As part of the study, researchers placed either a healthy or less healthy dessert (fresh fruit vs. lemon cheesecake) at the beginning or end of a university cafeteria line. When diners picked the cheesecake first, they then chose lower-calorie main or side dishes and ultimately consumed fewer calories than diners who chose the fresh fruit first.
We believe diners who chose the indulgent dessert first then picked healthier main and side dishes to make up for their high-calorie dessert. 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 further down the cafeteria line, said Martin Reimann, lead researcher of the study.
Findings of the study were published in the 'Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied'
In the experiment, diners who chose the indulgent dessert first consumed an average of 30 percent fewer calories (including the dessert) than diners who picked the healthier dessert first. Diners who chose the cheesecake first also were twice as likely to order the lighter main dish, than diners who picked the cheesecake at the end of the line.
People should be aware that their initial food choices and their mindset may affect the overall healthiness of their meals, said Reimann.