Despite our best intentions to stay healthy, we all have one or two junk foods that we could never imagine giving up (mine are french fries and triple chocolate chip cookies). Figuring out how the body regulates preferences for these foods would make it easier for us to maintain our weight and health, but scientists have never really been certain how this works.
Now a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK have discovered a gene that might be responsible for whether you prefer high fat or high sugar foods, and it could lead to better treatment for metabolic disorders like obesity.
In a new study published in the journal Nature Communications, the Cambridge team showed that pathways in the brain involving the melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R) play a critical role in food choice. They also found that gene mutations which disrupt these pathways result in the subject overwhelmingly preferring fat over sweet foods.
Participants in the study included 14 people with MC4R mutations, who were given a series of identical meals with varying levels of fat and sugar. Although they couldn’t tell the differences in sugar or fat content, the MC4R subjects ate significantly more of the high-fat foods than control groups, while consuming less of the high-sugar meals.
“Our work shows that even if you tightly control the appearance and taste of food, our brains can detect the nutrient content,” says Professor Sadaf Farooqi from the Wellcome Trust–Medical Research Council Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge, who led the research team.
“Most of the time we eat foods that are both high in fat and high in sugar. By carefully testing these nutrients separately in this study, and by testing a relatively rare group of people with the defective MC4R gene, we were able to show that specific brain pathways can modulate food preference.”
The results are exciting because this is the first study to show a definitive link between genetics and preference for certain types of junk foods. While obesity is generally a mix of inherited and environmental causes, identifying and treating the genetic component could make it much easier for overweight people to lose weight and improve their health.
Farooqi and her team also believe the research supports a commonly held theory that humans and animals evolved a preference for high fat food to help us survive in times of food scarcity.
“When there is not much food around, we need energy that can be stored and accessed when needed,” she says. “Fat delivers twice as many calories per gram as carbohydrates or protein and can be readily stored in our bodies. As such, having a pathway that tells you to eat more fat at the expense of sugar, which we can only store to a limited extent in the body, would be a very useful way of defending against starvation.”
Q: Which types of junk foods do you prefer — cookies and candy or pizza and hot dogs? Let us know in the comments below.
How to get the ball rolling on eating healthier
You may want to start eating healthier, but getting the ball rolling can be an uphill endeavor.
Make a List
When you get hungry, the last thing you feel like doing is running down a mental list of available healthy foods to eat. That’s why you probably end up grabbing whatever is closest to you and chowing down, vowing to start eating healthy tomorrow.
Instead, sit down and make a list of foods that you determine to be healthiest for you and your goals. Don’t just write a shopping list. Make a list of actual meals that you can prepare and eat. Include what day you’re going to have them, and what time. The more prepared you are when hunger strikes, the more likely you will be to have something ready without having to think too hard about it.
Buy a Cookbook
Flipping through a cookbook with enticing photographs of healthy food will get you inspired to start eating healthy. Buy a cookbook or two that has nothing but healthy food recipes. Make sure it has a photo for every recipe, so you can visualize yourself dining on the healthy options. Put bookmarks on pages that really make you want to get up and start cooking. These are the dishes that will offer you the best motivation to start your new healthy eating plan. Alternatively, you can create your own cookbook by searching around the internet for healthy recipes and saving them to your phone or computer.
Buy Some New Clothes
Wearing the same clothes every day when you already feel unattractive can keep you in a negative rut that’s hard to get out of. Put on your favorite pair of jeans, jacket, whatever, and go shopping for some new clothes. Buy a few that fit you now, and something special that you can work toward fitting into after you’ve achieved your weight goal. The change will help you to see yourself as someone new and fresh who is capable of switching eating habits for the better.
Stop Looking in the Mirror
If your appearance really gets you down, stop obsessing over your flaws in the mirror. Seriously, you don’t need a visual examination over every wrinkle or bulge. Just stop looking in the mirror, get dressed, and be on your merry way. Wait at least a month before you give yourself a once over again. This time, you’ll be pleasantly surprised, instead of walking away thinking how bad you look.
Buy a Cool Scale
If you’re trying to lose weight (or even gain weight), having a cool scale will make the process easier to measure progress. Get yourself a digital scale that measures ounces as well as pounds. They even have scales that speak your weight, if that’s what you need to keep motivated to eat healthier. Just don’t weigh yourself every day, because daily fluctuations in weight are normal, and have little to do with your eating habits. If you gain a couple ounces after eating healthy all day, you could lose motivation to continue to eat healthy. Every three days or so is sufficient to track your progress and measure your results.
Choose Restaurants With Healthy Food
If cooking isn’t your thing, choose some local restaurants that serve healthy foods with wholesome ingredients. Keep a list of these restaurants at hand so that when you come home late from work and don’t feel like cooking, you’ll have a backup plan that doesn’t involve Domino’s Pizza.
Invest in Partitioned Storage Containers
If you’re short on time like most of us, you need some quick options for meals every now and then. Invest in some portioned storage containers so you can make your own version of TV dinners. Instead of pudding and mashed potatoes, fill them with things like brown rice, steamed broccoli, and turkey breast. Prepare them ahead of time and stack in your refrigerator or freezer. Just pop one in the microwave when all you can think about is flopping on the couch in front of the television.
The key to getting the ball rolling to start eating healthier is to be prepared. When you stock up on the tools that will help you reach your goals, get ready for instances when there’s no time to cook, and be kind to yourself by not obsessing over your image, you stand a pretty good chance of improving your eating habits for good.
WATCH: Tips for Getting Your Significant-Other to Eat Healthier
Woman begs city council to bring back McRib
The McRib Shortage of ’15. It was the single greatest tragedy this country has ever endured. But one woman, one brave voice, said, “No. This will not do.” #mcrib #sheslovinit
Well over a year ago a tragic event occurred: In the fall of 2015, the executives of McDonald’s made a grave decision, the consequences of which are still felt to this day. They decided that when the McRib was released that year it would… it would allow the regional managers to decide whether or not they would offer the McRib. As a result, a staggering 45 percent of McDonald’s locations elected not to offer the McRib. It was the single greatest tragedy this country has ever endured. But one woman, one brave voice, said, “No. This will not do.”
First off, shout out to Reader James from Lake Elsinore, CA for alerting us to the tale of hardship and heroism. You see, when Xanthe Pajarillo, a “McRib activist,” realized that none of the ten McDonald’s locations in her hometown of Santa Clarita would be offering the McRib, she did what any reasonable red-blooded American citizen would do. She brought the issue before the city council.
Now it is no secret that the McRib Shortage of ’15 nearly brought the nation to a standstill. In fact, if it weren’t for the release of a special McRib locator app, experts speculate that America would have ceased to exist as it does today. But amidst all of the rolling blackouts, the deaths, and the riots, we overlooked all of the smaller, personal tragedies that took place because of the cruel decision made by nearly half of McDonald’s regional managers.
In her impassioned plea to the Santa Clarita city council, Pajarillo explained just why the McRib meant so much to her and her family, and why the city council had to act in order to bring it back.
“The removal of the McRib from the menu has affected my family, because every Thanksgiving, my family would, like, order a 50-piece chicken McNugget and like, 10 McRibs. It was like, a tradition in our family, and now it’s like—well, like my family’s holiday spirit is kind of messed up and broken.”
Recently Pajarillo heroic speech before the city council has gone viral, gaining attention at the national stage across social media. Since that dramatic event, Pajarillo has continued to fight for the return of the McRib, even going so far as to release a song dubbed “The McRib Blues.” In it, she lays bare her soul and the souls of those like her to whom the McRib is more than just a barbecue pork sandwich, but is instead, a way of life.
There are those out there, deplorables who hardly deserve mention, that call her bravery nothing more than a stunt. Performance art holding up a mirror to America’s consumerism and obsession. However, others stand by the truth. Pajarillo is a hero, fighting for both a sandwich, but also for something more. Something ephemeral. That little piece of Americana that brings us all together. The McRib.
Fight on, brave warrior, fight on.
♪ Cause we have right to eat what we like, McRib is worth the fight ♪
Still can’t get enough of the McRib? Learn how a McRib is made, courtesy of BuzzFeed.
How to cure and smoke your own bacon
First, go kill a pig—with your bare hands if possible—and rip out the pork belly. It is called pork belly and not pig belly because when a pig dies it’s called pork.
OK, so you’ve shaved your head, grown a goatee, and you just bench-pressed a couple hundred pounds while listening to AC/DC, but you still feel like you need a little something else to feel like a man. What you need is to cure and smoke your own bacon. That is exactly what I’m going to tell you how to do.
First, go kill a pig—with your bare hands if possible—and rip out the pork belly. It is called pork belly and not pig belly because when a pig dies it’s called pork. If you can’t kill a pig yourself, go to the butcher and ask for some pork belly. If you can’t do that, just go buy some bacon at a store.
Next, you will need a knife to cut the pork belly into strips 20-30 inches long and about 8 inches across. With the pink and white stripes on the side, the pig will begin to look like the kind of bacon unmanly people buy in the store.
Now you need to cure the bacon, because that is what we set out to do. First step: rub the hog down with 4 cups kosher salt. That’s right, kosher salt on pork. Go figure. Also, for extra flavoring, add any of the following: 2 cups brown sugar, then black pepper, garlic, ground bay leaves, paprika and cinnamon. Cover the pork belly with your spices and seal it in a zip lock bag, and leave it in the fridge for 7 days and 7 nights. Check on it periodically, just in case.
A week later, pull it out, rinse it off, pat it dry, and spank it. You’ll notice it looks like cured meat because that’s what it is. The last step to cure the bacon is to uncover it and leave it in the fridge so it can develop an outer layer of proteins, which in bacon jargon is called a pellicle. The pellicle is important for flavor, as we will now see.
On to smoking the hog. You will need a barbecue. Fill your barbecue with enough charcoal to reach 200 degrees Fahrenheit (typically about half as much charcoal as needed to cook the bacon). Put some pieces of hickory or maple for extra flavor, and light. Place the pork belly on the barbecue rack, rind side up. The pellicle serves to absorb the flavor of the tasty hickory and maple smoke. Light charcoal and leave the bacon in the barbecue for about two hours, with the lid closed, and add the briquettes and wood chunks as necessary to keep that pig smoking.
After about 2 hours, remove the bacon and bring it home. Cut the skin away while it’s still warm and leave as much fat underneath as possible. If you have followed these instructions precisely, you should be standing before a chunk of swine that you cured and smoked—and maybe even killed—all by yourself. Goes great with eggs for breakfast and on hamburgers for lunch or dinner.
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