Do Genes Influence Our Taste Preferences?

Yes, according to a new study, genes influence our taste preferences. A recent study published in the journal BMC Nutrition suggests that there may be a link between genetics and food choices. The study found that certain genetic variations are associated with a preference for sweet, fatty, or bitter foods.

The study, which utilized data from the UK Biobank and involved a large-scale genomics analysis, revealed approximately 500 genes that influence our food preferences, particularly those related to sensory pathways such as taste, smell, and texture.

These genes are associated with specific food and beverage preferences, including fruit, poultry, fish, coffee, alcohol, cheese, and tea intake. The findings suggest that genetic variants play a significant role in determining what we like to eat, with some genes having a clear impact on food preferences and the brain’s reward response.

For instance, specific genes related to taste receptors, olfactory receptors, and digestive enzymes were found to have a strong effect on diet. The research also identified genetic associations with more complex dietary patterns, such as healthy versus unhealthy diets.

The study’s lead researcher, Joanne Cole, emphasized that while genetics play a role in food preferences, environmental factors such as culture, socioeconomic status, and food accessibility also significantly influence dietary intake.

The findings could potentially lead to the development of precision nutrition strategies based on individuals’ genetic sensory profiles, ultimately contributing to the creation of healthier and more accepted food products.

This research provides valuable insights into the genetic basis of food preferences and its potential implications for personalized nutrition and health interventions.

Can taste preferences change over time due to genetic factors?

While the study does identify various genetic associations with taste preferences, it’s unlikely that these solely determine how your preferences change over time. These genes likely influence your baseline sensitivity to different tastes, but changes in preference seem to be driven by a combination of factors, including:

1. Repeated exposure: Our brains tend to adapt and learn to appreciate things we experience repeatedly. Early exposure to specific flavors can shape future preferences, and even later exposures can lead to acquired tastes.

2. Cultural and social influences: Family traditions, societal norms, and peer pressure can all influence what we find appealing.

3. Nutritional needs: Our bodies might subconsciously guide our cravings based on nutrient deficiencies or needs. Craving sweets during growth spurts or salty foods when dehydrated are potential examples.

4. Health conditions: Medical conditions or medications can alter taste perception and preferences.

5. Age: Taste sensitivity naturally changes over time. Infants naturally prefer sweet flavors, while bitterness becomes more detectable with age.

Therefore, while genetics may set the stage for your initial taste preferences, they are unlikely to be the sole factor driving changes over time. The complex interplay of various factors mentioned above likely plays a larger role in shaping how your taste evolves throughout your life.

Furthermore, the study itself focused on adults, so its direct conclusions might not necessarily apply to the significant taste development occurring in children.

Study key findings

  • Certain genetic variations are associated with a preference for sweet, fatty, or bitter foods. For example, variations in the TAS2R38 gene are linked to a preference for sweet and bitter tastes, while variations in the 5-HT2A gene are associated with protein consumption and variations in the CD36 gene are linked to fat preferences.
  • The study also found that some genes influence preferences for specific food categories, such as a preference for artichokes, broccoli, and chicory.
  • These findings suggest that genetics may play a role in shaping our food preferences, but more research is needed to confirm these findings and explore the mechanisms behind them.

Here is a table summarizing the key findings:

TAS2R38rs1726866, rs713598, rs10246939Sweet and bitter taste
5-HT2AT102CProtein consumption
CD36rs1761667Fat preferences
SH2B1rs7498665Total fat, saturated fat, and monounsaturated fatty acids
KCTD15risk allelesLower saturated fat consumption
NEGR1risk allelesLower saturated fat consumption
TAS2R38rs10246939Sucrose and sweet-tasting foods and beverages
LeptinA19G, R109KSweet meals
CA6rs2274333Raw kohlrabi and salt choice
CD36rs1527483Fat preference
TAS2R19rs10772420Grapefruit preference
TAS2R38rs713598Sugar addition
FTOA-alleleEnergy-dense foods but fewer soft drinks
COMTVal/Val, Val/MetCraving for unhealthy foods

ALSO READ: Appetizing Plant-Based Protein: Lund Researchers Crack the Code on Texture and Chewiness

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