hot chocolate, christmas cookies and pine needles

How Your Sense of Smell Enhances Taste and Supports Your Health

The holiday season is a great time to actively engage with your sense of smell. Not only are you surrounded by the ambient aromas of pine needles, crackling fires, crisp air and festive candles, but you’re also eating and drinking an assortment of flavorful foods and beverages.

And whether you’re inhaling through your nose or eating/drinking through your mouth, your sense of smell is an active participant in our perceived experiences and, consequently, our health. 

Let me explain...



There are actually two physical paths to the nose - from the outside world and from the mouth. Yup, you can sense the world from the air you breathe and the food you eat.


But here's what's really cool...

Aromas released from food in your mouth reach the nasal passages via the back of your throat and are then exhaled through the nostrils. Meaning, when you swallow your food, you're driving those aromas along the reverse path.

Hah! We actually smell our food from the inside out. Isn't that wild? 

If you're curious about the technical term, this type of smelling is called "retronasal olfaction". 


Why is this important?

Because your sense of smell is incredibly important for your overall health and quality of life. And the foods you eat are an integral part of that. 

Take ice cream, for example...

Did you know that without your sense of smell chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream flavors would all taste the same - sweet. That's all. People who don't have a sense of smell don't taste the difference between the flavors. They're all the same.

What your sense of smell provides is dimension.

It gives FLAVOR to all that you eat.

Without your sense of smell you would only be able to taste 5 basic flavors - sweet, bitter, salty, sour and umami. 

Your sense of smell allows you to experience over 10,000 flavors!  It's what makes food exciting to eat.


So, what does this all have to do with your health?

Well, when your sense of smell starts diminishing with age, or through an injury or certain health issues, you can lose weight, but you can also gain weight. 

Studies have shown that a lack of good ability to smell can cause you to lose weight because you lose your appetite and lack a desire to eat.

Aromas stimulate our appetite and get your saliva juices going. Saliva not only keeps your mouth moist and comfortable, but helps you chew, taste and swallow. It also has important enzymes that help you digest your food, helps fight germs in your mouth and prevents bad breath. 

And if that's not enough, saliva has proteins and minerals that protect tooth enamel and prevent tooth decay and gum disease. All important elements of good health. Let's hear it for saliva!

But not having a good sense of smell can also do the opposite - it can make you gain weight. 

People with poor sense of smell tend to over-salt their food because they aren't experiencing flavor. And they might eat more junk foods that are heavy in the 5 basic tastes, especially salty and sweet tastes. 

Why? Because they're lacking the experience of flavor. 

So, be mindful of your sense of smell when you eat. It's an integral part of your eating experience. 

Over the holidays, when you eat, smell your food, enjoy taking in its aromas and take pleasure in the full sensory experience.


Try this experiment during the next sit-down meal you eat (it's especially fun to try with kids):


1.  Close your eyes and take in the aromas of the food. Make mental notes of what you're smelling. Try to describe what you are smelling. Does it go beyond the 5 basic tastes? This is traditional smelling from the outside-in.

Open your eyes and take a big exhale to reset your nose.


2.  Now take a bite of your food. How does it taste? As you chew, can you smell certain flavors? Try describing what you taste. Is it different to what you smelled earlier? This is smelling from the inside-out.



3.  Now plug your nose and take another bite. How does the food taste now? Can you describe what you taste? 

Did you notice a difference? 


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