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Buffet Lines Could Promote Healthy Eating

Update Date: Nov 07, 2013 03:48 PM EST

When people enter buffets, the endless amount of food they can consume might not be the healthiest thing for their bodies. However, according to a new study, going to a buffet does not have to lead to an expanding waistline. This study found that if foods are lined up with the healthier options at the beginning, people are more likely to make better diet choices.

"Each food taken may partly determine what other foods a person selects. In this way, the first food a person selects triggers what they take next," explained behavioral economists Professor Brian Wansink and Andrew Hanks according to Medical Xpress. Hanks is also a postdoctoral researchers.

For this study, the research team recruited 124 people to eat from one of two breakfast buffets. In the first buffet, the participants saw healthy food options, such as low-fat yogurt and granola, and fruits first. In the other buffet, the diners encountered high-calorie foods first, such as fried potatoes, bacon and cheesy eggs. The researchers discovered that people were more likely to take the foods they saw first. These foods made up the majority of the calories that people ended up eating.

The researchers calculated that 86 percent of the people in the healthy buffet line took fruit when it was offered to them first. In the other buffet, 75 percent of the people took the cheesy eggs when that was offered first. When the cheesy eggs were offered toward the end of the buffet line, only 29 percent of the diners took them.

"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," Wansink said. "Placing less-healthful foods first all but encourages diners to select the next two calorically dense and highly delicious potatoes and bacon."

The researchers reasoned that if people, who wanted to lose weight or maintain a healthy one, started their own buffet lines at healthier options, they could successfully consume better foods and avoid high-caloric options. College dining halls that use buffets could also influence student's diets by placing healthier options at the beginning of the line.

This study was published in PLOS ONE.

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