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High-Fat Food Chosen by Genetics

Popcorn and crisps in white bowls

A new study suggest that some people choose high-fat foods because of their genetics.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge discovered that genes may put certain people at higher risk of obesity.

A Fat Study

The research involved 54 volunteers, each of whom were assessed according to their genetics in order to try to build a profile of the link between genes and fatty food.

burgers in buns with cheese and bacon

They were allowed to eat as much chicken korma as they liked, followed by a dessert similar to an Eton Mess, in this study. There were three versions of each dish, each of them as identical as possible, but one had low fat, one medium fat, and one was high in fat. Researchers found that those who chose to eat more of the fatty foods, and who showed more of a liking for it, had a gene called MC4R, which is already linked to obesity.

The gene controls hunger and appetite, and it also controls how well we manage to burn off calories when exercising or resting. It is thought that a defective version of this gene is in about 1 in 1000 people, causing them to experience problems with obesity, and that this gene can then be carried down to their offspring.

Where families have suffered from severe group cases of obesity, MC4R mutations are the strongest link between them that has yet to be discovered.

An Important Gene

The gene which tells us when we are hungry was developed during times when humans had to go through famine and were at risk of starvation. The body would send signals that food was needed, causing the human to eat as much as possible, storing fat which would later be useful for fending off death by starvation.

When you have eaten enough, and when there is no risk of starvation, the hunger gene should turn off. However, when there is a mutation in the gene, it’s possible that the person would feel hunger to an insatiable level.

"Even if you tightly control the appearance and taste of food, our brains can detect the nutrient content,” says Professor Sadaf Farooqi, the lead researcher on the team at the Welcome Trust Medical Research Council Institute of Metabolic Science. "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."

Changing Preferences

With MC4R carriers also eschewing the high-sugar version of the dessert, one thing has become clear. When you have MC4R, you are more likely to enjoy fat than sugar, which is part of the body attempting to store up fat for later use.

"Having a pathway that tells you to eat more fat at the expense of sugar, which we can only store to a limited extent in the body, would be a very useful way of defending against starvation," says Farooqi.

She was also quick to note that we can make our own food choices, rather than being slave to primal urges. A good exercise and diet regime can maintain a healthy figure for those even with the MC4R gene.

It’s important to note that this could be key research for those in chef jobs, as it means tailoring a men could impact certain customers more. In an area of the world where obesity is prevalent, high-fat foods may attract more customers – though low-fat foods will be more ethical to serve.