Burgers, fries, chocolate – we know these foods are bad for our health. So why are some of us incapable of cutting them from our diets? A new study suggests that our genes may be responsible.
Researchers from Spain have identified certain gene variants that influence a person’s food preferences, such as a liking for chocolate and high-fat foods.
Study co-author Silvia Berciano, of the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid in Spain, and colleagues hope that their results will lead to personalized dietary advice that helps to prevent and treat obesity and other chronic conditions associated with poor eating habits.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend following a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats.
However, it seems that many of us are failing to adhere to these guidelines. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last year, for example, found that more than 90 percent of adults in the United States eat more than the recommended sodium intake.
It goes without saying that following a healthful diet is easier for some people than others. Many of us are unable to resist a chocolate bar or takeout, despite being well aware that excessive consumption of these foods is bad for us.
Previous research has identified certain genes that are associated with behaviors related to anorexia and other eating disorders. For their study, Berciano and team set out to investigate whether genetics play a role in the food choices of healthy individuals.
The researchers reached their findings by analyzing data from the Genetics and Lipid Lowering Drugs and Diet Network study. The data included 818 adults of European ancestry, of whom 404 were men and 414 were women.
The team analyzed the genetic data of each participant, and subjects’ dietary habits were determined using food frequency questionnaires.
The analysis revealed a number of genetic variations that were associated with certain food preferences.
For example, the team found that variants of the receptor gene for the “love hormone” oxytocin were associated with a higher chocolate intake and a larger waist circumference.
Higher salt intake was associated with CREB1 and GABRA2 gene variants, while variants of the SLC6A2 gene were linked to greater total fat intake.
As such, the researchers believe that their study has uncovered a number of gene variants that affect our behavior in a way that influences our food choices.
“Most people have a hard time modifying their dietary habits, even if they know it is in their best interest. This is because our food preferences and ability to work toward goals or follow plans affect what we eat and our ability to stick with diet changes,” says Berciano.
“Ours is the first study describing how brain genes affect food intake and dietary preferences in a group of healthy people.”
The researchers hope that their findings will lead to more effective ways to reduce the risk of chronic disease developed as a result of poor dietary habits.
“The knowledge gained through our study will pave the way to better understanding of eating behavior and facilitate the design of personalized dietary advice that will be more amenable to the individual, resulting in better compliance and more successful outcomes.”
In future research, the team plans to assess whether the genetic variants related to food preferences are associated with greater risk of certain health conditions.