The new and developing science of Nutrigenetics aims to identify genetic susceptibility to diseases and the ways in which very small difference in our genes can alter the effects that nutrient intake has on the body. By understanding and analysing these variations, specific dietary and disease prevention advice can be given based on personal genetic makeup.
The science has since been growing, and we have become aware that this can also be applied to our own food preferences – which have an environmental and a genetic component.
In a 2016 study carried out on the relationship between genetics, environment and food preferences, it was shown that genetic factors influenced a significant and substantial proportion of the variation in preference scores of all 6 food groups: vegetables, fruit, starchy foods, meat or fish, dairy and snacks. This is not to say that it is all down to genetics, but rather what inherently makes us up can lead us toward selecting certain foods on this basis.
It is well known that a person’s food choices change over time due to environmental factors as well. Food preferences were found to have had a moderate genetic basis in late adolescence, in keeping with findings in children. However, by this older age, the influence of the shared family environment had disappeared, and only aspects of the environment unique to each individual twin influenced food preferences. This finding suggests that shared environmental experiences that influence food preferences in childhood may not have effects that persist into adulthood.
Whereas the environment is always in flux, our genetics never change. This is why it has become so important in understanding what variations in our genes exist that make us unique because they are a constant factor throughout our lives. By further understanding our nutrigenetics and food preferences, we will be able to better understand the influence of the environment and certain adaptations we can make ourselves for the benefit of our health and nutrition.
Another study revealed that by using three different isolated populations from Italy for the discovery step and two populations from The Netherlands and Central Asia for replication, 15 independent genome-wide significant loci were found for 12 different foods. None of the identified genes coded for either taste or olfactory receptors suggesting that genetics impacts in determining food likings in a much broader way than simple differences in taste perception.
What is most interesting here is the fact that the genes that were found to have an impact were not associated with taste or smell. With this understanding, it then becomes clear that there are surely other environmental and genetic influences that go beyond even our senses to determine the foods that we enjoy.
In conclusion, studies continue to be done to help us to understanding the role that genetics play in our lives as it has already shown us a wealth of information. As what we know continues to expand, so too does the science and the positive impact it can have on us as individuals and society as a whole.