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Your genes may be driving your food choices

The preliminary results of a new study suggest that genetics determine how we perceive different tastes. Our diets are partially determined by our sense of taste, which in turn influences our health. 

Study lead author Julie E. Gervis is a doctoral candidate in the Cardiovascular Nutrition Lab at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. 

“We know that taste is one of the fundamental drivers of what we choose to eat and, by extension, our diet quality,” said Gervis. “Considering taste perception could help make personalized nutrition guidance more effective by identifying drivers of poor food choices and helping people learn how to minimize their influence.”

For example, if someone finds certain vegetables like cauliflower bitter, a recommendation could be made for different seasonings that would make it more palatable. The researchers claim that most people do not know what drives their food choices, and that this could give them more control. 

The analysis is unique in that it investigated all five taste groups across a broad range of adults. This is also the first study to look at whether genetics for taste variations could influence health risk from diets.  

To carry out the research, the scientists looked at genetic data associated with the five basic tastes and created a “polygenic taste score.” The score takes into account different genes and gives a single number to each taste. For example, the higher the score for “bitter,” the more sensitive you are to bitter tastes. 

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

The experts found that indeed, some diet choices seem to be correlated to genetics and adults with sensitivity to certain food groups are less likely to eat them. The scientists emphasize that these results may not apply to everyone, and that further research is needed. 

Gervis will present the study findings online at Nutrition 2022 Live Online, the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition on June 14-16.  

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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