News Flash: A Trick for Resisting Junk Food and a Diet That Saves the Planet and Your Health

Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we look at a way to make junk food less tempting and a diet that could help the planet and prevent disease.

Could smelling fries keep you from eating them?

Just catching a whiff of fries, pizza or cookies is enough to make you want to order them, even if you’re not particularly hungry. Ask anyone who has walked by a mall food court.

But new research published in the Journal of Marketing Research and covered by Time Health found that if you actually lean into that scent—basking in the aroma for at least two minutes—you’re more likely to make a healthy food choice.

In a series of experiments, researchers pumped scents into a variety of environments, including a middle school cafeteria, grocery store and laboratory.

When the pizza scent was released into a cafeteria that served 900 students, for example, 21 percent of food purchases that day were unhealthy items such as hot dogs, chips and fried chicken. When an apple scent was released on another day, nearly 40 percent of the meals purchased were unhealthy, slightly more than the roughly 36 percent purchased on the scent-free control day.

The trick seems to be smelling it long enough to push through your initial craving. That was demonstrated in the lab when researchers exposed people to either cookie or strawberry scents for different amounts of time and then asked which food they’d be more likely to choose.

Almost 45 percent of those exposed to the cookie scent for less than 30 seconds said they would choose cookies over berries, but only 22 percent exposed for longer than two minutes opted for the sugary treat.

The bottom line was that scents can spur cravings initially, but over time, they also can be enough to satisfy them. So try hitting pause for a couple of minutes the next time you’re tempted.

Could the planetary diet save lives and the planet?

If more people adopted a healthy flexitarian diet, it would not only save millions of lives, but it also could help prevent catastrophic environmental damage, according to a landmark study published in The Lancet and summarized on AJC.

Our current food production and consumption habits are poised to “exacerbate risks to people and planet,” the 37 scientists writing the global study found. But if we make a radical change to our diets—doubling our vegetable, fruit and nut consumption and cutting sugar and red meat in half—we could potentially prevent up to 11.6 million avoidable deaths a year, and help preserve the planet.

That’s because the current patterns of global food production are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions (think meat) as well as a drain on fresh water, in addition to causing dead zones in lakes and rivers and biodiversity loss. And as you probably already know, unhealthy diets are a leading risk factor for a number of diseases from diabetes to heart disease to cancer.

“To have any chance of feeding 10 billion people in 2050 within planetary boundaries, we must adopt a healthy diet, slash food waste and invest in technologies that reduce environmental impacts,” co-author Johan Rockstrom of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Impact Research told

To solve for both health and sustainability and help meet the targets of the Paris Agreement, the 37 scientists on the EAT-Lancet commission created the “planetary health diet” to guide governments and producers in creating better food systems and policies.

And while this doesn’t mean going totally vegan in the name of fewer emissions, it does entail learning to love protein other than meat, such as beans and nuts, and filling your plate with a lot more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. You can read more about the study and what the diet allows each day on AJC and in The Lancet.

Photo credit: Stephanie McCabe, Unsplash