Wellness Article

How Genetics Are Partly to Blame for Your Food Cravings
Certain genetic markers can influence your preferences for sweet vs. salty, but you can’t blame them entirely for poor eating habits. Life – by Erica Sweeney

Growing up, my sister liked to eat the salt that gathers at the bottom of bags of pretzels. She still craves salty foods, and so does her 3-year-old son. On the other hand, I’ve had a lifelong sweet tooth, like our dad.

My family’s sweet and salty food cravings raise a curious question: Could genetics play a role in our flavor preferences? A growing body of research suggests a possible link.

Nanette Steinle, a University of Maryland School of Medicine associate professor of medicine and endocrinology and the diabetes section chief at the Maryland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, has studied the relationship of genetics with taste preferences and food choices.

“There are specific receptors that regulate salt taste versus sugar taste,” she said. “There aren’t large, robust studies looking at this question, but for those that are available, we do suspect that there could be a genetic component for preferences for salt, bitter, sweet.”

Steinle co-authored Genetics of Eating Behavior: Established and Emerging Concepts, a 2011 study that examined the role of genetics and the five taste profiles: sweet, bitter, salty, sour and umami. It identified some genes that can influence preferences for sweet and umami and others linked to bitter taste receptors. There are also proteins that regulate salt and water absorption in the body and are connected to salt preferences, she said.

Many researchers believe that along with taste receptors, many factors affected by genetics – including body mass index, metabolism, the brain’s reward center and the hormones involved in feeling hunger and satiety – influence food cravings. Health and nutrition experts caution, however, that genetically influenced preferences shouldn’t be viewed as excuses for poor eating habits. (full story)