"Taste Gene" Could be Blamed for Why Some People Hate Vegetables
Fri, December 3, 2021

"Taste Gene" Could be Blamed for Why Some People Hate Vegetables

Some people are genetically designed to not like vegetables as a certain gene makes them taste bitter. / Photo by kalcutta via 123rf


It's common to know someone who doesn't like eating vegetables and believe they're just picky-eaters. When asked why they don't eat their veggies, these people would usually say they don't like the taste. This explanation may seem absurd to those who are fond of these nutritious goods, but new research suggests that such an excuse doesn't go unfounded.

Researchers at the University of Kentucky believe that some people are genetically designed to not like vegetables as a certain gene makes them taste bitter. The study, which will be presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions next week, also believes these individuals may also be sensitive to the taste of dark chocolate, coffee, and beer.


The taste gene

In the study, the researchers looked into a survey involving 157 people about their everyday meals—including vegetables. Their genes were also mapped, in which the investigators looked at which copies of the taste gene called TAS2R38 they inherited.

The TAS2R38 has two variants: the AVI, known as the nontaster, and the PAV or the taster. There are different combinations of these variants. For instance, people who inherit two AVIs are not sensitive to bitterness while those who are born with one AVI and one PAV are sensitive to these foods and may find them bitter to the taste.

The possibility of this association among people with two or more cardiovascular disease risk factors is what the researchers looked into for their study. They analyzed data samples from an earlier work that studied gene interactions in people at risk for cardiovascular disease.

Among the respondents with an average age of 52, over 70 percent were female. The secondary analysis found that people who inherited PAV were more than 2.6 times less likely to eat the most vegetables compared to other participants, Newsweek reports.



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"We're talking a ruin-your-day level of bitter when they tasted the test compound," Jennifer L. Smith, study author and a postdoctoral fellow in cardiovascular science at the University of Kentucky School of Medicine in Lexington, said in a statement.

"These people are likely to find broccoli, brussels sprouts and cabbage unpleasantly bitter."

Smith told Newsweek that earlier studies indicate that the gene could also make chocolate, coffee, and beer taste more bitter, although they didn't test this in their work.


An intriguing discovery

The findings of the Kentucky study may change doctors' approach to people who are advised to change their diet for healthier cardiovascular systems. For other experts, it's intriguing that the researchers have identified genetic regions linked to taste and can affect a person's food choices—as well as possibly influence the development of chronic diseases.

"Since fruits and vegetables contain numerous phytonutrients and essential nutrients that can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage — two key damaging processes linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic diseases — anything that affects dietary intake of these foods can influence disease development," Tonia Reinhard, a senior lecturer at Wayne State University in Detroit and course director for clinical nutrition at the university’s school of medicine, told Healthline.


The registered dietitian suggested cooking the vegetables to reduce bitterness and make it acceptable to the taste of people sensitive to them. / Photo by milkos via 123rf


Healthline is an American health information website dedicated to making health and wellness information accessible, understandable, and actionable so that readers can make the best possible decisions about their health.

Reinhard noted that it should be remembered that the taste perception among humans is complex and numerous variables can affect this process. She added that understanding one's preferences is important and if they are unhealthy, they could use their cognitive function to alter some of those preferences.

For Annie Mahon, a registered dietitian, studying genes that affect taste preferences is an active area of research, although she reverberated the concerns surrounding the health implications of heart-healthy vegetables like broccoli.

"These vegetables are good sources of fiber, folate, as well as vitamin C and K," Mahon said, noting that these nutrients are vital to maintaining a healthy digestive and immune system, along with heart health.

To help people who are sensitive to these kinds of foods, the registered dietitian suggested cooking the vegetables to reduce bitterness and make it acceptable to the taste of people sensitive to them.

Being born to not like the bitter taste of vegetables isn't anyone's fault and avoiding them is understandable. But it's important to note that the nutrients found in this food group are important to a person's healthy development. Aside from cooking them, people who don't like eating vegetables can opt to find other sources of those nutrients that they can enjoy eating.

They can also incorporate vegetables into their food and not taste them: grating, dicing, or finely chopping them are just some of the ways people can sneakily mix these foods in dishes. People could also enhance their taste by rubbing spices on them or turning them into tasty sauces.