JUL 16, 2022 8:00 AM PDT

Taste Is a Matter of Perception... And Genetics

WRITTEN BY: Joshua Aeh

In one of the first of its kind, a study involving the link between genetics and taste perceptions (bitter, salt, savory, sour, and sweet) has revealed important information about how and why we like what we like…flavor-wise that is. In this study, scientists sought to examine if genetics play a role in the choice of food groups and cardiometabolic risk factors.

Using over 6,000 adult participants, scientists discovered genes related to taste might indeed have a say on an individual's choice in food and, possibly, influence their cardiometabolic health.

When taken into consideration, the link between genes and taste perception could provide doctors and nutritionists with a complete picture of how to develop a more specific diet for those needing a specialized diet. This information could help improve the quality of one's diet and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other diet-related health concerns.

Taste is often the driving force behind our selection of preferred foods; in a way, our preferred choices in food make up the whole of our diets. By understanding what goes into our personal favorites of select foods, we could weed out the bad and reduce its hold over us.

For instance, those with a sweet tooth and an unshakeable, insatiable craving for all things naughty are more likely to avoid or neglect quality foods that otherwise benefit their health. By simply introducing foods that align with their taste perception profile, a less appealing but healthier food could become more appealing to their taste buds. With this information, they could then provide for themselves a guide to a cleaner, healthier diet that doesn't sacrifice their preferred taste in foods, allowing them to take control.

Though there have been studies on genetics and tastes, no previous research has considered the full scope of all five basic tastes (bitter, salt, savory, sour, and sweet) and genetics. Nor has any prior study examined such a broad range of U.S. adults. This new study is unique because it is the first to determine if genetic variants that control taste perception influence our choice in food groups and, with that, cardiometabolic risk factors.

To achieve this, the researchers took data from previous genome-wide association studies and identified the genetic variants linked with each of the five basic tastes. With this information, they developed the "polygenic taste score." This newly developed metric provides a single estimate of the cumulative effect of many genetic variants on the perception of a given taste. For example, a high polygenic taste score for sweet means that an individual has a higher genetic predisposition to positively perceive foods that are sweeter in taste.

After that, the researchers analyzed the results of the polygenic taste scores, quality of diet, and cardiometabolic risk factors (circumference of waist, blood pressure and plasma glucose, and triglyceride and HDL cholesterol concentrations) of over 6,000 adults.

The results of the analysis identified links between taste-related genes and cardiometabolic risk factors. The data showed that genes associated with a preference for sweet are likely to be more related to cardiometabolic health. In contrast, genes associated with bitter and savory tastes may influence diet quality because of the preferred choices in foods.

The researchers discovered that participants with a higher bitter polygenic taste score consumed about two servings less per week of whole grains compared to those with a lower bitter polygenic taste score. They also found that those with a higher savory polygenic taste score ate fewer vegetables, most notably those that were orange and red. And those with a higher sweet polygenic taste score were commonly linked to lower triglyceride concentrations.

Though promising as these findings may be, the researchers note that the study participants' results may not apply to everyone. However, they suggest considering multiple tastes and food groups when looking at what factors into eating behaviors. With future studies, scientists hope to replicate the findings but with different groups of people and develop a more comprehensive understanding of the information that will enable them to devise better dietary guidelines for everyone.

Sources: Science Daily, ASN

About the Author
BS in Exercise Science
Currently a Tissue Recovery Technician with a background in Exercise Science working on the side as a Writer with an interest in all things science.
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