When given the choice between a healthy dish or a calorie splurge most of us struggle to overcome temptation and end up opting for what we want rather than what’s good for us.
But now scientists have discovered a simple trick to make the choice much simpler – sniffing fruit.
New research shows that smelling fruity aromas before making a selection between different food can make the brain more likely to take the healthy option.
And this principle seems to work especially well when it comes to dessert.
Psychologists at the University of Bourgogne, in Dijon, France, say their findings highlight the extent to which smells influence our food choices.
The researchers say that volunteers in their experiment were unaware that they were deliberately being exposed to fruit odours.
The research, published online in journal Appetite, suggests the choices diners make have more to do with what they can smell rather than what they can see.
The study used 115 men and women aged from 18 to 50, splitting them into two groups. They told the participants they were taking part in a study looking at how people communicate while they eat.
Half of the volunteers were made to sit in a waiting room that had been sprayed with the smell of fresh pears just minutes before while the other half sat in a room that had not been sprayed.
After 15 minutes, the volunteers were taken into another room and asked to pick three courses from a buffet-style presentation.
For each course, there was the option of a dish with fruit or vegetables and another with no fruit or vegetables.
The researchers found that the pear odour had little effect on both the starter and the main choice selections, but there was a big difference when it came to desserts.
Three out of four participants who did not smell fruit before the trial opted for the unhealthy chocolate brownie, compared with less than half the ‘pear’ group.
Scientists say the results demonstrate how our appetites can be ‘primed’ by stimuli.
In a report on their findings they said: “Participants exposed to a pear odour were significantly more numerous in choosing to eat a dessert containing fruit than non-exposed participants.
“For the first time, this study provides scientific evidence that a non-consciously perceived fruity odour can influence actual food choices, guiding them toward more ‘fruity’ desserts.”