Is Smell a Factor in Portion Control?

Photo: Stephanie Vacher 

Have you ever heard of, or experienced, "sensory overloads?" Phenomena like these are no longer restricted to psychedelic artwork or IMAX films. WebMD's Cari Neirenberg recently discussed a study that suggests that even though you eat with your mouth, your nose may serve as a significant gauge as to how much you will eat.

In the study, ten volunteers were served vanilla custard, while the researchers rigged the setup in order to determine exactly how much the volunteers ate at one time, in addition to how much "vanilla essence" they could perceive through their noses. By picking a relatively "safe" food, the experimental design clearly avoided two traditional biases against sizes of bites, namely that people naturally eat less of unfamiliar and undesirable foods. This alone does not address the subjects' hunger, which would also be a variable. For this, it should be reasonably assumed that nobody was starving during the experiment. Through this experiment, it was determined that highly concentrated smells (as opposed to "low"-intensity aroma and none at all--the control) resulted in a five to ten percent reduction of each bite of custard.

It is widely accepted that dining experiences involve more than just taste and texture. For instance, while white tablecloths yield an aura of prestige, red drapes are said to increase customers' appetites, or at least encourage them to order and eat more aggressively. In the meantime, it is interesting to postulate how restaurants may use this new scientific finding to their advantage. Could increased ambient scents help facilitate smaller portions, which would undoubtedly help save costs? Most importantly, these are significant findings for those trying to also control their weight. If a stronger food aroma calls for smaller portions, then perhaps the more aromatic the meal, the less calories you'll ingest. Since other studies also recently found that adding extra spices to your meals can help cut risk for heart disease, this could just be another reason to eat more exotically-spiced foods. May we suggest Indian food perhaps?

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