Don't Like How Veggies Taste? New Study Finds Your Genes May Be To Blame
We're partial to a veggie-heavy diet here at mbg, but there will always be some people who simply can't get over their disdain for greens. If this frustration sounds familiar to you, don't sweat it (or, you know, force-feed yourself kale): You may have a gene that makes you hate vegetables.
Scientists presenting at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions found a gene linked to an aversion to the taste of leafy greens. But don't get too excited. The researchers aren't talking about a mere preference of other foods over, say, broccoli: "We're talking a ruin-your-day level of bitter," says study author Jennifer L. Smith, Ph.D., R.N.
What did the team find?
In the vast world of tiny taste buds, every person inherits two copies of a taste gene, but people can inherit different variations of the gene. For example, they found that people who inherit a variant called AVI aren't sensitive at all to bitter tastes (ever met someone who thrives on the taste of bitter greens?).
Those with one copy of AVI and another copy called PAV do experience bitter tastes, but it's not that "ruin-your-day level of bitter" the scientists describe. Rather, it's the people who inherit two copies of the PAV variant that experience this super-sensitivity for bitter foods. The scientists even call them "super-tasters," as these people are exceptionally averse to bitter tastes—much more than your run-of-the-mill veggie hater.
During the study, researchers analyzed food-frequency questionnaires from 175 participants. What they found was that people with two copies of the PAV gene didn't eat nearly as many vegetables as the other participants. However, these results didn't affect how much salt, fat, or sugar the "super-tasters" ate, meaning, they're not using salt or sugar to offset the taste of bitter vegetables—they're just not eating them at all.
Researchers also found that it's not just those famous cruciferous greens people tend to hate—it's a host of other bitter foods that people might also find unpleasant. The running list includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, dark chocolate, coffee, and (sometimes) beer. So if you're attempting to use this research as a way to avoid Brussels sprouts on your plate, you may want to mention it without a coffee cup in hand.
What's in store for future super-taster research?
Smith mentions that future research could determine which specific vegetables people might be able to tolerate down the line. She says, "We hope we can use genetic information to figure out which vegetables people may be better able to accept and to find out which spices appeal to super-tasters so we can make it easier for them to eat more vegetables." Could there be a super-spice that masks the bitterness for super-tasters?
Smith also urges dietitians and physicians to take taste into account when suggesting certain meal plans. "You have to consider how things taste if you really want your patient to follow nutrition guidelines," she adds.
That said, the next time someone you know says they absolutely hate veggies, keep in mind that their genetics may be to blame. It may not be the best idea to sneak some greens into their meals or brush off their aversion with something along the lines of, "You'll learn to love it!"
Before we can find a way to make these veggies appeal to super-tasters, maybe focusing on the vegetables this group of people can tolerate is key. Non-cruciferous produce like carrots and zucchini might be the super-taster go-to's for now.
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