As a parent you’ve probably encouraged your kids to finish up a meal in order to earn a sweet treat, but if you really want to eat healthier you might want to have your dessert first. New research suggests why dessert might be good for you and, more importantly, why you should eat it before dinner instead of after.

A new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied found that indulging in dessert before a meal could actually lead to healthier eating overall. The study followed 134 university faculty, staff and graduate students who were eating lunch in the cafeteria. Each participant was offered four different dessert options over four days: a healthy choice (fresh fruit) offered in the dining display before the main and side dish options, an indulgent choice (lemon cheesecake) offered before the main dishes, fruit displayed after the main meal selections or cheesecake after the main meal.

photo: Brooke Lark via Unsplash

Nearly 70 percent of the participants who chose the cheesecake went on to choose a healthier main dish, like chicken fajitas and a side salad, instead of fried fish and French fries. Only a third of the people who selected the fruit first went on to choose a healthy main dish. Overall the people who selected the cheesecake consumed 250 fewer calories than those who picked the fruit. The results remained similar when the experiment was repeated in an off-campus online setting as well.

“If we choose something healthy first, then this gives us a license to choose something bigger later,” says Martin Reimann, an assistant professor of marketing and cognitive science at the University of Arizona and co-author of the study. “If you turn it around and choose something heavier early on, then this license is already expired.”

In other words, if you want to indulge without sacrificing your health, timing is everything.

—Shahrzad Warkentin



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