Scientists at the University of Cambridge have discovered that some people are carrying a mutation that makes it difficult to resist fatty foods, even if a low-fat version that tastes very similar is available.
Those who participated in this study were treated to an all-you-can eat buffet complete with dessert, all in the name of science. Fifty-four people were invited to an all-you-can eat korma chicken buffet, and ten of those who were invited were confirmed to carry the MC4R gene, which was thought to make people prefer fatty versions of foods.
The participants were given the option to try three curries, all of which tasted very similar. However, the three curries all had varying fat and caloric content, but participants were unaware of which curry was which.
After the initial tasting, they were invited to help themselves to the curry of their choosing. Researchers noted which people went for which dish.
In the second phase, the participants were given the option to try three different versions of the popular British dessert, an Eton mess (a mixture of whipped cream, strawberries and meringue).
The three versions of the Eton mess contained 8% sugar, 26% sugar and 54% sugar. Again, after a round of tasting the dessert, the participants were free to choose which dish they wanted to consume.
Researchers discovered that those with the MC4R gene mutation ate almost double the amount of the high fat chicken korma than those who were at a normal weight who did not have the MC4R gene mutation.
They also ate 65% more than the obese individuals participating who also did not have the MC4R mutation.
As for the Eton mess, those with the MC4R mutation were not as interested in the high sugar content as the overweight and obese individuals in the group. In fact, they ate even less of the dessert than anyone else participating, showing that the mutation equals cravings for fat, not sugar.
Professor Sadaf Farooqi from the Wellcome Trust–Medical Research Council Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge said of the research:
“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.”
According to researchers, about 1% of obese people carry the MC4R gene, which may be responsible for their weight gain. However the gene is not responsible for the current obesity epidemic.