Food

Sniffing our favorite junk foods may be just as bad as eating them, says study

When we’re watching our weight, sometimes it seems that simply savoring a whiff of our favorite foods is a great way to get a quick fix. We can’t eat it, but at least we can smell the intoxicating flavors...and that scent is a big part of taste anyway, right?

But it turns out that seemingly harmless pastime might not be harmless after all. A study out of UC Berkeley has discovered the incredibly annoying news that smelling our food before eating it may actually lead to weight gain.

That just doesn't seem fair to us!

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Woman smelling pizza

According to the study, recently published in Cell Metabolism, our body’s sense of smell may actually be tied to a body storing or burning fat consumed.

To conduct the study, scientists divided mice into three separate groups – a control group, a group with mice which had their sense of smell temporarily disabled and a group with “super smelling ability.” All were fed a high-fat diet but researchers found that the mice that could not smell the food did not gain nearly as much weight as those with the superior sense of smell — even though they were fed the exact same diet. And, when the mice that gained the most weight had their sense of smell disabled, they lost all the weight, even though they kept eating the fattening food.

Delicious smelling food certainly has the power to adjust eating patterns. That appetizing smell wafting out of a bakery has the tendency to lure us in for a cookie that we might not have went for otherwise. “Often patients who lose their sense of smell due to stroke or as a result of a chronic disease such as Parkinson's will also lose their desire to eat,” Alix Turoff, MS, RD, CDN of Top Balance Nutrition in New York City told TODAY Food.

But this study is different. “I always take caution when applying research from mice studies to a human population because, after all, we're not mice. That said, it's an interesting hypothesis that with all other factors remaining equal, that the mouse who lost his ability to smell (from manipulation by scientists) also did not seem to use food calories in the same way as the mouse that still had his ability to smell."

"What this proposes is that by taking away sense of smell, we might not use or store food in the same way that we do with our olfactory senses intact,” says Turoff. “It seems that once the olfactory neurons were destroyed in the mouse, the mouse began to burn more calories by rewiring their nervous system [to turn beige fat cells into brown fat cells]."

The nutitionist explained that brown fat cells burn fat at a higher rate, so essentially, the mice without the ability to smell "became fat burning machines."

So the real question now is, how do we as humans disable that sense of smell? Seasonal colds for weight loss, anyone?

“This is still in the research stage and if something like this was to be a solution for obesity in humans, we'd first have to see if these results translate into humans. At that point, this type of thing would probably only be a sensible option for the most extreme cases,” says Turoff.

A small comfort: Since, as Turoff says, this study was conducted on mice, and not carb-loving humans, we might not want to take the results to heart just yet.

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