Is ‘Smellvertising’ Sabotaging Your Diet?

Bacon frying. Buttery popcorn. Warm brownies fresh from the oven. Many a healthy eating pledge has flown out the window at first whiff of one of these mouthwatering aromas. Of course, we saw — or rather, smelled — it coming.

But what about other, sneakier ways our sniffers might be leading us to indulge?

Thanks to “smellvertising” and other nosey ploys — from artificial aromas that make us think a food is nutritious, to scents that trigger subconscious cravings (the toughest kind to resist, experts say) — companies are increasingly recruiting our nostrils to get us unwittingly hooked on not-so-healthy foods.

Here’s how.

Smells permeate our primitive brain.

Smells have a funny way of wafting under the conscious radar. Unlike our other senses, the olfactory system is closely linked to the brain’s centers for emotion and memory, and smells head straight there instead of being processed via the thalamus (that conscious radar), according to the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a Philadelphia-based non-profit that researches taste and smell.

Thus, with scents, we process first, and think second. And by the time we think, smells have already saturated our emotional brain — the strongest influencer of what we decide to buy, or eat, says Martin Lindstrom, who authored Buyology.

With the nose apparently having a mind of its own, you can imagine how smells can wreak havoc when we’re trying to be choosy about what we eat. But seductive scents, in themselves, aren’t necessarily bad for us: garlic, cinnamon, butter, coffee, bread, chocolate, peanut butter, and vanilla are rated among the most tempting. It’s when these scents waft from every bakery and burger joint that we can get into trouble. And our favorite smells are increasingly canned—added artificially to food, packaging, and even the air.

Continue reading at U.S. News Eat + Run blog…


I’m a health writer and graduate student. I'm interested in the wily side of health – self sabotage, persuasion, and why health campaigns so often manage to inadvertently piss people off.

View all posts by

2 thoughts on “Is ‘Smellvertising’ Sabotaging Your Diet?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *