Sweet tooth: Kids' taste preferences could be down to genetics, study says

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26 Feb 2018 --- There may well be a deeper reason behind your child reaching for crackers, cookies or veggies when hunger strikes. Genetic variants in taste receptors could play a role in children’s snacking choices. These variants determine preferences or aversions to sweet, bitter and fatty tastes. A study - conducted by researcher Elie Chamoun, member of the Guelp Family Health Study - found that nearly 80 percent of preschoolers carried at least one of these potential at-risk genotypes that could predispose them to poor snacking habits. 

Each of the three genetic variants could lead to unhealthy habits that may be prevented. If parents understood the genetic role in their kid's unhealthy food choices, related issues such as childhood obesity could be tackled.

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University of Guelph researcher, Ph.D. Candidate, Elie Chamoun.

“Kids are eating a lot more snacks now than they used to, and we think looking at how genetics can be related to snacking behaviour is important to understanding increased obesity among kids,” says Chamoun, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences and a member of the Guelph Family Health Study. “This new research could help parents understand how their kids taste and tailor their diet for better nutritional choices.”

Published in the journal Nutrients, the study looked at connections between the genes – using the children’s saliva - of the three at-risk taste receptors and linked them to snacking patterns. Tracking the day-to-day diet of nearly 50 preschoolers, it was found that snacking makes up one-third of their diets. 

Sweet Preference
Chamoun discovered that kids with a “sweet tooth,” who have the gene related to sweet taste preference, ate snacks with significantly more calories from sugar. They also ate those snacks mostly in the evening.

“It's likely these kids snacked more in the evening because that's when they are at home and have more access to foods with high sugar,” says Chamoun.

The children with the genetic variant related to fat taste sensitivity were found to consume snacks with higher energy density. People with this genetic variant may have low oral sensitivity to fat and therefore consume more fatty foods without sensing it, says Chamoun.

“Higher-energy density snacks, such as cookies with lots of sugar and fat, have a higher number of calories for their weight. Those are snacks you want to avoid.”

Bitter Taste Aversion
The children with the genetic variant related to avoiding bitter vegetables also consumed snacks with high energy density.

“They might be replacing those healthy veggies with unhealthy snacks. This is why they may be consuming more energy-dense snacks, because they are avoiding the healthy ones.”

If researchers can establish a solid link between genetics and taste, then we can create tests that will help parents determine which genetic variants their children have, says Chamoun.
“This could be a valuable tool for parents who might want to tailor their children's diet accordingly. For example, if you know your child has a higher desire for sweet foods based on their genetics, you might be more likely to limit or reduce their accessibility to those foods in the home.”

This study is the first in an emerging area of nutrition research. Children’s food choices may not only be linked to bodyweight and health, but overall self-esteem and life quality, as NutritionInsight has previously reported. In related news, Nutritioninsight’s sister website, FoodIngredientsFirst, has reported on Dutch Start-up FruitFunk, which is bringing responsible sweet snacks for children to the market. 

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