Just catching the scent of french fries may lead you to order the fattening food.

But new research shows that if you breathe it in for longer than two minutes, you’re more likely to order something much healthier.

The new study, published in the Journal of Marketing Research, finds ambient food scents can directly satisfy cravings. That’s because the brain doesn’t necessarily differentiate the source of sensory pleasure, according to researchers.

“Ambient scent can be a powerful tool to resist cravings for indulgent foods,” said lead author Dipayan Biswas, Ph.D., a marketing professor at the University of South Florida College of Business.

“In fact, subtle sensory stimuli like scents can be more effective in influencing children’s and adults’ food choices than restrictive policies.”

During the study, Biswas discovered a direct connection between the length of exposure time and whether people would indulge in treats.

To do this, he conducted a series of tests using an inconspicuous nebulizer that separately gave off the scent of healthy and unhealthy food items, such as cookies vs. strawberries or pizza vs. apples.

He found participants exposed to the smell of cookies for less than 30 seconds were more likely to want a cookie. But those exposed for longer than two minutes didn’t find the cookie desirable, and picked strawberries instead.

He had the same results when the scent of pizza and apples were tested.

Since non-indulgent foods don’t give off much of an ambient scent, they’re typically not connected with reward, and therefore have little influence on what we order, the researcher noted.

Biswas’s previous research has shown light and the volume of music impacts food choice. However, he said this the first study to prove one sense can compensate for another.

Source: University of South Florida