Researchers find genes that affect eating habits.

Researchers find genes that affect eating habits.

Genetic Influence on Dietary Choices Revealed in New Study

You are what you eat

You’ve likely heard the phrase “you are what you eat,” but a new study suggests that what you eat also has something to do with who you are — genetically speaking. Researchers have identified nearly 500 genes that appear to directly influence our dietary choices. These groundbreaking insights could help improve personalized nutrition to boost health and prevent disease.

According to the research team leader, Joanne Cole, an assistant professor in the biomedical informatics department at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, some of these genes are related to sensory pathways, such as taste, smell, and texture, and they may also increase the reward response in the brain. Cole and her team believe that by understanding these genetic influences, they could potentially create sensory genetic profiles to tailor dietary recommendations based on individual food preferences.

To uncover these genetic influences, the researchers used data from the UK Biobank, which contains information from 500,000 individuals. They conducted a phenome-wide association study, identifying genes more strongly associated with diet than with any health or lifestyle factor. Studying such a large sample size was crucial because genetics play a smaller role in influencing dietary intake compared to environmental factors like culture, socioeconomic status, and food accessibility.

Identifying genes that directly influence diet poses a challenge due to other factors that affect food choices, such as income, body weight, and high cholesterol. To overcome this obstacle, the researchers applied computational methods to differentiate between direct and indirect effects of genetic variants on diet. For example, they eliminated gene variants that were more strongly associated with conditions like diabetes, which could indirectly impact food choice.

In their analysis, the study authors found approximately 300 genes directly associated with eating specific foods, and almost 200 genes linked to dietary patterns. Dietary patterns refer to the grouping of various foods together, such as overall fish intake or fruit consumption. Interestingly, the researchers discovered that dietary patterns tend to have more indirect genetic effects, meaning they were correlated with other factors. This emphasizes the importance of considering other variables when studying dietary patterns, as their impact on human health may be influenced by multiple factors.

Looking ahead, Cole envisions the possibility of developing a genetically modified diet to aid weight loss. Could nutritionists use a person’s genetics to tailor the flavor profile of a weight-loss plan, thereby improving adherence? This intriguing question warrants further exploration.

These findings were presented by Cole at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition in Boston. As with any study presented at a medical meeting, these results should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Sources:American Society for NutritionUK Biobank

Quiz: Portion vs Serving

Quiz Question: According to the USDA, is there any difference between a “portion” and a “serving”?

Please check the answer at the end of this article.