How your genes affect your food preferences
We all have our favorite foods, and many of us have certain foods that we absolutely won’t touch. Maybe you have to have dessert at every meal, but your spouse just isn’t interested in sweets. Maybe you hate olives, but your best friend eats them like candy.
Why do we have these different food preferences, and why do they vary so much from one person to the next? Some of our taste preferences have to do with what we were exposed to as infants. If your mom ate a wide variety of flavors, and you were breast fed, the taste of her milk would have changed according to her diet. You may also have been exposed to different flavors before you were born, depending on what your mom ate while she was pregnant. And the more flavors you were exposed to in utero or as an infant, the more likely you were to be accepting of different flavors once you started eating solid foods.
But it isn’t just our infant diets that determine which foods we like and don’t like: much of our taste preferences are coded in our DNA.
One of the most commonly studied genes related to taste is the TAS2R38 gene, which influences how sensitive individuals are to bitterness. About a quarter of the population has a version of the gene that makes them more sensitive to bitter flavors. Do you hate Brussels sprouts? Does the thought of eating kale make you gag? You may be what’s known as a bitter “taster.” To someone with a different variant of the TAS2R38 gene that makes them less sensitive to bitter flavors — a “non-taster” ‐ foods like grapefruit and kale naturally taste sweet. But to people who are bitter tasters, the bitterness overwhelms the foods’ natural sweetness.
Researchers at the University of Connecticut conducted an experiment to see how variations of the TAS2R38 gene affected people’s eating habits. What they discovered surprised them. Predictably, those who were more sensitive to bitter flavors ate significantly fewer cruciferous vegetables. But they also ate fewer vegetables overall — a difference that amounted to 200 servings of vegetables per year. Researchers suggested that for people who are more sensitive to bitter flavors, they associate the unpleasant taste with vegetables of all kinds — not just those typically thought of as bitter.
If you’re a bitter taster, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t find ways to make vegetables more palatable. Roasting foods can bring out their sweetness. Salt can also mask the bitterness, but bitter tasters should watch their sodium intake if they tend to prefer salty foods. Instead of regular iodized salt, use sea salt, which may contain other beneficial minerals, like magnesium and potassium. Sea salt is also coarser and has a saltier flavor, which may allow you to use less of it and still achieve the same results. (You may want to avoid Lite Salt, which has 50 percent less sodium, but may have a bitter or metallic taste.)
Tastes can change over time as well. By introducing healthier foods into your diet and cutting back on processed junk foods, you can gradually train yourself to prefer healthier options. And as we age, our sense of smell and taste begin to fade, which will make bitter flavors less intense.
You can find out your genetic predisposition to certain eating behaviors and taste sensitivities by ordering your personalized genetic blueprint from Vivaliti DNA. We test 80 different genetic markers to give you a complete picture of how your individual genetics influence how you react to certain foods, which exercises may work best for you, and which diet type is best for your body. Download a sample report today to see everything you get in your 49-page report!