Rather than a sweet or salt tooth were you born with a ‘fat tooth’? In a new study published in the journal Obesity researchers examined the link between genetics and fat preference. Over 300 male and female subjects were asked to rate their perceptions of salad dressings prepared with varying amounts of oil. They assessed the dressings' creaminess, how much they enjoyed them, and provided information about their fondness for other fatty foods, like half-and-half, bacon, hot dogs, French fries, cheese, chips, and doughnuts. The scientists also collected saliva samples to test the subjects’ DNA.
They found that those who had certain forms of a particular gene, roughly 20 percent of the population, rated the salad dressings as creamier, regardless of how much fat they contained. They also favored fatty foods more than people who have other forms of this gene. In short, the study concludes that indeed some people may be genetically inclined to find fatty foods more enjoyable than others, which could put them at greater risk for obesity.
While this gene test isn’t readily available you may have an idea if you have a preference for fat. If so, you’re not doomed. Fat is an important nutrient. It’s needed to absorb some vitamins and antioxidants, it supports digestive health, hormone balance, constructs cell membranes, and is needed for healthy hair and skin. There is also some research to show that healthy fats reduce inflammation and boost satiety, and some fats have even been shown to increase metabolism. Finally, plant based fats are a source of anti-aging, disease fighting antioxidants.
To protect both your health and your waistline be sure to include portion-controlled amounts of “good” fat in each meal. Fat is a compact source of calories—it packs 9 calories per gram compared to 4 in each gram of protein or carbohydrate. For this reason the smartest strategy to stay in balance is to combine a little bit of healthy fat with big portions of other healthy foods. The little/big combos below are a great way to satisfy your fat craving without going overboard:
Little: 2 tablespoons nut butter
Big: 1 cup of sliced apple or pear wedges, baby carrots, or celery stalks
Little: ¼ cup guacamole
Big: 1 cup red bell pepper, sliced into strips for dipping or Romaine leaf “boats” filled with fresh pico de gallo (garnish them with guacamole)
Little: 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or 2 tablespoons olive tapenade
Big: Toss with 1 cup field greens, ½ cup grape tomatoes sliced in half, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, dusting of cracked pepper, and a squeeze of fresh lemon
Little: 1 tablespoon pesto
Big: 3 ounces medium shrimp cooked and chilled or 1/5 of a 14 ounce package of extra firm organic tofu, sliced into cubes
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.