Jun 15, 2022
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Genes may determine food choices

Genes may determine food choices

Preliminary results from a new study suggest that genetics determines how we perceive different tastes. Our diet is partly determined by our sense of taste, which in turn affects our health. Study lead author Julie E. Gervis is a postdoctoral fellow in the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

“We know that taste is one of the main factors that determines what we choose to eat and, by extension, the quality of our food,” says Jervis. “Taste sensitivity can help make personalized nutritional advice more effective by identifying the factors that contribute to poor food choices and helping people learn how to minimize their impact.”

For example, if one finds certain vegetables, such as cauliflower, bitter, various seasonings can be recommended to make them more palatable. Most people don’t know what drives their food choices, the researchers say, and this can give them more control.

The analysis is unique in that it examined all five taste groups in a wide range of adults. It is also the first study to examine whether the genetics of taste variation can influence diet-related health risks.

To conduct the study, the scientists examined the genetic data associated with five basic tastes and created a “polygenic taste score.” This score takes into account different genes and gives a single number to each taste. For example, the higher the “bitter” score, the more sensitive you are to bitter tastes.

Using data from the Framingham Heart Study, the researchers analyzed polygenic taste scores as well as nutritional quality and cardiovascular risk factors in 6,230 adults.

Experts have found that indeed, some dietary preferences seem to correlate with genetics, and adults with sensitivities to certain food groups are less likely to consume them. The scientists emphasize that these results may not apply to everyone and that further research is needed.

Jervis will present the study results online at Nutrition 2022 Live Online, the annual meeting of the American Nutrition Society June 14-16.

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