The cafeteria diet: A standardized protocol and its effects on behavior

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2021 Mar;122:92-119. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.11.003. Epub 2020 Dec 10.


Obesity is a major health risk, with junk food consumption playing a central role in weight gain, because of its high palatability and high-energy nutrients. The Cafeteria (CAF) diet model for animal experiments consists of the same tasty but unhealthy food products that people eat (e.g. hot dogs and muffins), and considers variety, novelty and secondary food features, such as smell and texture. This model, therefore, mimics human eating patterns better than other models. In this paper, we systematically review studies that have used a CAF diet in behavioral experiments and propose a standardized CAF diet protocol. The proposed diet is ad libitum and voluntary; combines different textures, nutrients and tastes, including salty and sweet products; and it is rotated and varied. Our summary of the behavioral effects of CAF diet show that it alters meal patterns, reduces the hedonic value of other rewards, and tends to reduce stress and spatial memory. So far, no clear effects of CAF diet were found on locomotor activity, impulsivity, coping and social behavior.

Keywords: Animal model; Cafeteria diet; Food preference; Junk food; Memory; Obesity; Reward system; Stress; Systematic review; Western diet.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diet*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Obesity*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Systematic Reviews as Topic
  • Weight Gain