What's that smell? Why, it's new research suggesting that being exposed to a fruity scent before deciding what to eat can make you more likely to choose a healthy option—especially when it comes to dessert.
For the study, researchers from the University of Bourgogne in France divided 115 men and women into two groups and told them they were taking part in a study on how people communicate while they eat. (This was a lie—they actually wanted to look at how smells influence our food choices.) For 15 minutes before the "study," one group sat in a waiting room in which the scent of fresh pears had been diffused; the other group sat in a room that smelled like nothing. Then the volunteers went to another room, where they were asked to pick three courses from a buffet-style meal.
For each course, there was a healthy option (meaning it contained fruit or vegetables) and a not-as-healthy option (which contained no fruit or vegetables). For the starter and main course, participants were pretty much on the same page with their choices, regardless of their exposure (or lack thereof) to fruity smells. But when it came to dessert, 75 percent of the people who'd been in the scent-free room picked a chocolate brownie over apple compote. Meanwhile, less than half of the group that had been exposed to the pear scent chose the brownie.
The lesson here? According to the researchers, our appetites can be "primed" by stimuli that we may not even be aware of, possibly through the activation of neural networks. Of course, it's unclear whether knowingly taking a whiff of something that smells fruity will have the same effect since the participants in this study were unaware of their scent exposure—but it can't hurt!