Preliminary findings indicate that taste-related genes could play a vital role in food choices, potentially influencing cardiometabolic health.
New research suggests that taste perception genes may influence food choices and could be helpful when developing personalised nutritional guidance for improving diet quality and reducing diet-related disease risk.
“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 personalised nutrition guidance more effective by identifying drivers of poor food choices and helping people learn how to minimise their influence.”
The findings will be presented online at NUTRITION 2022 LIVE ONLINE, the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition.
Investigating food choices and genes
This new study is the first to examine all five basic tastes across a broad sample of US adults. It is the first to address whether genetic variants responsible for taste perception are associated with food choices and cardiometabolic risk factors.
Using data from previous genome-wide association studies, the researchers linked genetic variants to the five basic tastes. By doing this, they created a measure known as a ‘polygenic taste score’ that supplies an estimate of the cumulative effect of genetic variants on the perception of a given taste.
The researchers analysed polygenic taste scores, diet quality and cardiometabolic risk factors for 6,230 adults in the Framingham Heart Study. The cardiometabolic risk factors challenged in the study included waist circumference, blood pressure and plasma glucose, and triglyceride and HDL cholesterol concentrations.
The influence of bitter and sweet tastes
They discovered associations between taste-related genes with food choices and cardiometabolic risk factors. Genes related to bitter and umami taste potentially play a role in diet quality by influencing food choices, as opposed to sweet taste genes that appear essential to cardiometabolic health.
Participants with a higher bitter polygenic taste score consumed almost two serving less of whole grains per week compared to participants with a lower score. Furthermore, they found that eating fewer vegetables was associated with higher umami polygenic taste score and a higher sweet score was linked to lower triglyceride concentrations.
The researchers caution that the findings from this specific group of adults are not necessarily generalisable to everyone. “However, our results do suggest the importance of looking at multiple tastes and food groups when investigating the determinants of eating behaviours,” 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 personalised dietary advice.”