Food and Your Genes

By Gene Heritage

What better way to spend this year’s Thanksgiving dinner than to get into an epic family fight over the current state of politics! Well…maybe not. If you’re looking for something to talk about that won’t ruffle any feathers (other than the turkey’s), how about the topic of food and your genes? Here are some examples of how genes influence your perception of different food and beverages:

TAS2R38 Gene — influences your sensitivity to bitterness in certain naturally occurring chemicals in red wine and cruciferous vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts and broccoli.

OR6B2 Gene — influences smell sensitivity to a chemical found in many foods and beverages including beer, Gouda cheese, Thai fish sauce, dark chocolate, tea infusions, and truffles.

TAS2R31 Gene Region — influences bitter taste sensitivity to saccharin, an artificial sweetener used in drinks, candies, and medicines. It’s a primary ingredient in Sweet ‘N Low. The TAS2R31 region also influences sensitivity to caffeine and quinine, as well as a chemical found in artichokes.

TAS1R3 Gene Region — influences taste sensitivity to sugars, like sucrose, glucose, and fructose. For humans and other primates, the ability to taste sweetness is an important trait as our diet relies largely upon fruit and other plant foods containing sugar. By contrast, cats and many carnivorous animals have lost their sweet receptor over the course of evolution.

TAS1R1 Gene — influences taste sensitivity to umami, the mysterious "fifth" basic taste, along with sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and saltiness. Umami means “pleasant savory taste” in Japanese. It’s typically described as “savory,” “meaty,” and “brothy,” as well as having a mouthwatering and coating sensation over the tongue. It’s found in glutamate, a naturally-occurring compound in meat broths, fermented products, tomatoes, cheese, and many other foods.

It’s important not to overstate the influence of these genes; most only have a moderate to minor influence on your taste and smell sensitivity. Still, it’s interesting to see how genes were passed down in your family and to learn about their ancient origins. Get a Gene Heritage report to compare your genes with other family members and to build an inheritance tree. You may or may not agree with your Uncle Bob’s views on politics, but it may be consoling—and healing—to find you share the same TAS1R1 gene!