It may be romantic and relaxing, but dimly lit restaurants may be causing your poor eating habits, says a new study.
While some research has shown that eating in a darker room can encourage slower eating and a reduction in overall calorie consumption, new research published in the forthcoming Journal of Marketing Research says if you want to order the healthiest food, do it in the brightest restaurant.
The researchers looked at the eating habits of 160 people at four casual chain restaurants and then replicated the findings with another 700 college-aged students. The subjects were either seated in a bright or a dimly lit room. Those who were in the brighter rooms were more likely to order the healthier food choices—about 16 to 24 percent more likely than those situated in the darker rooms. The subjects were more likely to order grilled and baked fish, and more vegetable-focused meals in the brighter room and avoided fried foods and sweets.
The subjects in the dimly lit rooms, though, ordered on average 39 percent more calories than the people in the bright rooms.
"We feel more alert in brighter rooms and therefore tend to make more healthful, forward-thinking decisions," says lead author Dipayan Biswas, PhD, University of South Florida.
Dim lighting isn't all bad, and it certainly helps if the restaurant's menu offers healthy dishes in the first place. But there appears to be a rather simple workaround to having the best of both worlds.
It seemed alertness was the key in making the healthy food choices. “[W]hen diners' alertness was increased with the use of a caffeine placebo or by simply giving a prompt to be alert,” reports ScienceDaily, “those in dimly lit rooms were just as likely as their peers in brightly lit rooms to make more healthful food choices.”
So much for ambience. Turn the lights way up, and pass the salad (and coffee).
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