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Receptors for Fatty Foods Found on the Tongue

Courtesy of the Washington University Medical School

Ever wonder why you can’t resist french fries or cake icing? It’s not because you lack willpower — your taste buds are to blame. Researchers at the Washington University of Medicine in St. Louis found our tongues have specific receptors that crave fat, and depending on certain variations in CD36 gene, one can have a stronger craving for fatty foods.


Results of the study are online in the Journal of Lipid Research.

“The ultimate goal is to understand how our perception of fat in food might influence what foods we eat and the quantities of fat that we consume,” said Dr. Nada A. Abumrad, Professor of Medicine, and one of the studies researchers.

“In this study we’ve found one potential reason for individual variability in how people sense fat. It may be, as was shown recently, that as people consume more fat, they become less sensitive to it, requiring more intake for the same satisfaction. What we will need to determine in the future is whether our ability to detect fat in foods influences our fat intake, which clearly would have an impact on obesity,” Abumrad explains.

Those who produced more CD36 protein had an easier time identifying fat in different foods. Further results of the study showed people who had the most CD36, were eight times more aware of fat in their foods, as opposed to people who produced 50 percent less protein.

The analysis consisted of 21 people with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more, which is considered to be obese, and the participants all contained various levels of CD36 protein.

Each person was asked to taste liquids from three separate cups. One cup held a fatty oil. Two of the cups had liquids that were close in texture to the oil, but contained no fat. Subjects then had to choose the cup that was different.

“We did the same three-cup test several times with each subject to learn the thresholds at which individuals could identify fat in the solution,” said lead study author Dr.M. Yanina Pepino. “If we asked, does it taste like fat to you? That could be very subjective, so we tried to objectively measure the lowest concentration of fat at which someone could detect the difference.”

Abumrad said the findings are great for  both health professionals and the general public to assist in the perpetual fight against obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

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