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“Food preferences altered by specific brain pathways”

October 10, 2016 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ General Information,Health and Wellness,News Information,Shopping and Stores

Scientists reveal how particular brain pathways can influence food choices through a study of individuals that carry defects in a gene that is associated with obesity. The study – led by the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom – provides insight into what guides our preference for certain foods and identifies a direct link between food selection and specific gene variants.

Understanding the science behind food choice may increase knowledge of obesity and consequently assist with strategies to decrease the global obesity burden that affects more than 600 million people worldwide.

The development of food preferences begins early in humans, even before birth, and what people like and dislike changes into adulthood. Many determinants affect food choice. While hunger is a key element, what individuals choose to eat is not determined just by physiological and nutritional needs.

Factors that may influence food choice include aspects that tantalize the senses, such as taste, appearance, smell, and texture, as well as more subtle economic, physical, social, and psychological elements. New research published in the journal Nature Communications indicates that biology may also play a role.

Previous research has shown that a defect in the melanocortin 4 receptor (MC4R) gene causes obesity. Research suggests that 1 in 100 obese people have the defect, which makes them more likely to gain weight. In mouse studies, the MC4R gene variant has been shown to induce obesity as a result of disrupting a particular pathway in the brain that leads to mice eating considerably more fat.

While the mice with the gene defect were found to eat more fat, they ate significantly less sugar. The University of Cambridge study adds to these findings by revealing the relevance of this high-fat, low-sugar eating behavior.

Assessing how MC4R gene variant affects food preferences

The new research observed people’s preference for high-fat and high-sugar foods by providing participants with an all-you-can-eat buffet of chicken korma curry with a dessert of Eton mess (a mixture of strawberries, whipped cream, and crushed meringue).

Three korma curry options were provided that were manipulated to look and taste the same; however, the fat content in each varied. Fat content across the choices provided 20 percent (low), 40 percent (medium), and 60 percent (high) of the calories.

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