New study finds that taste preferences might be tied to the genetics of a person

  • Research suggests our taste preferences may be linked to genetics.
  • Scientists found 401 genetic variations linked to food liking and disliking traits and bundled them into three categories of high-calorie foods, strong-tasting foods, and liking of fruits and vegetables.
  • However, the researchers noted those predisposed to liking high-calorie foods may also have additional brain-related factors at play.

Whether you add spicy sauce to everything you eat or prefer mild sauce on the side, it’s apparent that we all have distinct tastes. Infuriating as it may be to tone down a meal for a dinner guest or seek a less spicy alternative while dining out, new study may explain our taste preferences. The reason people prefer certain meals and reject others has nothing to do with culture, taste buds, or childhood exposure to food, according to scientific research.

The study, which was published in the journal Nature Communications, uncovered hundreds of genetic variants that are associated with various meals, including variants that affect a person’s preference for fatty fish, avocados, and chiles, among others.

In the major genetic study of food preferences, researchers from the University of Edinburgh examined answers from more than 160,000 people from the UK Biobank on a nine-point scale regarding their likes and dislikes of 139 distinct meals and beverages. Participants filled out questionnaires, and researchers analyzed genetic data to see if certain genetic factors impacted food groupings or tastes.

Many of the 401 genetic variants discovered by scientists influenced various food-liking or -disliking features. On the basis of their findings, the researchers drew up a “food map” that showed three groups of genetically determined foods: highly appealing, low-calorie, and acquired foods.

These include hereditary factors that led to a preference for high-calorie (very appealing) meals such as meat, dairy, and sweets. A second genetic factor was associated with the learned preference for strong-flavored meals such as alcohol and pungent vegetables. The third set of genes is associated with a preference for fruits and vegetables (low caloric).

Researchers observed that persons with genetic ties to a certain food group had shared DNA for certain health features. People who frequently appreciated highly appealing foods contained gene variations associated with an increased risk for obesity and decreased physical activity. People who preferred strong-flavored meals were genetically predisposed to have lower cholesterol levels and more physical activity, but a higher likelihood of excessive alcohol consumption and smoking. Those who favored fruits and vegetables were also genetically prone to engage in more physical exercise.

According to the research, persons who are genetically predisposed to enjoy veggies may not always enjoy all vegetables. Scientists discovered a reduced correlation between liking salad veggies, cooked vegetables, and vegetables with stronger flavors, such as spinach and asparagus. In addition, researchers stated that people predisposed to choose higher-calorie, more pleasant foods may have factors other than genetics at play. The researchers think, based on MRI scans, that this is most likely associated with the region of the brain responsible for pleasure processing.

The bottom line

Our culinary preferences cannot always be controlled. This research may one day lead to the discovery of methods to assist individuals in changing their diet to reach certain health goals, but in the meantime, it’s a fantastic excuse to use when your taste preferences prevent you from doing so. Ultimately, your genes dictate that you must add Sriracha sauce to your scrambled eggs.

Associate editor at Prevention Arielle Weg enjoys sharing her favorite health and nutrition passions. Her work has featured in several publications, including Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Cooking Light, MyRecipes, and The Vitamin Shoppe. Typically, she may be seen taking an online exercise class or making a mess in the kitchen, preparing a dish she discovered in her cookbook collection or saved on Instagram.

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