The Connection Between Scent, Food, and Satisfaction

Can your sense of smell play a role in the amount of food you eat-and whether you gain weight if you eat those foods?

Scent and Satisfaction

There are many reasons why we eat the way we do. One strong eating trigger is the smell of food: research suggests that the more aroma a food has, the more flavorful it is perceived to be—and an intense aroma may suggest that just a small bite of that food will be satisfying.

Generally, the amount and type of calories in a given portion of food are thought to be responsible for how full that food makes you feel. And if you're not satisfied by the food you eat, you are likely to overeat later in the day, or even the next day. You may end up overeating, even as you attempt to eat lower-calorie foods and cut back on the amount of food you eat overall.

Studies on Scent and Food

According to a recent study in the journal Flavor, the decision to eat more or less occurs within seconds of lifting a spoonful of food to your mouth. When researchers observed participants eating custard while being exposed to various concentrations of aroma, they found that the more aroma present, the smaller the bite taken. With more aroma, the custard may have been perceived as richer and creamier, the researchers concluded, and the participants intuitively regulated the taste sensation they got from the food by balancing bite size with perceived creaminess.

Another study, performed at The German Research Center for Food Chemistry, found that people who ate food enhanced with the aroma of olive oil once a day ate less overall than participants who ate the same food enhanced with the aroma of canola oil, lard, or butter once a day. The olive oil group reported feeling fuller and had the highest blood levels of serotonin, a hormone that signals feelings fullness in your body.

While the research is interesting, "What happens short-term in one or two small studies has no demonstrated meaning in the context of long-term weight control," says Dr. Mark Friedman of the Monell Chemical Senses Center. So although studies like these may someday help experts identify non-caloric compounds in food that may assist in weight control, more research is needed to determine what role, if any, the sense of smell plays in weight control.

Mark I. Friedman, PhD, reviewed this article.



Mark I. Friedman, Ph.D.
Director, Technology Transfer
Monell Chemical Senses Center
Phildelphia, PA

De Wick R, et al. "Food Aroma Affects Bite Size." Flavour 2012 1:3. doi:10.1186/2044-7248-1-3. Web. 2013 Apr.

Research in Germany. How Oils and Fats Regulate Feeling of Satiety. Web. 15 March 2013.,sourcePageId=8240.html