When it comes to unhealthy eating habits, a debate has popped up in the nature versus nurture vein: Are people born predisposed to having weight issues or does it stem from bad habits. Though certainly both come into play, a new study suggests that Mother Nature may be even sneakier than we thought, with genetics causing some people to reach for fatty food even subconsciously.
According to the BBC, researchers at the University of Cambridge looked at 54 volunteers: 20 lean people, 20 obese people and 14 people identified as having a defective MC4R gene, the gene that controls appetite. The defective gene appears about one in every 1,000 people and can sometimes lead to severe obesity. All of these groups were given two foods: chicken korma and a strawberry, meringue and cream dessert. The first dish was prepared with three different levels of fat – low, medium and high – however, all three versions were designed to look and taste identical. The dessert was prepared the same way but with three different levels of sugar.
What the research team found was that the subjects with a defective MC4R ate significantly more of the high-fat korma despite the fact that it was specifically designed to not stand out from the low and medium fat alternatives. Additionally, the MC4R group was the only of the three to dislike the high-sugar dessert. This led the researchers to believe that the genetic makeup of the MC4R group led them to prefer high-fat foods over sugary foods whether they even realized it or not.
“Even if you tightly control the appearance and taste of food, our brains can detect the nutrient content,” said lead author Sadaf Farooqi. “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.”
That said, the belief isn’t that different genes guarantee unhealthy eating habits: People can still control their own destiny. But those who may be predisposed to gravitating towards eating lots of fat will probably find they have to work harder to fight against their biological leanings. For someone who goes by the name “Mother,” Mother Nature can be a real dick sometimes.