The valuation of food is a fundamental component of our decision-making. Yet little is known about how value signals for food and other rewards are constructed by the brain. Using a food-based decision task in human participants, we found that subjective values can be predicted from beliefs about constituent nutritive attributes of food: protein, fat, carbohydrates and vitamin content. Multivariate analyses of functional MRI data demonstrated that, while food value is represented in patterns of neural activity in both medial and lateral parts of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), only the lateral OFC represents the elemental nutritive attributes. Effective connectivity analyses further indicate that information about the nutritive attributes represented in the lateral OFC is integrated within the medial OFC to compute an overall value. These findings provide a mechanistic account for the construction of food value from its constituent nutrients.
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