For Healthy Eating, Scope Out the Buffet Before Grabbing a Plate

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Tis the season for feasting! Turkey, stuffing, ham, pecan pies, sweet potatoes, green bean casseroles! Yum! And oh, so quickly, your comfortable clothes can easily become embarrassingly tight.  So with the clock ticking down to the holiday festivities, let’s come up with a plan!

    Think through your trip through the buffet line before you pick up a serving spoon

    The Harvard Health Blog recommends scoping out all of the options on the buffet before serving yourself.  That’s because research has found that diners who looked over the choices in a buffet before serving themselves made fewer trips to the buffet and probably ate less. The same holds true for another recommending -- use a small plate instead of a large one when going through the buffet.

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    Then there’s a new study out of Cornell University that focused on 124 attendees at a health conference. Researchers looked at the food they selected from two breakfast buffet lines. The buffet lines, both of which included cheesy eggs, potatoes, bacon, cinnamon rolls, low-fat granola, low-fat yogurt and fruit, was reversed between the two lines. Therefore, some randomly selected participants went through a line where the healthy foods were offered first while the other participants faced unhealthy options at the start of the buffet line. Researchers recorded what foods the participants selected as they went through the line.

    Their analysis found that more than 75 percent of the attendees selected the first food they saw. Furthermore, the first three foods that an attendee saw on the buffet line made up 66 percent of all the foods on their plate. Participants who were in the line that offered the less healthy foods first took 31 percent more total food and more frequently opted less healthy foods in combination, such as cheesy eggs and bacon or cheesy eggs and fried potatoes. “Placing less-healthful foods first all but encourages diners to select the next two calorically dense and highly delicious potatoes and bacon,” said Dr. Andrew Hanks, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell.

    “First foods most,” the researchers wrote. What ends up on a buffet diner’s plate is dramatically determined by the presentation order of food.” The researchers suggest rearranging the food order to focus diners’ attention on the healthiest food choices. Furthermore, if you are a healthy-conscious diner, you should be proactive in choosing the healthier end of the line in making their choices. Furthermore, people who are hosting holiday dinners over the next few months should consider serving healthier foods first.

    Another study found that people who have a higher body mass index (BMI) who go through buffets often served themselves food instead of surveying their options. These diners also used larger plates and sat facing the buffets.
    Focus on a few favorite foods – and the fruits and vegetables
    Sutter Health California Pacific Medical Center’s Registered Dietician Greta Macaire also recommended selecting favorite foods on the buffet while skipping your least favorite foods. She also encourages diners to include a lot of vegetables and fruit to maintain a nutritionally balanced plate. Macaire recommends eating until you’re satisfied but not stuffed. Sit down and savor your food, but only eat small portions.

  • Self-limit your options

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    Susan Albers, a licensed clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic Family Health Center, points out that on any given day, a person makes about 250 food decisions.” On the holidays, this number skyrockets – from sugar cookies brought in by clients to pecan pie made by a neighbor,” she tells Elisa Zied on US News and World Report’s Eat+Run blog. She recommends simplifying choices by selecting no more than four foods that you can put on the plate. Another recommendation is mapping out all of the day’s food decisions in the morning when you’re the most alert. She also suggests having a healthy option in place that you can go to when you become overloaded with options. Keep that food easily available when you’re at a party or keep it in the refrigerator when you’re home.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Macaire, G. (nd). Tips for healthy holiday eating. Sutter Health CPMC.

    Osgood, M. (2013). Slim by buffet design. Cornell University.

    Skerrett, P. J. (2013). Survival skills for all-you-can-eat buffets. Harvard Health Blog.

    Wansink, B., et al. (2013). Slim by design: Serving healthy foods first in buffet lines improves overall meal selection. PLOS One.

    Zied, E. (2013). How to eat intelligently (and enjoyably) over the holidays. US News & World Report.

Published On: November 27, 2013