While wandering around as I always do, with my quest for finding out why I had gained some weight in the past and how to make sure I don’t fall back to my old ways after my amazing weight loss, I came across an interesting article about why some of us prefer high fat foods. The article was published in high impact scientific and medical journal, Nature Communications. It’s true that high fat foods can taste better, but, according to scientists, there is more than meet the eye and our taste buds.
So why do we do it?
According to the research led by the University of Cambridge, some of us are genetically programmed to prefer the taste of high-fat foods, which in turn increases the risk of obesity.
The research suggests that people who carry variants in a particular gene have an increased preference for high-fat food, but a decreased preference for sugary foods. Although this has been speculated and argued for many years, this recent study is one of the first to show us a direct link between food preference and specific genetic variants in humans.
The research by University of Cambridge suggests that most people find high-fat, high-sugar foods appetising. And as we all know, this can often lead to consuming more calories that our body needs, therefore causing one to gain weight.
The researchers at Cambridge carried out a test to ascertain whether a certain group of people were more drawn to unhealthy foods than other groups were. To do so, they provided 54 participants access to an all-you-can-eat buffet of chicken korma. The buffet consisted of three options of curry manipulated to look and taste the same, but in which the fat content provided 20% (low), 40% (medium) and 60% (high) of the calories.
Then they tested lean people, obese people, and people who were obese and also had a defect in a gene called MC4R.
The participants were encouraged to take a small taster of each meal, and then allowed to eat freely from the three kormas. The participants could not tell the difference between the foods and were unaware that the fat content in the meals varied.
The researchers discovered that, although there was no overall difference in the quantity of food eaten between the groups, individuals with defective MC4R ate almost twice the amount of high-fat korma than lean individuals ate (95% more) and 65% more than obese individuals without the defective gene.
In a second stage of the study, participants were given some Eton mess dessert, which is known to include a mixture of strawberries, whipped cream and broken meringue. Once again, they had made available three options from which participants could freely choose, with sugar content providing 8% (low), 26% (medium) and 54% (high) of calorific content, but with the same amount of fat content. The lean and obese individuals said they preferred the high-sugar Eton mess more than the other two desserts. However, paradoxically, individuals with defective MC4R liked the high-sugar dessert less than their lean and obese counterparts and in fact, ate significantly less of all three desserts compared to the other two groups.
“Our work shows that even if you tightly control the appearance and taste of food, our brains can detect the nutrient content. Most of the time we eat foods that are both high in fat and high in sugar. By carefully testing these nutrients separately in this study, and by testing a relatively rare group of people with the defective MC4R gene, we were able to show that specific brain pathways can modulate food preference.”
– Professor Sadaf Farooqi, from the Wellcome Trust Medical Research Council Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge, who led the research team.
The researchers said one in 100 obese people have a defect in the MC4R gene that makes them more susceptible to weight gain. The scientists at Cambridge believe that for these individuals, the fact that the MC4R pathway is not working may cause them to prefer high-fat food without realising it and therefore contribute to their weight issues. They also confirmed that there are many other genes that increase the risk of weight gain and that the impact of these genes on eating behaviour should be studied in the future.
If you want to find out more about this amazing but controversial research, you can read the full research in the Nature Communications journal.