Washington: Researchers have said that new understanding of the genes involved in taste perception and food preferences could lead to personalised nutrition plans effective not just in weight loss but in avoiding diseases like cancer, depression, and hypertension.
Knowing why individuals prefer certain food tastes and being able to personalise health interventions based on them will help people age in a healthier way and greatly improve their quality of life, as well as engender considerable savings for health systems, they say.
Dr Nicola Pirastu and Dr Antonietta Robino, from the University of Trieste and the IRCCS Burlo Garofolo Institute for Maternal and Child Health, Trieste, Italy, set out to identify novel genes and pathways involved in taste perception and food preferences, and to investigate their implications in protecting against or predisposing to diet-related disorders such as overweight, obesity, and diabetes.
The researchers undertook genome wide association studies (GWAS) to try to unravel the genetic basis for certain food preferences. 2311 Italian subjects participated in the discovery step, while 1755 from other European countries and from Central Asia were used in order to further verify the findings.
They uncovered 17 independent genes related to liking for 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. Surprisingly, none of the genes thus identified belonged to the category of taste or smell receptors.
In a second study, the researchers amassed the response of around 900 healthy adults from North Eastern Italy to salt, and related this to a DNA sequence variation found on the KCNA5 gene, known to be related to taste pathways in mammals. Salt perception and the related genetic variation in taste receptors are important determinants of individual differences in salt intake, which in turn represents an important risk factor for the development of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.
Nutritional intervention could be greatly improved by tailoring it to the food preferences of each person, the researchers say. And food preferences are also much easier to collect and study; while it is almost impossible to remember much one has eaten in the past ten years, it is easy to remember food likes and dislikes.