Between odours and overeating : behavioural and neurobiological mechanisms of olfactory food-cue reactivity

Harriët F.A. Zoon

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU

Abstract

The obesogenic environment we live in is characterized by an abundance of available foods and food cues that tempt us to eat. Throughout our lives we learn to associate these food cues (odours, pictures) with physiological consequences of food consumption. The sense of smell is suggested to be very important for determining food quality, guiding us away from spoilt food and towards rewarding foods. Increased sensitivity to environmental cues of rewarding food, decreased sensitivity to physiological cues of hunger and a decreased ability to control impulses are thought to contribute to overeating and obesity. With the research in this thesis we aimed to elucidate the role of odours in (over)eating, to better understand how sensory food cues and hunger feelings are involved in determining our eating pattern.

We assessed the appetizing effects of exposure to odours signalling food with a certain taste (sweet/savoury) and energy density (high/low). Our findings show that smelling a food odour increases appetite for foods that are similar to the odour, both in terms of taste and energy density. These appetizing effects were present when participants were hungry but also when they had just eaten, indicating a possible role in overeating.

Further, consumption of a high-energy food with a certain taste (sweet/savoury) led to a decrease in liking and wanting of foods with a similar taste and energy density. Next to this, we observed more pronounced changes in early neural processing of pictures of high-energy/sweet food after consumption of a high-energy/sweet meal.

Food preferences and -intake after ambient exposure to odours signalling high-energy food, low-energy food and non-food were not different. Odours did not affect these measures of eating behaviour differently in a hungry or satiated state and in normal-weight or overweight participants.

In a group of patients who underwent Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass weight-loss surgery, we found a shift in food preferences away from high-fat/high-sugar and towards low-fat/low-sugar foods and altered activation in the frontoparietal neural network during (food) cue processing. After compared to before surgery we also found altered prefrontal neural responses when patients inhibited their responses to pictures of high-energy food. These results suggest that RYGB leads to changes in cognitive control of attention and increased neural inhibitory control over behavioural responses.

In conclusion, odours have a specific appetizing function in the anticipatory phase of eating. They are important in determining the taste quality and energy-density and may be involved in the selection of foods for macronutrient regulation. Orthonasal odours should be used to guide food selection towards a healthier eating pattern.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • de Graaf, Kees, Promotor
  • Boesveldt, Sanne, Co-promotor
Award date7 Jul 2017
Place of PublicationWageningen
Publisher
Print ISBNs9789463431675
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Keywords

  • odours
  • overeating
  • neurobiology
  • feeding behaviour
  • olfactory stimulation
  • obesity
  • appetite
  • overweight
  • gastric bypass
  • satiety

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