Researchers from the University of Cambridge have presented a study that identifies genetics as a factor in preferring foods higher in either fat or sugar, Food Navigator reported in October.

In the research, the scientists present findings that a central molecular pathway involving a gene called the melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R), could be responsible for macronutrient preference – establishing a link between food preference and genetic variants, the report said.

Disruption to the pathway in mice could lead to them eating much more fat and a lot less sugar.

The research comprised a two-part study in which human subjects were first offered three portions of the same savoury food with varying fat contents; they were allowed to try each before choosing one as a full portion. In the second part, subjects chose between three of the same dessert with varying sugar levels.

The study comprised 20 lean subjects and 20 obese, as well as 14 who had a non-functioning MC4R gene.

Analysis of food choice showed that those with the faulty MC4R gene consumed almost 50% more high fat food than the lean individuals, and 65% more than obese individuals.

Lean and obese individuals both showed a preference for the dessert with most sugar, but the faulty MC4R subjects did not like the high sugar versions as much and consumed proportionally less of all three versions collectively, compared to the other subjects.

From the research, scientists could conclude that even when controlling the appearance and taste of food, humans brains can detect the nutrient content and that specific brain pathways could control food preference.

The scientists acknowledged that other genes also play a role in eating behaviour, including the protein CD36, which has been linked to a preference for high-fat foods.