Snacking is a big part of being a kid today and research supports that kids are snacking more than ever before. As snack foods now add up to a lot of the nutrition a child receives, then having the healthiest options will be best for the child’s health. Unfortunately, it is highly palatable sugar and fat rich foods which seem to be preferred by kids to more bitter tasting vegetables. Genetics could play a role in dictating snacking preferences and with that an increased risk of obesity so understanding the difference between genetic and learned taste from repeated exposure is important.
A research team from Canada explored the link between genetics and snack preferences in kids. They were interested in identifying genetic variants in taste receptors related to sweet preferences, fat taste sensitivity or an aversion to bitter green leafy vegetables.
Snack tastes are in the genes
The daily food habits of 47 pre-schoolers were matched against genetic mutations for taste preferences. Almost 80 per cent of the children carried at least one of the taste mutations that could in theory set them up for less-than-healthy snacking habits.
Kids with the gene mutation for having a sweet tooth ate snacks with significantly more sugar than other kids. Most of these snacks were eaten in the evening which could be because they had easier access to them.
Kids with a mutation leading them to prefer a fat taste had a snacking profile that was more kilojoule dense which is a marker for a higher fat content seeing as this is the most energy dense nutrient. The fat taste mutation can lower the oral sensitivity to fat meaning more fat can be eaten before it is fully sensed.
Kids with an adverse genetic profile that primes them to avoid bitter vegetables also had a diet that was energy dense.
Genetics are one of several factors that can explain a child’s taste preference. Knowing that a taste preference is preferenced can help parents tailor their diet for better nutritional choices by limiting some of the less desirable foods at home or better yet, providing the most healthy option that fits a child’s preferred taste choice. Think fruit over foods high in added sugar for the sweet tooth, more vegetables over fatty foods for the lower fat taster, and creative ways to disguise the bitter taste of vegetables for the bitter taste averse.