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Love of Fatty Food may be in Your Genes

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Gene discovery may explain why low-fat diet is hard for some.

New research shows some people have a penchant for eating fatty foods that seems to be in their genes. The finding may explain why eating a low-fat diet can be so hard for some.

Researchers from Penn State, Columbia University, Cornell University and Rutgers University studied fatty food preferences in African-American males who they say are vulnerable to diseases related to obesity. By matching food preferences – extremely low-fat an extremely-high-fat – with saliva samples, the scientists discovered the “AA form” of the CD36 gene liked fattening foods better than individuals without the form of the gene.

Kathleen Keller, assistant professor of nutritional sciences, Penn State said, “…we have demonstrated for the first time that people who have particular forms of the CD36 gene tend to like higher fat foods more and may be at greater risk for obesity compared to those who do not have this form of the gene.”

For the study, participants were asked to rate the oiliness of salad dressings with varying amounts of canola oil, a long –chain fatty acid. They also asked the participants to rate how well they liked the dressings, using the scale "dislike extremely" and "like extremely."

They found people who have the “AA” form of the gene thought salad dressing were creamier no matter how much fat was in them, compared to participants without the gene variation.

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Keller says the finding means “…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." She also says that may have been an advantage at one time. The ability to recognize fat in foods may have aided survival, but in a modern world the gene can contribute to obesity.

The study result explains why a low-fat diet doesn’t work for everyone, which explains why some people do better with weight loss by adopting a high-fat, low carbohydrate diet, such as the Atkins.

We hope these results will one day help people select diets that are easier for them to follow. We also think the results could help food developers create better tasting low-fat foods that appeal to a broader range of the population."

The researchers plan to continue their studies in children. Identifying the gene early could help children develop healthy eating behaviors at a young age.

The study suggests the “AA” CD36 gene makes it difficult for 21 percent of the population to avoid high fat foods, which puts them at risk for obesity. Enjoying low-fat foods consistently just isn’t in everyone’s genes.

Obesity , (12 January 2012) |

"Common Variants in the CD36 Gene Are Associated With Oral Fat Perception, Fat Preferences, and Obesity in African Americans"
Kathleen L. Keller et al.

Image credit: Morguefile