Craving Fatty Foods? It Could be in Your Genes!

Wednesday, 05 October 2016

According to a new study by Cambridge University, 1 in 100 people have a defect in the MC4R gene, which causes fatty food cravings and shuns sugary snacks.

The study also suggested that people with this genetic defect are also more likely to gain weight. Most people are enticed by both high-fat and high-sugar foods, but the study found that people carrying variants in gene MC4R are overly attracted to fattier foods.

This report is one of the first to display a direct link between specific genetic variants and food preferences in humans. The researchers tested lean participants, obese participants and participants who were obese due to a defect in the MC4R gene. Each participant was given a blind test all-you-can-eat buffet of chicken korma, all of which looked and tasted the same, but had either 20%, 40% or 60% of the calories made up by fat.

Researchers discovered that though there was no difference in the amount of food consumed between each group, people with defective MC4R did eat nearly double the amount of high fat korma than lean participants (95% more) and 65% more than those who were obese.

The participants were then given Eton mess, a sugary dessert made from whipped cream, broken meringue and strawberries.

As with the korma, there were three different options to choose from, with sugar providing 8%, 26% and 54% of calorific content, but a fixed fat content. The lean and obese participants both liked the high sugar Eton mess the most, but those with defective MC4R genes liked it less and ate proportionally less of the dessert in comparison to the other two groups.

The study’s authors said that their research, which was published in the Nature Communications journal, might help in understanding obesity. They said that for the 1 in 100 people, the fact that the MC4R pathway isn’t working could lead to them favouring high-fat food, without even realising it. This could contribute to their weight issue.

Professor Sadaf Farooqi from Cambridge University’s Wellcome Trust Medical Research Council Institute of Metabolic Science led the team of researchers. He said that the work shows that even tight control over the taste and appearance of food doesn’t affect the brain’s ability to detect the nutrient content.

He said that we usually eat foods that are both high-fat and high-sugar and that by testing these nutrients separately in the study, as well as testing a fairly rare group of people (those with the defective MC4R gene), the team could demonstrate specific brain pathways that modulate dietary preferences.