Some people ‘genetically programmed’ to crave fatty foods over sugary snacks

You're the one for me fatty food!
You're the one for me fatty food!
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You really are what you eat, according to scientists, who have discovered the gene that determines if you like chicken korma or Eton mess.

One in 100 people have a defect in the MC4R gene which makes them love fatty foods and shun sugar, a new Cambridge University study has revealed. Such people are also more likely to get fat, according to the study.

Most people find both high-fat and high-sugar foods enticing, but those who carry variants in gene MC4R are overly attracted to high fat foods, the study found.

The report is one of the first to show a direct link between food preference and specific genetic variants in humans.

Researchers tested lean people, obese people and people who were obese because they have a defect in the MC4R gene.

They gave all participants a blind test all-you-can-eat buffet of chicken korma with three options manipulated to look and taste the same, but in which the fat content provided 20 per cent (low), 40 per cent (medium) and 60 per cent (high) of the calories.

The researchers found that, although there was no overall difference in the amount of food eaten between the groups, individuals with defective MC4R ate almost double the amount of high fat korma than lean individuals ate (95 per cent more) and 65 per cent more than obese individuals.

Next people were given Eton mess, a sugary dessert made with a mixture of strawberries, whipped cream and broken meringue.

Again, there were three options from which participants could freely choose, with sugar content providing 8 per cent (low), 26 per cent (medium) and 54 per cent (high) of calorific content, but with the fat content fixed.

Lean and obese people said they liked the high sugar Eton mess most - but individuals with defective MC4R gene liked it less, and even ate significantly less of all three desserts compared to the other two groups.

Its authors say their study, published today in the journal Nature Communications, may also help in understanding obesity.

The researchers said that for the one in 100 individuals, the fact that the MC4R pathway is not working may lead to them preferring high fat food without realising it and therefore contribute to their weight problem.

Professor Sadaf Farooqi from the Wellcome Trust-Medical Research Council Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge, who led the research team, explained: "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."