BBC News, October 22, 2007
Our genes and not just our upbringing may play a key role in our food likes and dislikes, UK researchers believe.
Experts from Kings College London compared the eating habits of thousands of pairs of twins.
Identical twins were far more likely to share the same dietary patterns—like a penchant for coffee and garlic—suggesting tastes may be inherited.
A health psychologist said this meant childhood food foibles might be harder to put right than previously thought.
Identical twins have exactly the same genetic make-up as each other, so scientists, by comparing them to non-identical twins, can work out the likelihood that their characteristics are due to “nature” or “nurture”.
The Kings College researchers looked at a total of more than 3,000 female twins aged between 18 and 79, working out their broad preferences using five different dietary “groups”.
These included diets heavy in fruit and vegetables, alcohol, fried meat and potatoes, and low-fat products or low in meat, fish and poultry.
Their results, published in the journal Twin Research and Human Genetics, suggested that between 41% and 48% of a person’s leaning towards one of the food groups was influenced by genetics.
The strongest link between individual liking and genes involved a taste for garlic and coffee.
Professor Tim Spector, who led the research, said: “For so long we have assumed that our upbringing and social environment determine what we like to eat.
“This has blown that theory out of the water—more often than not, our genetic make-up influences our dietary patterns.”
The researchers suggested that healthy eating campaigns, such as the government’s “five-a-day” fruit and vegetable initiative, might have to be re-thought in light of the findings, as people genetically “programmed” to eat less fruit and vegetables would be more resistant to health messages than thought.
Professor Jane Wardle, from University College, said that the findings, and other similar research, pointed to genetics playing a “moderate” part in the development of preferred foods.
She said that it was possible that genes involved with taste, or the “reward” chemicals released by the body in response to certain foods, might play a role.
“People have always made the assumption that food choices are all due to environmental factors during life, but it now seems this isn’t the case.
“It also suggests that what parents do to influence eating habits in childhood are not necessarily as important as we thought—and that a lot of effort may need to be made with young people as they become independent in adolescence to steer them onto the right course.”