For some time now Scientists have been trying to uncover the relationship between genetics and taste preferences. It has been of interest to researchers because if we can identify the relationship and genetic bases between taste and food preferences then we should be able to tailor peoples nutritional plans and interventions, as well as improve their compliance with them. This being said, a relationship between genetics and nutrition is not all that new, it has been around for a few years now just under the name Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics
What is Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics?
The terms Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics basically refer to the way someone’s genetic make- up effects their physiological response to the nutrients they consume (Nutrigenetics), compared to the effect certain nutrients have on the genome (your personal library of genes) (Nutrigenomics). So you can see the two terms are similar and yet uniquely distinct from one another. So Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics basically asks whether ‘you are what you eat’ or ‘you eat what you are’…this basically means that are our bodies EITHER become what we eat, or what we eat should depend on what our bodies prefer, or what our bodies are genetically programmed to respond to. So ‘diet personalisation’ as it has been called, is a real possibility that may well enable us to truly tailor some bodies diet to their genetic make- up. A recent study published in the European Society of Human Genetics has taken this genetic foundation and tried to identify certain genetic characteristics that may predispose somebody to liking certain foods and tastes over other, from this it is hoped we may one day have very specific, genetic based personalised diet plans to your individual needs and taste preferences!
How might genetic dependent diets effect you?
The capacity to devise a diet that is in line with your genetic make- up can lead to improved results and dietary compliance. Studies have shown that a diet that is of a similar calorie count, but tailored to the individuals specific taste preferences based on unique genes, yielded 33% more weight loss than those who were given non- specific foods. One of the lead researchers in a recent study published in the European Society of Human Genetics, Dr Robino explains:
"Our work has expanded these studies to the whole genome, with the goal of clarifying which specific genes drive individual differences in taste perception and food preferences."
They were able to uncover 17 independent genes that predisposed someone to liking certain foods, including artichokes, bacon, coffee, chicory, dark chocolate, blue cheese, ice cream, liver, oil or butter on bread, orange juice, plain yoghurt, white wine and mushrooms. The next thing that researchers would like to understand is what part of each food is unique to the gene, or is it the whole food in general…complicated stuff right!? So it seems that if researchers can get a firm understanding of what genes correlate with certain foods, then we may be in a position to control obesity related disease/ conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and so on.
The studies behind this subject are still in their infancy, there is no doubt the actual application of such practices will be at least a few years down the line. However, the theory is a valid one, and the application is a real possibility for future health promotion and disease prevention.
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Kaput, J. (2004). Diet-disease gene interactions. Nutrition 20: 26-31.
Mutch, D., Wahli, W., & Williamson, (2005). Nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics: the emerging faces of nutrition. 12: 1602-1616.
Science Daily, (2014). Revolutionizing diets, improving health with discovery of new genes involved in food preferences. Retrieved 3rd June, 2014, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140601201954.htm