There have been countless studies linking personal genes to an individual’s ability to achieve and maintain weight loss. Certain people for instance, are blessed with naturally fast metabolisms, and certain genes can increase the tendency of a person’s body to store excess fat. A recent ground-breaking study has found that there is an additional way in which your genes can make you fat, and it lies in two specific genes that control your taste buds.
Almost everyone enjoys the taste of high-fat foods, however there is a large variation in the extent to which people enjoy and consume fat. According to a study conducted at the New York Obesity Research Center, and published in the Journal of Food Science (March 2012), the genes CD36 and TAS2R38 play an important role in how people taste and enjoy fat and junk food.
The researchers examined the 2 genes which determine taste receptors, in several hundred African American adults. The researchers focused only on one ethnic group in order to limit genetic variations which could increase the difficulty in detecting associations with the genes of interest. The study first examined the gene CD36, which is the gene that is thought to be responsible for the perception and detection of fats in the mouth. The researchers found that 21 percent of the participants had a specific genetic variation in the CD36 gene that resulted in a greater preference for added fats and oils, such as those found in cooking oils and salad dressings. These individuals also had a hard time detecting creaminess variations in salad dressing samples. These findings parallel the findings of another study which found that individuals with a variation in CD36 have a hard time detecting the presence of the specific fat–oleic acid, in foods (Peppino and others 2012).
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The researchers at New York Obesity Research Center also studied the gene TAS2R38, which is thought to be a gene that allows humans to detect and taste bitter compounds in foods. Previous research has found that approximately 70 percent of Americans can taste these bitter compounds and the other 30 percent are categorized as “nontasters” because they cannot taste the bitterness. The study found that in addition to not sensing bitterness, the “nontasters” also had a hard time perceiving fats in foods.
The results of this study suggest that it may be harder for certain individuals to lose weight because they have genetic variations resulting in fewer taste buds and consequently, they consume higher fat foods such as junk foods, to compensate for the perceived lack of flavor. However, it is a bit of a chicken and egg situation because some researchers speculate that consuming a chronic high fat diet results in gene mutation and a reduced ability to perceive and experience satisfaction from fats in foods, as opposed to the other way around.
Although obesity and a chronic inability to maintain weight loss may be in part due to genetic variations in taste buds, it is important to realize that weight issues are multifaceted and not caused by any single element. Nevertheless, scientists are optimistic that a greater understanding of how these two genes affect the ability to taste and enjoy dietary fat, may lead to the development of a weight loss mechanism that helps people who are overweight due to an inability to resist consuming excess dietary fat.