A study conducted by a team of researchers at Oxford University has shed new light on why many people prefer high-fat foods like yogurt and ice cream to lighter alternatives. According to the research, the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex is responsible for the attraction of fatty foods, as it gets excited by their recognition.
To investigate 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 in conditions similar to 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 their willingness to pay for more. Brain imaging was used during the tasting process, and it was found that the differences in composition and pleasantness of the shakes were reflected in the reactions of the orbitofrontal cortex.
The study also confirmed that mouthfeel plays a significant role in people’s food choices. When test subjects were given three curries with different fat content and asked to choose their favorite for lunch, those whose orbitofrontal cortex had reacted particularly strongly to the greasy mouthfeel in the shake experiment piled high-fat meals onto their plates.
Grabenhorst explained that these findings could help develop low-calorie foods that still have a satisfying mouthfeel. The study was published in The Journal of Neuroscience.