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The Very Smell of Olive Oil is Good for You


The smell of virgin olive oil may signal the Mediterranean diet to you — and  it could also be key, improbable as it may sound, to weight  loss. Researchers at the German Research Center for Food Chemistry have found what  seems to be another health benefit of olive oil, already hailed for its  antioxidants and for its heart-protecting oleic acid. Extra virgin olive oil may help a person  feel satisfied thanks to its particular aroma.

Olive oil does have a distinctive scent, in part because one of its  components is a compound called hexanal, which some thinks smells like fresh-cut grass.

Dr. Malte Rubach, a nutritional scientist, and her colleagues came upon their  finding about olive oil and satiety while doing research on how four different  fats — lard, butter, olive oil and canola oil — influence feelings of fullness.  120 participants were randomly divided into five groups and instructed that they  were to eat 500 grams of yogurt every day for three months. One group, the  control group, had plain, zero-fat yogurt while those in the other four groups  ate yogurt enriched with one of the four fats. All participants were given  routine blood tests.

At the end of the three months, the group that had eaten the olive oil yogurt  had the greatest increases in blood levels of serotonin, a hormone associated  with satiety. In addition, those in this group had, for the most part, lowered  their caloric intake to take the extra daily yogurt into account and had not, as  a result, gained weight. Those in the butter and control groups had also not  gained weight. But those in  the canola and lard groups had as they had not cut  back on the overall calorie consumption along with the extra yogurt.

Canola oil is, like olive oil, recommended as a healthy alternative as a  cooking oil; it contains less saturated fat than other oils and also less  monosaturated fat than other oils. As canola oil has properties that are similar to that of olive  oil, Dr. Rubach and the other scientists were “particularly surprised” that  it produced such different results and concluded that something besides  nutrients in canola and olive might be leading to the different results.

They conducted a second trial, dividing participants into two groups and  having both eat zero-fat yogurt — but one group’s yogurt contained an aroma  extract with the scent of olive oil. The results are intriguing: the  participants  who ate the plain yogurt not only said they felt less satisfied  after eating it, but their serotonin levels fell. They also increased their  overall intake of food by an average of 176 calories a day.

In contrast, the participants who ate the yogurt with olive-oil flavoring ate  fewer calories from other foods and showed better responses in glucose   tolerance tests, which measure blood sugar control — variations in this leads to  sensations of hunger and satiety.

Earlier research about how we know we’re satisfied has focused on flavor and taste. It’s not just what you see on  your plate (like the amount of a food) or how your taste buds react that can affect your satiety but  unseen factors, such as aromas. How foods are packaged and labeled also plays a  part: knowing that a food is low-fat can actually lead to people compensating  and eating more, as Rubach says to the New York Times.

Could it be that it’s not yogurt in flavors reminiscent of dessert that we ought to  help ourselves to, but one that instead has the savor of a nice green salad  dressed with olive oil?

By Kristina Chew

Photo from Thinkstock


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