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Salty snacks


It seems no matter what you eat for lunch, the office vending machine beckons by mid-afternoon. Push D3 for a nougat-filled chocolate candy bar, it urges. Press B5 for vanilla sandwich cookies. Enter A1 for bag of ketchup-flavoured potato chips.

What can you do to break its spell? Try quelling your cravings by distracting your nose with what Dr. Rachel Herz calls "diet aromatherapy."

Herz, a neuroscientist who teaches at Brown University and Boston College, emphasizes she's not a proponent of aromatherapy as a pharmacological intervention. In other words, she explains, perfumes and scented oils aren't going to somehow change your metabolism or the way your body functions. Rather, their effects as diet aids are psychological. They can make you stop and think before you mindlessly reach for a snack.

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Non-food odours, such as say, the familiar smell of a beloved grandmother's perfume, can get your mind off hankering for a high-calorie treat and trigger memories that put you in a different mental place, says Herz, author of the new book Why You Eat What You Eat: The Science Behind Our Relationship With Food.

Other scents, such as grapefruit, can interrupt your cravings and remind you of your dieting goals, she says.

And still other scents, such as olive oil and vanilla, can make the food you eat seem more satisfying, which can lead you consume less of it. In her book, Herz cites a study from the Top Institute of Food and Nutrition in the Netherlands, which showed participants took smaller bites of vanilla custard when they were also exposed to the scent of vanilla. A separate 2013 German study showed participants who ate low-fat yogurt that contained olive oil aroma extract, but no actual olive oil, felt less hungry and ingested fewer calories from other foods, compared with participants who were given plain yogurt, Herz noted.

Now, if only your office had a vending machine that doled out scents.

The Globe's Life reporter Dave McGinn shares what he learned over the last 6 months of eating healthy and working out The Globe and Mail
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