The brain’s response to high-fat food is a fascinating area of research, and a study by Fabian Grabenhorst and his colleagues at Oxford University sheds light on the role that sensory pleasures play in our food choices. The study found that the brain’s response to fatty food is linked to the mouthfeel of the food, which reduces friction as it slides against the tongue and walls of the mouth.
To investigate this further, Grabenhorst and his colleagues prepared vanilla-flavored milkshakes with varying fat and sugar content. They also procured pig tongues from a local butcher to measure the sliding friction of their milkshakes with different compositions in conditions reminiscent of the human mouth. The results showed that milkshakes with higher fat content had lower sliding friction, making them more enjoyable to eat.
The researchers then recruited over 20 test subjects who tasted the milkshakes and rated how much they were willing to pay for more. They also imaged the test subjects’ brains using a functional magnetic resonance imaging device while they tasted the milkshakes. The results showed that participants’ brains responded differently to milkshakes with varying fat content, depending on their liking for each vanilla drink.
Interestingly, when test subjects were asked to taste three curries with different fat content and choose their favorite for lunch, those whose orbitofrontal cortex had reacted particularly strongly to the greasy mouthfeel in the shake experiment piled high plates of fatty meals. This suggests that people are drawn towards foods that have a pleasant mouthfeel, even if they are not necessarily healthy or low calorie options.
Grabenhorst told Nature magazine that their findings could help develop low-calorie foods that still taste good. He said: “Our work shows how important it is to consider sensory pleasures when developing new foods.” The study was published in The Journal of Neuroscience, providing valuable insights into our brains’ responses to high-fat foods and how we can use this information to make healthier food choices.