The Unexpected Effect Choosing Dessert Before A Meal Could Have

The concept of dessert at the end of a meal may feel like something that's ingrained in our DNA. The mix of a decadent sweet with coffee just feels like the right way to cap off a meal, but choosing that dessert before the rest of the meal might have an unexpected influence on our calorie intake.

While dessert may feel as old as time, it's actually a relatively new invention. JStor Daily notes that having sweet foods at the end of a meal only started around the 17th century. French aristocrats visiting Versailles were wooed by all sorts of out-of-season fruits and other delights that were concocted thanks to the recent availability of sugar from the New World (via Yahoo! Entertainment).

Yet eating that divine dessert is often regarded as an unhealthy choice that could lead to weight gain, diabetes, and possibly even cancer (via Time). Some researchers have found that not only letting yourself have that coveted dessert, but also choosing it at the start of the meal, may actually help you find a balance and make overall healthier food choices.

Choosing dessert first may lower overall calories consumed

A study published by the American Psychological Association was performed by collecting data on the eating habits of graduate students, faculty, and staff in a pre-arranged cafeteria scenario. Either cheesecake or fresh fruit were presented to participants at the beginning or end of the cafeteria line. The results showed that those who chose dessert first were more likely to choose a lighter lunch than those who chose their dessert at the end. On top of that, the study found that participants who opted for the indulgent cheesecake chose more low-calorie entrees as their main course. Participants who chose cheesecake before a meal often consumed roughly 250 calories less than their counterparts.

This led researchers to conclude that by deciding on a rich, calorie-heavy dessert before making decisions about the rest of the meal, it encouraged participants to eat healthier knowing that they had a decadent dessert waiting for them (via Time).

Dietitian Cynthia Sass told Eat This, Not That, that she recommends clients choose one splurge item when eating out to help manage their intake. "For example, if fries are what you're really craving, maybe you order your chicken sandwich or veggie burger wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun with a side salad or order of veggies. If dessert is what you're craving, maybe you pair it with grilled fish and double veggies, and omit the starchy side," said Sass.

So the next time you're out to eat, make sure to reach for the dessert menu first.