In a new study suggesting laziness could be tapped as a tool for healthier eating, people reached for low-calorie apple slices more often than buttery popcorn when the apples were within easier reach.
"There are the little things that we can do to just make our diets healthier, and one of them is the simple idea to just put the healthy foods closer to you and you'll find you can use your laziness to your advantage," said the lead researcher from Saint Bonaventure University in Bonaventure, New York.
For the study, the researchers selected 56 men and women who were, on average, 19 years old and in good health. Twenty were of a healthy weight, 21 were overweight and 15 were obese.
One at a time, each participant was seated at a kitchen table where a bowl of apple slices and a bowl of popcorn had been placed; one was within arms' reach and the other about twice as far away.
About a third of the participants had the apples placed closer to them, another third had the popcorn placed closer to them.
The remaining third of the participants served as a control group and sat at tables where the apples and popcorn were the same distance away.
In each case, a researcher said they had to leave the room for a few minutes to go get a questionnaire and that it was okay for the participant to eat the food while the researcher was gone.
After six minutes, the researcher returned, recorded the amounts of apple and popcorn that were eaten, and asked the participant to rate each food from 1 to 5, with 5 representing "liked a lot."
Overall, participants tended to say they preferred popcorn but those who were closer to the apples ate, on average about 1.5 ounces of apple slices, while those closer to the popcorn only ate 0.2 ounces of apple. The control group ate about 1 ounce of apple slices.
The participants closest to the apples also ate the least amount of popcorn - about 0.7 ounce, compared to 0.26 ounce for those seated closer to the popcorn, and 0.33 ounce for the control group.
"The takeaway from this is that you can set up the food environment that you and your children live in to make it easier to grab the healthiest foods," the researcher said.
The idea is that small changes can add up. For example, a person who normally reaches for an unhealthy snack five or six times per day could switch to eating fruit.
Over the course of a year, that can mean a substantially reduced energy intake and an overall healthier diet because you're eating more fruits and vegetables simply by making them more convenient and easy to reach.
Experts also advise the temptation to eat unhealthy foods by keeping them out of the house.
Source: Appetite, online February 19, 2014.
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