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Some people who find they have an enhanced bitter taste perception are almost twice as likely to consume too much sodium as those with less acute tasting ability. Gene variations that allow people to taste bitter more intensely may also taste salt more intensely and enjoy it much more, which can lead to sodium intake, according to researchers.
This inherited difference in taste perceptions may help to explain why some people tend to eat more salt than what is recommended. This is offered through a preliminary research that was presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2016. Lead author Jennifer Smith, B.S.N., R.N., a Ph.D. student at the University of Kentucky College of Nursing said “Genetic factors in taste perceptions that influence taste aren’t necessarily obvious to people, but they can impact heart health by influencing the foods they select.”
According to the authors, previous research has shown that people who have one of the two most common variants of a gene (TAS2R38) that enhances bitter taste perception, are likely to avoid heart-healthy foods with bitter properties, such as broccoli and dark leafy greens. They sought to determine if that bitter-enhancing genetic variation would also influence other food choices. The diet habits of 407 people (average age of 51, 73% female) who have two or more heart disease risk factors and were participating in a cardiovascular risk-reduction study in rural Kentucky were analyzed.
When those with one or two of the TAS2R38 gene variants that enhances bitter taste perception was compared to those without this variant, they found people who taste bitterness more strongly were nearly twice (1.9 times) as likely to eat more than the minimum recommended daily limit of sodium. The American Heart Association recommends a minimum reduction of sodium to no more than 2,300 mg a day and an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day. It is a risk factor for developing high blood pressure that can lead to heart attacks and strokes by consuming too much sodium. This excessive sodium is from processed, pre-packed and restaurant foods.
It was also found that the study participants who had the bitter-enhancing gene variants were no more likely to consume more of the recommended daily amounts of sugar saturated fats or alcohol, which can have a negative impact on heart health. This research does suggest that those who taste bitter more intensely may also taste salt more intensely and enjoy it more, which in turn increases their sodium intake. They may also use salt to mask the bitter taste of foods and again, consume more sodium.
Perhaps some day the information about genetic influences on taste perception might help people select heart-healthy foods they can enjoy rather than to try to fight against their inborn preferences. Identifying which gene variant a person has might help them to make better food choices through education that is personally tailored to them.
Other factors as age, weight, smoking status and the use of blood pressure medications was taken into consideration in the analysis. The study participants were mostly white, but the results are likely to be similar in other ethnic groups because more than 90% of the U.S. population has one of the two gene variants. The research will continue to work and will include an ethnically diverse group of participants.
The study was funded by the University of Kentucky Center for the Biologic Basis of Oral/Systemic Diseases, the Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence, the National Center for Research Resources and the National Institutes of Health Resources and Services Administration.
–Dr Fredda Branyon