bites. A study led by Dr Rene A de Wijk found that stronger aromas are associated with a 5%-10% decrease in the amount of food we take in per bite, which has strong implications for those wishing to decrease their portion size. Studies have also been conducted on the link between scent and food cravings, finding that associating a specific aroma with the desire to eat less can reduce cravings for unhealthy desserts. In this case, simply lighting a vanilla scented candle could reduce the chances of us caving in and opting to eat an unhealthy snack that our body doesn’t really need.

Enhancing Flavor

When you taste what you’re eating properly, you’re more likely to reach satiety and avoid seeking out sweet snacks laden with artificial ingredients. Highly processed foods create chemical responses in our bodies that leave us craving them, and more often than not, these aren’t the healthiest choices we could be making, often brimming with sugar, salt and fat. Scientists are currently working on combining scent with healthy foods to create the illusion of the palatable snack foods we’re used to without the negative impact on our health. This idea can also be utilized in the home to incorporate healthy ingredients that we may be less attracted to into our cooking: simply adding your favorite spices, for example, can create an aroma that will entice you to eat a vegetable-heavy meal you might otherwise have avoided. Likewise, toasting sesame seeds or coconut to top a healthy meal will release aromatic oils to make your food more appealing.

Trick Of The Mind

Similarly, we can use scent to trick our brains into believing that what we’re eating has different properties to the ones it actually does. In a study conducted by Thierry Thomas-Danguin, subjects reported tasting more salt in a flan laced with the aroma of ham. This has huge implications for those who wish to reduce the amount of salt or sugar in their diet without compromising on flavor. Simply immersing ourselves in the scent of a flavor can make us feel like we’ve sated the urge to consume it. While researchers are still working on how this phenomenon can be incorporated in the foods we buy, we can benefit at home by using essential oils and candles to fragrance our surroundings and satisfy the desire for some flavors.

Taste and smell are intrinsically linked. Understanding how they work together helps us to better understand flavor, and how we can use it as the scaffolding for a nutritious diet and a healthy relationship with food.


Article by Jennifer Dawson


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