Here's a simple, but effective way to make sure you don't overdo it at the holiday dinner buffet lines this year: Help yourself to salad, vegetables, and other healthier options first, then move on to higher-calorie options at the other end of the table.
That, in short, is the upshot of new research from Cornell University that finds that two-thirds of an individual's plate is typically filled with the first three items they encounter at a buffet table.
The study of diners' food habits, by researchers Brian Wansink and Andrew Hanks, also found that when healthy foods are selected first, most eaters are less likely to pile on higher-calorie dishes later in the line.
"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," wrote the behavioral economists, in findings published in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS ONE.
For the study, the researchers offered two breakfast buffets to 124 people. In one, diners encountered healthy food like fruit, low-fat yogurt, and low-fat granola first. At the other buffet, dinners came upon high-calorie offerings such as cheesy eggs, fried potatoes, and bacon first.
The found that, regardless of the choices, diners at both buffet lines tended to load up on the first food items they encountered. What's more, 86 percent of diners took fruit when it was offered first, but only 54 percent took fruit when it was offered last. In addition, about 75 percent of diners took cheesy eggs when offered first, compared with only 29 percent who dished them up when they were offered last.
"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," said Wansink.
"There's an easy take-away here for us … always start at the healthier end of the buffet. Two-thirds of your plate will be the good stuff!"
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