Our Genes make us like or dislike foods

An interesting research subject was undertaken by the researchers of the Riken Center for Integrative Medical Sciences and Osaka University in Japan. The subject of their study was a genetic association with food preferences. The sample size that was studied was a huge group of 160,000 people.

Yukinori Okada, Senior Visiting Scientist at Riken IMS and professor at Osaka University stated via a press release that until now we all knew that what we eat defines what we are. However, now it is found that what we are, is also defined by what we eat.

To study the relationship between genes and food preference, the researchers undertook Genome studies. These kinds of studies are conducted on a large sample size. The grouping is usually dependent on whether the people in the group has the

  • Same DNA marker called nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs or
  • If they have a disease

Genome studies are usually conducted to associate specific genetic variations with particular diseases. However, for this particular study, researchers used data of more than 160,000 Japanese people from the BioBank Japan Project. For the research, data of these people’s lifestyles such as dietary habits were recorded through interviews and questionnaires.

The research found that people have nine genetic locations that are associated with consuming a variety of foods like coffee, tea, alcohol, yogurt, cheese, natto (fermented soybeans), tofu, fish, vegetables and meat. The research also brought to fore the factors that enabled people to taste bitter flavors. For instance: the presence of a particular variant made some people like tofu. However, the absence of the same variant made people consume less alcohol or none at all.

Further, the study finds that the primary ingredients of any food item mattered too.  For instance, it was found that there positive relations between eating yogurt and eating cheese, both milk-based foods.

Being a genome study anyway the researchers also extended the scope of the study with a phenome study. A phenome study comprises all the possible observable traits of DNA, known as phenotypes. It helped in understanding if the genetic markers associated with food were also linked with any disease.

Here is the result of the phenome study. It was found that six genetic markers that were associated with food, were related to at least one disease phenotype. The diseases referred to here are several types of cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Here are the words of Okada, a researcher who states that by “estimating individual differences in dietary habits from genetics, especially the ‘risk’ of being an alcohol drinker, we can help create a healthier society.”