Start at the Healthier End of the Buffet

First three food items seen will comprise 66 percent of your total plate, researcher says

THURSDAY, Nov. 21, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Putting healthier foods at the start of a buffet table can help diners pass up more fattening fare, according to a new study.

Researchers found that when healthy foods are seen first, people are more likely to select them and less likely to crave higher-calorie foods that may be farther down the buffet line.

"Each food taken may partly determine what other foods a person selects," the researchers said. "In this way, the first food a person selects triggers what they take next."

For the study, published recently in the journal PLoS One, the researchers provided two breakfast buffets to 124 people. In the first buffet, the participants encountered healthy foods, such as fruit, low-fat yogurt and low-fat granola, first. In the second buffet, high-calorie foods, such as cheesy eggs, fried potatoes and bacon, were at the start of the line.

The study revealed that when healthy foods were offered first, 86 percent of the diners selected fruit. But when more fattening foods were seen first, only 54 percent took the fruit. Similarly, when high-calorie foods were at the front of the buffet line, 75 percent of the participants chose cheesy eggs, compared to 29 percent of those on the healthy buffet line.

"The first three food items a person encountered in the buffet comprised 66 percent of their total plate, regardless of whether the items were high- or low-calorie foods," behavioral economist Brian Wansink, of Cornell University, said in a university news release.

The order of foods in a buffet played a role in what the participants chose to add to their plate, said the researchers, who dubbed this a "trigger effect."

"There's an easy take-away for us: Always start at the healthier end of the buffet," Wansink said. "Two-thirds of your plate will be the good stuff."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on healthy eating.

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