A study conducted by a team of researchers at Oxford University has revealed that the brain is attracted to high-fat foods, including ice cream and yogurt. The study found that the brain area responsible for sensations and the attractiveness of food, known as the orbitofrontal cortex, becomes more active when recognizing fatty foods.
To understand this further, the researchers prepared vanilla-flavored milkshakes with varying fat and sugar content. They also acquired pig tongues from a local butcher to measure the sliding friction of their milkshakes under conditions similar to those in the human mouth. The results showed that the friction decreased as the fat content of the shake increased.
The researchers then recruited more than twenty test subjects who tasted the milkshakes and were asked to rate how much they were willing to pay for more. Brain imaging with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used during the tasting session to monitor the participants’ brain activity. The findings revealed that the differences in taste and composition of the shakes were reflected in changes in brain activity in the orbitofrontal cortex.
The preference for high-fat foods was partly explained by mouthfeel, which refers to how food feels when it is being consumed. Mouthfeel can affect people’s food choices, as demonstrated by an experiment where test subjects were asked to choose their favorite curry from three options with different fat content without knowing they were being observed. Those whose brains reacted strongly to greasy mouthfeel in a previous experiment piled on more fatty meals onto their plates than others.
Fabian Grabenhorst, one of the study’s authors, told Nature magazine that these findings could help develop low-calorie alternatives to high-fat foods by creating products that mimic mouthfeel while reducing calorie intake. The study was published in The Journal of Neuroscience.