The research: Authors asked study participants to order food from menus similar to those found at well-known chain restaurants. Some picked from menus containing traditional lists (e.g. “seafood,” “pasta,” “meat entrées,” etc.) with no calorie information listed. Another group ordered from the same menu but with calories listed by each dish. And a third group ordered from menus with low-calorie dishes grouped together in a separate “low-calorie” section. Surprisingly, people who ordered from the traditional menu without calorie information ordered similarly to those who made selections from the menu with the low-calorie section. Those who ordered from the calorie-labeled menu (not grouped) ordered meals with fewest calories overall. (Do you know that the average person eats 580 calories a day in snacks? Click here for 16 Ways To Curb Mindless Munching.)
What it means: As part of our brain's natural decision-making process, we may eliminate the low-calorie menu to simplify our decision when looking at a large restaurant menu, says one of the study's authors Jeffrey R. Parker, an assistant professor of marketing. "Negative associations with ‘low-calorie’ dishes tend to make it easy to eliminate this category. In contrast, low-calorie dishes in their natural categories can’t be easily dismissed in the early choice-simplification stage."
The bottom line: Parker notes that other studies have found that the negative effects of the low-calorie category goes away when people take longer to decide. "So it might be in your best interest to send the waiter away for a few minutes before placing your order,” says Parker. "Don't let your mind trick you into picking something high-calorie.” (Find out how restaurants use some sneaky tricks to try and get you to eat more. Here's how to not get duped.)