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Updated 31 July 2020

Your genes might determine whether you like fatty foods

We know far more about sugar's link to our taste buds than fat.

  • There might be a genetic link that predisposes us to the taste of fatty foods
  • A study analysed identical and fraternal twins to investigate this
  • They did find that adding fatty acids did not make food taste better unless masked by oil

Diet plays a vital role in our health, and it's important to understand why we choose certain foods above others, even when we know they're bad for us.

Fat and sugar are key components when it comes to tasty food, but we know far more about sugar's link to our sense of taste than fat.

To rectify this, researchers wanted to find out if we might be genetically predisposed to prefer fatty foods by looking at the taste profile of 398 pairs of twins, publishing their findings in Chemical Senses. 

READ | Milk chocolate, dairy and fatty foods tied to acne in adults 

It's all in the chips

They used potato chips with varying levels of corn oil, some bolstered by saturated long-chain fatty acids, and high- and low-fat milk to determine which tastes the participants preferred.

"The effect of added hexadecanoic acid [the most common saturated fatty acid] on liking was less straightforward: for the 5% corn oil chips, adding a 16:0 fatty acid did not alter liking, while, for the 2.5% corn oil chips, adding the fatty acid decreased liking," says the study.

With the milk, participants had to guess which was low-fat and high-fat in a blind taste test, but only 3% could judge it accurately. 

They also collected saliva samples to map the genomes from the DNA.

ALSO READ | Fatty diets tied to leading cause of vision loss in seniors

Results

They found that people tended to like some of the fattier chips due to other senses like texture, but not when fatty acids were added to the food. However, the more oil was present the less likely people were able to notice the added fatty acid.

The researchers do note that the participants might have been able to sense the difference in fatty acids based on smell.

"Thus, presumably, taking a broader view and generalising, this result suggests that increasing 'fattiness' by adding [fatty acid] to foods would not make them better liked, and raises the possibility that recently discovered antagonists to the [fatty acid] receptors might improve fat flavour."

But do genetics play a role?

"We learned from the reliability and heritability analyses that liking for this solid food matrix, potato chips, with differing fat concentrations, was more similar among genetically identical twins than among nonidentical twins."

While the study was unable to predict which genes were responsible for the preference for fattiness, the results did provide a map for which genes and pathways to investigate in future studies. These include genes that help develop taste cells in humans.

"We speculate that sensory nutrition and taste perception offer a way to reduce nutrition-related human diseases by studying the nuanced and often misunderstood relationship between liking and intake," write the authors.

This could be important in creating personalised nutrition plans for individuals as well as providing a wider scope for humans' relationship with food.

READ | Who gets non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?

Image credit: Pixabay

 
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