Don’t like eating vegetables? Researchers from the University of Kentucky (UKY) have found that the reason why may be genetic.
Humans carry two copies of a gene known as TAS2R38 that encodes for a protein necessary for taste receptors on the tongue to taste bitterness. Those who carry two copies of the variant known as AVI are not sensitive to bitter tastes. However, those who inherit one copy of AVI alongside another variant known as PAV are more sensitive to bitter flavors; with those carrying two copies of PAV known as “super-tasters” due to their extreme sensitivity to bitterness (BBC: 2019).
Prior to their study, researchers at UKY suspected that there may be a correlation between the presence of PAV gene variants and people with two or more cardiovascular disease risk factors. Thus, over a 3-year period, they conducted a secondary analysis of data from an earlier study examining gene interactions and food frequency questionnaires in 175 people at risk of developing cardiovascular disease. From the data, they found that people with the PAV variant of the gene were significantly less likely to consume leafy green vegetables than those with AVI variants (Gander: 2019).
According to Tonia Reinhard, a fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “Since fruits and vegetables contain numerous phytonutrients and essential nutrients that can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage — two key damaging processes linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic diseases — anything that affects dietary intake of these foods can possibly influence disease development (Oguntoyinbo: 2019).”
The researchers hope that these findings may change the way doctors advise people to modify their diets to promote cardiovascular health. According to Jennifer L. Smith, one of the authors of the study, “Down the road we hope we can use genetic information to figure out which vegetables people may be better able to accept and to find out which spices appeal to supertasters (those with heightened sensitivity to taste) so we can make it easier for them to eat more vegetables (ibid.).”
A preliminary study, the researchers recognize that further study is required to confirm their findings. This comes both as all of the participants were Caucasian, meaning that future studies will endeavor to have more diverse population samples (Gander: 2019).
Oguntoyinbo, Lekan: Healthline
Gander, Kashmira: Newsweek