To cut calories overall, pick dessert first

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Choosing an indulgent dessert at the start of your meal may lead you to pick healthier meal options, according to new research.

Researchers conducted four experiments, both in a cafeteria and on a mock food-delivery website, to see if choosing a healthy or unhealthy dessert at the beginning of a meal would influence participants’ main and side dish selections.

The researchers placed indulgent desserts, such as lemon cheesecake, and healthy desserts, such as fresh fruit, at the beginning of a university cafeteria line or as the first option on a website. The meals had a fixed-price so cost of the desserts wasn’t a factor.

Diners consumed an average of 30% fewer calories when they chose the indulgent dessert first.

Researchers found that diners who chose indulgent desserts would then chose lower-calorie main or side dishes and consume fewer calories than diners who chose healthier desserts.

“We believe diners who chose the indulgent dessert first picked healthier main and side dishes to make up for their high-calorie dessert,” says Martin Reimann, assistant professor of marketing in the University of Arizona Eller College of Management.

“Diners who picked the healthier dessert may have thought they already had done a good deed for their bodies so they deserved higher-calorie food farther down the cafeteria line.”

Diners consumed an average of 30 percent fewer calories when they chose the indulgent dessert first.

The result was not consistent with individuals who had a lot on their minds. If a participant was distracted, they chose the indulgent dessert first and continued to make unhealthy choices for the rest of the meal.

“This research is the first to uncover the interaction effect of food type and food presentation order on individuals’ sequential food choices and their overall caloric intake. This work showed that, when selecting foods in a sequence, individuals are influenced by the first item they see and tend to make their subsequent food choices on the basis of this first item. This notion can be utilized to nudge individuals into consuming less food overall,” the researchers write.

The research appears in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. Additional coauthors are from the Tecnológico de Monterrey.

Source: Emma Hurley for University of Arizona