Do our genes determine what we eat?

Do our genes determine what we eat?
A new study found that taste-related genes may play a role in determining food choices that could influence cardiometabolic health. For example, the researchers found that having a higher bitter polygenic taste score, reflecting a higher genetic predisposition to perceive bitter taste, was associated with eating fewer whole grains. Credit: Julie E. Gervis, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University

Preliminary findings from a new study involving more than 6,000 adults found that taste-related genes may play a role in determining food choices and could, in turn, influence cardiometabolic health. It is one of the first studies to examine how the genetics tied to perception for all five tastes—sweet, salt, sour, bitter, and umami (savory)—are associated with consumption of food groups and cardiometabolic risk factors.

The findings suggest that the genes that determine perception might be important to consider when developing personalized nutrition guidance aimed at improving and reducing risk for diet-related chronic diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

"We know that taste is one of the fundamental drivers of what we choose to eat and, by extension, our diet quality," said Julie E. Gervis, a doctoral candidate in the Cardiovascular Nutrition Lab at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. "Considering taste perception could help make personalized guidance more effective by identifying drivers of poor food choices and helping people learn how to minimize their influence."

For example, if people with strong bitter taste perception tend to eat fewer , it might be recommended that they add certain spices or choose other types of vegetables that better align with their taste perception profile. "Most people likely don't know why they make certain food choices," said Gervis. "This approach could provide them with guidance that would allow them to gain more control."

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

Do our genes determine what we eat?
The researchers also observed that having a higher umami polygenic taste score, reflecting a higher genetic predisposition to perceive umami taste, was associated with eating less vegetables. Credit: Julie E. Gervis, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University

Although previous studies have looked at related to single tastes in certain groups of people, this new study is unique in that it examined all five basic tastes across a broad sample of U.S. adults. It is also the first to assess whether genetic variants responsible for are associated with intake of certain food groups and with cardiometabolic risk factors.

To do this, the researchers used data from prior genome-wide association studies to identify the genetic variants associated with each of the five basic tastes. They used this information to develop a new measure known as a "polygenic taste score" that provides a single estimate of the cumulative effect of many genetic variants on perception for a given taste. A higher polygenic taste score for bitter, for example, means that a person has a higher genetic predisposition to perceive bitter tastes.

The researchers then analyzed the polygenic taste scores, diet quality and cardiometabolic risk factors for 6,230 adults in the Framingham Heart Study. The risk factors included waist circumference, blood pressure and plasma glucose, and triglyceride and HDL cholesterol concentrations.

Overall, the analysis identified certain associations between taste-related genes with food groups and cardiometabolic risk factors. The data revealed that genes related to bitter and umami tastes might play a particular role in diet quality by influencing while genes related to sweet seemed to be more important to cardiometabolic health.

For example, the researchers found that study participants with a higher bitter polygenic taste score ate nearly two servings less of whole grains per week compared to participants with a lower bitter polygenic taste score. The investigators also observed that having a higher umami polygenic taste score was associated with eating fewer vegetables, particularly red and orange vegetables, and that having a higher sweet polygenic taste score tended to be associated with lower triglyceride concentrations.

The researchers caution that the findings from this specific group of adults are not necessarily generalizable to everyone. "However, our results do suggest the importance of looking at multiple tastes and food groups when investigating the determinants of eating behaviors," said Gervis. "Going forward, it will be important to try to replicate these findings in different groups of people so that we can understand the bigger picture and better determine how to use this information to devise personalized dietary advice."


Explore further

Sensitivity to bitter tastes may be why some people eat fewer vegetables

More information: Conference: nutrition.org/nutrition-2022-live-online/

Abstract: www.dropbox.com/s/58fj618gld7ebi0/Gervis%20abstract.docx?dl=0

Citation: Do our genes determine what we eat? (2022, June 14) retrieved 17 August 2022 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-06-genes.html
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