Post-ingestive signals conveying information about the nutritive properties of food are critical for regulating ingestive behavior. Here, using an auction task concomitant to fMRI scanning, we demonstrate that participants are willing to pay more for fat + carbohydrate compared with equally familiar, liked, and caloric fat or carbohydrate foods and that this potentiated reward is associated with response in areas critical for reward valuation, including the dorsal striatum and mediodorsal thalamus. We also show that individuals are better able to estimate the energy density of fat compared with carbohydrate and fat + carbohydrate foods, an effect associated with functional connectivity between visual (fusiform gyrus) and valuation (ventromedial prefrontal cortex) areas. These results provide the first demonstration that foods high in fat and carbohydrate are, calorie for calorie, valued more than foods containing only fat or carbohydrate and that this effect is associated with greater recruitment of central reward circuits.
Keywords: carbohydrate; dopamine; fMRI; fat; food reward; gut-brain axis; neural circuits; reinforcement; striatum; value.
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