Parents know how difficult it can be to get their children to eat certain foods, especially vegetables. We think our children are just picky eaters but it seems that there is a genetic connection to the foods people prefer to eat.
Food Preferences and Bitter Taste
Differences in the sense of taste can have a profound impact on the food choices we make. There are taste receptors that are located on the surface of taste cells on our taste buds. Signals sent to the brain enable us to recognize certain tastes. There are twenty-five different genes within the T2R gene family involved in detecting bitter taste. The ability to detect various bitter tastes varies in individuals, making some people more sensitive to bitter taste than others. The degree to which a person detects bitter tastes can affect the dietary choices he/she makes.
A study published in a 2005 issue of Pediatrics reported that researchers classified 143 children and their mothers into three groups based on their TAS2R38 genotype. The first group had two bitter sensitive alleles whereas group two had two bitter insensitive alleles, and the third group had one of each. Children and adults with two bitter sensitive alleles were more sensitive to bitter taste than those with just one bitter sensitive allele. Children were also more sensitive to bitter taste than adults. The degree to which an individual detects bitter taste is influenced by the variant.
Age and Taste
Factors such as age may contribute to food preferences. As a person ages, food preferences may change due to a possible diminished perception of taste. An altered perception of taste may also account for why a child who dislikes a particular food often develops a preference for it later in life. A fetus may be introduced to elements in the mother’s diet, as flavors are passed into the amniotic fluid, as shown by research conducted by the Monell Center. According to researchers at the Center, a late-term fetus has functional chemosensory systems that can detect taste and odors.
The Olfactory Sense and Taste
According to The European Nutrigenomics Organisation, humans can recognize approximately 10,000 odors. Because olfactory senses are linked to flavor perception, odor may play a role in food preference and consequently health status. Simply put, children like food that tastes good to them. Adults also prefer food that appeals to both their sense of taste and smell. But the genetic influences that affects those senses are not quite so simple. As researchers learn more about the sense of taste they also learn how genes influence dietary choices and the subsequent health conditions that often stem from or are affected by the foods we eat.
Learning how the sense of taste works can help us to understand why we respond to certain foods, and how we can fulfill our dietary needs without sacrificing our sense of taste.