Weight loss can be a tough nut to crack – especially if you have a tendency to crave sweet and salty foods.
Now, scientists have revealed that this 'one-two punch' of simultaneous sugar and fat cravings is what makes dieting so difficult.
Researchers analysing the brain's reward systems discovered new brain-gut circuits for sugar and fat which make us crave unhealthy foods without even realising it.
The team, from the Monell Chemical Senses Centre in the US, found that the dangerous combination of these two cravings triggers a desire to overeat.
"It's like a one-two punch to the brain's reward system," Dr Guillaume de Lartigue, a lead author of the study, said.
"Even if the total calories consumed in sugar and fats stays the same, combining fats and sugars leads to significantly more dopamine release and, ultimately, overeating."
He added that the reason why fats and sugars are particularly appealing has “always been a puzzle”
"We've now identified nerve cells in the gut rather than taste cells in the mouth are a key driver,” he continued.
"We found that distinct gut-brain pathways are recruited by fats and sugars, explaining why that donut can be so irresistible."
The research also provides insight on what controls eating behaviour, and suggests that an internal desire to consume a diet high in fats and sugar is one reason why it’s tricky to keep the weight off.
"The communication between our gut and brain happens below the level of consciousness,” Dr de Lartigue explained. "We may be craving these types of food without even realising it."
The team hopes their research could be built on in the future to develop anti-obesity strategies and treatments, which would make dieting easier by altering gut-brain reward circuits to curb unhealthy eating habits.
"Understanding the wiring diagram of our innate motivation to consume fats and sugars is the first step towards rewiring it," Dr de Lartigue said.
"This research unlocks exciting possibilities for personalised interventions that could help people make healthier choices, even when faced with tempting treats."
Additional reporting by SWNS.
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