Like Fatty Foods? There’s a Gene for That.

By Christopher Wanjek | October 4, 2016 02:58pm ET

Scientists are narrowing in on why many of us find certain foods so irresistible. In a new study, researchers in the United Kingdom found that people with a particular gene mutation have a much stronger preference for fatty foods than those without the mutation.

These same people who preferred the fatty food also showed far less desire for sweet foods compared with other study participants, the researchers found. Although the mutation is rare, affecting less than 1 percent of the population, the findings suggest that all kinds of food preferences may be hard-wired into our brain circuitry, and defined by our genetics, the researchers said. [The Science of Hunger: How to Control It and Fight Cravings]

Most people find high-fat foods appetizing. This craving likely had evolutionary advantages because fat has twice as many calories per gram as protein and carbohydrates, and securing a sufficient number of calories was crucial for survival, according to Sadaf Farooqi of the Wellcome Trust–Medical Research Council Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge, who led the new study.

When there is not much food around, we need energy that can be stored and accessed when needed,” Farooqi said. “As such, having a pathway that tells you to eat more fat at the expense of sugar [a carbohydrate], which we can only store to a limited extent in the body, would be a very useful way of defending against starvation.”

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