Study: The key to your balanced diet may be the sense of your smell

The key to your balanced diet may be the sense of your smell

The key to your balanced diet may be the sense of your smell

As you walk past a bakery around the corner, you may be drawn in by the fresh smell of candy that emanates from your front door. You're not alone: ​​knowing that people make decisions based on their nose has led big brands like Cinnabon and Panera Bread to add the smell of baked goods to their restaurants, resulting in a dramatic increase in sales. But the foods you ate right in front of the bakery could reduce your chances of getting a sweet treat - and not just because you are full, according to a new study.

Northwestern University scientists found that the last meal made people less sensitive to the smell of food. So if you nibble on a colleague's pastries before taking a stroll, you won't be able to get past this fragrant bakery anytime soon.

The study, "Olfactory perceptual decision-making is biased by motivational state," will be published August 26 in the journal PLOS Biology.

The study found that participants who had just eaten a cinnamon bread or pizza meal were less likely to experience “meal-related” smells, but not unusual smells. The results were then confirmed by brain scans, which showed brain activity changed similarly in the parts of the brain that process odor.

The feedback loop between food intake and the olfactory system could have an evolutionary advantage, said Thorsten Kahnt, lead author and study correspondent, assistant professor of neurology and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine from Northwestern University.

"If you think about our ancestors roaming the forest trying to find food, they find and eat berries and then aren't as sensitive to the smell of berries anymore," Kahnt said. "But maybe they're still sensitive to the smell of mushrooms, so it could theoretically help facilitate diversity in food and nutrient intake."


Kahnt said that while we don't see a hunter-gatherer adaptation in everyday decision-making, the connection between our noses, what we're looking for and what we can see with our noses can still be very important. . For example, when the nose is not functioning properly, the feedback loop can break, resulting in disordered eating and obesity. There may even be links to sleep disturbance, another link to the olfactory system the Kahnt lab is studying.

Using brain imaging, behavioral testing and non-invasive brain stimulation, the Kahnt lab studies how smell stimulates learning and appetite behavior, particularly in relation to psychiatric disorders such as obesity, drug addiction and dementia. In a previous study, the team found that the brain's response to odors is altered in sleep-deprived participants and wanted to know if and how food intake changes our ability to perceive food odors.

 According to Laura Shanahan, a postdoctoral fellow at the Kahnt Lab and first and co-author of the study, very little research has been done on how various factors affect the perception of smells."There's some research on odor pleasantness," Shanahan said, "but our work focuses in on how sensitive you are to these odors in different states."

To conduct the study, the team developed a new task in which participants were presented with a scent that was a mixture of a food scent and a non-food scent (either "pizza and pine" or "bread toast". Cinnamon and cedar ") - Fragrances that "go well together" and are different from each other) The ratio of food and non-food odors in each mixture varied from pure food to pure non-food. After the presentation of a mixture, the participants were asked whether the odor was of food or non-food predominates.

Participants performed the task twice in an MRI machine: first when they were hungry and then after eating a meal that matched one of the two scents.
"In parallel with the first part of the experiment running in the MRI scanner, I was preparing the meal in another room," Shanahan said. "We wanted everything fresh and ready and warm because we wanted the participant to eat as much as they could until they were very full."
The team then calculated the amount of food scent needed in the mix for each session so that the participant perceived the food scent as dominant. The team found that when participants were hungry, they needed a weaker food smell in a mixture to be considered dominant for cinnamon buns.

In brain imaging, the team provided additional evidence for the hypothesis. Brain MRI showed a parallel change in the part of the brain that processes odor after a meal. The brain's response to an appropriate odor while eating was “eating” less than it was when it responded to an appropriate odor while eating.
The results of this research allow Kahnt's laboratory to carry out more complex projects. Kahnt said that with a better understanding of the feedback loop between smell and food intake, he hopes to trace the project back to sleep deprivation to see if sleep deprivation can somehow change the loop. . He added that with brain imaging, there are more questions about how adaptation can affect sensory and decision circuits in the brain.

"After the meal, the olfactory cortex didn't represent meal-matched food odors as much as food anymore, so the adaptation seems to be happening relatively early on in processing," Kahnt said. "We're following up on how that information is changed and how the altered information is used by the rest of the brain to make decisions about food intake."

Story Source:
Materials provided by Northwestern University. Original written by Lila Reynolds. Note: Content may be edited for style and length

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