When Starving, We Go Straight for Starches
You’ve had a jam-packed day and haven’t eaten in hours. When you finally sit down for a meal, you assemble a plate of lean protein, veggies, and whole grains—right?
Probably not. When people go long periods without eating, they tend to reach for high-calorie, starchy foods, like French fries, over nutritious nosh, suggests new research conducted at Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
In the study, 128 college students were assigned to one of two groups. One group fasted for 18 hours—from 6:00 PM to 12:00 PM the next day—while a second group did not fast.
After the fast, study participants in both groups were offered a buffet lunch that included a choice of two starches (dinner rolls and French fries), two sources of protein (chicken and cheese), and two vegetables (carrots and green beans). Scales in the tables measured how much of each food study participants served themselves, and video cameras monitored the order in which students ate the foods on their plates.
Of the study participants who had fasted, 75 percent started their meals with the higher-calorie buffet items— starches and protein—instead of a vegetable. The majority of non-fasters (56 percent) went for carrots or green beans first.
Researchers also noted that students took in 47 percent more calories from the first food they ate compared to the other items on their plates.
The take-away message: While it’s not routine to go 18 hours without food (unless you’re fasting for religious reasons or have surgery scheduled, of course), letting too much time pass in between meals or snacks can set you up for overeating calorie-dense foods that lack essential nutrients. Try this trick: Start your meal with a fiber-rich salad or a bowl of vegetable-based soup. Researchers at Penn State University found that this strategy can help you cut your overall calorie intake from a meal by 12 to 20 percent.
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