When eating out, dessert tends to be an afterthought. The sweet treats are usually at the end of a buffet line or on a separate menu you peruse after your dinner has been consumed. All too often we choose a high-calorie dessert regardless of what we just ate. But in a study published recently in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers found that making a high-calorie dessert selection first may have a positive impact on the rest of your food choices.
The researchers set up college cafeteria food lines that placed high-calorie and lighter dessert options at the beginning. Students who chose cheesecake for dessert tended to then select lower-calorie main and side dishes. Students who opted for fresh fruit for dessert were more likely to pick higher-calorie foods the rest of the way down the line. But when all those selections were studied, researchers found that the students who started with a high-calorie dessert averaged fewer total calories for that meal. The researchers believed that choosing the cheesecake prompted the students to compensate by selecting lighter foods afterward.
Conversely, choosing a healthier dessert may have led the students to believe that they had already made a healthy choice and didn’t need to be as mindful of calories with the rest of their selections. In a separate experiment, to gauge how foods are chosen based on state of mind, researchers gave one group of students a two-digit number to remember and another group a seven-digit number to remember right before a meal. The students with more to remember opted, on average, for higher-calorie foods from an online food delivery service. Students with less to recall generally chose lower-caloric foods. Researchers suggest being aware of factors influencing your food choices so that you can make healthy decisions every time.