Can the Smell of Bananas Help You Lose Weight?

Posted on 01 Mar 2015 21:48

By Eric Troy

According the a 'slideshow' at Livestrong, yes, the smell of bananas can help you lose weight.1 How? By "tricking" your brain into thinking you've eaten the bananas. What is the source of this factoid? The source seems to be a study carried out in 1995, as far as I can tell, since, of course, there were no citations given. The study, called Weight Reduction Through Inhalation of Odorants was carried out by the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, Illinois.2 As far as I have been able to determine, there have been no applicable follow-up studies, although they may well exist. Does the study conclude that smelling bananas will help you lose weight?

No, not exactly. This kind of reporting is typical of articles that want to get you to share them because of the "oh, my" effect. You say, "oh, my, I can lose weight by smelling bananas?" Click! But, the study does not prove, in any way, that simply inhaling the aroma of a banana will significantly impact your weight loss efforts. You can read it for yourself.

First, the study was not trying to determine whether smelling bananas would help people lose weight. The purpose of the study was to investigate the whether inhaling certain sweet aromas would help with weight loss in overweight people. The scent of banana was one of these sweet aromas.

Look at the abstract, real quick. Here, we see that the subjects involved in the smell experiment were given inhalers loaded with odorants. What is an odorant? An odorant is a substance with a distinctive smell. Bananas have a distinctive smell, don't they? It's a great smell. There is a chemical that we might call an "aroma compound" in bananas that is responsible, primarily, for this smell. What is the compound in bananas that is responsible for their smell?


Can smelling bananas help you lose weight, or should you just eat them?

For weight loss, you're probably better off
choosing a banana as a snack, rather than
just smelling one.


Chemical in Bananas That Gives Them Their Smell

The main aroma compound in bananas is isopentyl acetate. However, there are other chemicals that also contribute to the overall smell.3

Now, look at the section of the study called Materials and Methods. Were the subjects given bananas to sniff? Perhaps they were given bananas and other fruits to sniff.

The Study Procedures

Under "procedure" the authors report that the subjects were told not to deviate from their usual diet and exercise habits and each month, for a period of six months, they were given new inhalers containing an aromatic blend of peppermint, banana, and green apples. Then they were weighed monthly.

The inhaler aromas sound like they smelled great. As you can guess, though, inhalers packed with concentrated aroma compounds, only some of which are from bananas, is a bit different from sniffing a banana. Indeed, the authors were NOT trying to determine if sniffing a bowl of fruit would immediately suppress your appetite and cause you to "think" you had eaten, let alone whether sniffing a banana would do the same. The subjects used the inhalers three times a day, with three sniffs in each nostril, up to 48 times a day. This means they used 18 to 288 sniffs a day! That's a lot of sniffing of a concentrated compound. Not a fruit. Also, the smell of peppermint is much stronger to the human nose than any fruit.

According the the study, among those who were good at smelling the compounds, there was some moderate weight loss, and average of 4.7 pounds or 2.1% of weight. However, there were, of course, other things going on which correlated with weight loss, such as eating fewer chocolate bars, more apples, and more mint candies, etc. Those who had poorer olfactory abilities did not lose weight. You should read the details of the study for yourself, but what the authors supposedly determined was that inhaling certain aromas, presumably through inhaler devices, might assist individuals with good olfaction in losing weight. How generalizable this is, and just who it may help and not help, is questionable. Keep in mind that the smell of a banana, as I explained above, is determined by not just one main compound, but by some other typical chemicals that also contribute. One banana, then, will not smell just like another, and, of course, not all bananas will have a strong scent. In other words, using bananas odor to lose weight, even if it helped a little, would be a hit hard to regulate. The study itself only lasted six months, and there is no telling whether the participants were able to keep the weight off.

Can Smelling Bananas Help You Lose Weight?

Does sniffing a banana trick your brain into thinking you've eaten? There is no evidence to support this assertion. Does sniffing bananas help you lose weight? There also is no evidence to support this conclusion. There is no study, or evidence, to my knowledge, that suggests that the smell of a banana, alone, used in any way, will assist in weight loss. The study in question has been misreported in the typical internet fashion by individuals looking for provocative "facts" to share. Even if there was a study that suggested that smelling bananas might be a weight loss aid, this would be a long way from being a fact. The idea, as reported in the article, that just smelling a banana will immediately suppress your appetite to the extent you'll feel like you've eaten, is ridiculous.

Indeed, the slideshow article reports in the heading that smelling bananas may suppress your appetite, and then reports the results of the misquoted study as if this is a fact. Something that may be true should not be reported as a fact, and in fact, it is not even close to being a fact. The article is a mixture of 'facts' which only may be true, and other facts that aren't all that surprising at all. You might be interested in reading some actual little known but surprising bananas facts here.

What About Scent-Based Weight Loss Products?

The work of Hirsch has been cited as evidence that sniffing bananas will help you lose weight in many articles, not just the Livestrong article I mentioned. And, there are several aroma-based products on the market which claim to assist in weight loss. Aroma Patch and SlimScents both point to the above study as evidence for their effectiveness. Of course, that evidence is slim to none. As for Hirsch, the primary author of the study examined here, he came out with his own product. Something tells me that he had this intention all along, what about you? The product was called Sensa, and it was powder additive you sprinkled on your food. This product was pulled from the market after Hirsch was fined by the FTC for making false claims of effectiveness. So much for banana sniffing fat loss.

Sources
1. Brooking, Katherine. "16 Surprising Facts About Bananas." LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 16 Apr. 2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2015. <http://www.livestrong.com/slideshow/1003180-16-surprising-bananas/>.
2. HIRSCH, A. R., and R. Gomez. "Weight Reduction Through Inhalation of Odorants." J Neurol Orthop Med SufI 16 (n.d.): 28-31. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.
3. Belitz, H.-D, W. Grosch, and Peter Schieberle. Food Chemistry. Berlin: Springer, 2009.

Banana image © LukaTDB


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Last updated 20 Jul 2016 05:55

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