Preference for fatty-foods may have genetic roots, US study suggests

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 7th February 2012

A US study, released in the latest issue of the journal Obesity, has suggested that a preference for fatty foods “has a genetic basis” and that people with certain forms of the CD36 gene “may like high-fat foods more than those who have other forms of this gene”.

The study conducted by a team of scientists from Penn State, Columbia University, Cornell University and Rutgers University, led by Dr Kathleen Keller a leading nutritional scientist. The study examined 317 African-American males and females. This ethnic group was chosen on the basis “that individuals in this ethnic group are highly vulnerable to obesity and thus are at greatest risk for obesity-related diseases”.

Participants of the study were given Italian salad dressings prepared with varying amounts of canola oil, which is rich in long-chain fatty acids.

The researchers collected saliva samples from the participants to determine which forms of CD36 they had. From the saliva samples, they extracted DNA fragments and examined differences in the CD36 gene contained within the fragments.

The researchers found that the participants of the study who had the “AA” form of the gene – present in 21 percent of the population – rated the salad dressings as creamier than individuals who had other forms of the gene. These individuals reported that the salad dressings were creamier regardless of how much fat was actually in them. The researchers also found that “AA” individuals liked salad dressings, half-and-half, olive oil and other cooking oils more than those who had other forms of the gene.

Dr Keller stated that “It is possible that the CD36 gene is associated with fat intake and therefore obesity through a mechanism of oral fat perception and preference. Our results suggest that people with certain forms of the CD36 gene may find fat creamier and more enjoyable than others. This may increase their risk for obesity and other health problems.”

Dr Keller also added that in evolutionary history, people who were better able to recognize fats in foods were more likely to survive. Such forms of the gene, however, are less useful to people today as most no longer have to worry about getting enough fats in their diet.