Food & Nutrition

Unhealthy Food Intake - Genetic Traits

Could your DNA reveal your Unhealthy Food Intake? Upload raw DNA data to learn more about yourself and genomics science.

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Is Your Unhealthy Food Intake Linked to Your DNA?

Could your DNA reveal your Unhealthy Food Intake? Upload raw DNA data to learn more about yourself and genomics science.

Resisting foods that are bad for you isn’t easy. If you pay attention to any type of media, ads for sweet, gooey treats and burgers piled high with cheese and bacon are everywhere. It’s enough to break down anyone’s willpower. 

Fast food and unhealthy processed foods are budget-friendly and readily available, but it’s not just your willpower or budget planning the menu. In some cases, even a person’s DNA influences unhealthy food intake. That's right. The amount of all the high (saturated) fat, sugary food you eat that just tastes so good may also be linked to your DNA.

Are Bad Eating Habits Genetic?

Gene variation is responsible for more than just hair and eye color. Studies in genetics have shown that everything from your risk of anorexia to your ability to enjoy those nightly zzzs is influenced by the DNA you inherit. It turns out that blaming Mom for your sweet tooth might be more accurate than you realized.

A new study by researcher Silvia Berciano from Tufts University, MA, found that genes can also influence your food preferences. According to the study results, a high preference for chocolate could be influenced by an obesity-associated gene, a variant of the oxytocin receptor gene. 

Oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “love hormone,” is one of the hormones in the human body that helps produce positive feelings. Berciano’s study also found genes may play a role in the intake of salt and fat. 

A study on identical and fraternal twins conducted by researchers from King’s College London concluded there is a genetic component to food preferences. By analyzing questionnaire responses from a total of 2,590 twins, the team found that dietary preferences were more likely among identical twins than non-identical pairs. 

The same research team previously conducted a study that found overall eating habits and some specific food preferences, like enjoying garlic and coffee, had a genetic link. 

Many factors influence which foods a person prefers. Eating habits are complex and include environmental and cultural influences, financial and mental health status, food availability, and other factors. If you’re more likely to reach for the cookie jar instead of the salad bar, your genes may be partly to blame. 

More About Genetics and Unhealthy Food Intake

As we've previously written about in other diet-related traits, the key to unhealthy food intake lies in our neurological response to 'rewarding behaviors'. Namely, the dopamine receptor 2/ankyrin repeat domain and content kinase 1 (DRD2/ANKK1) gene is related to the reward pathway in the brain. It has previously been linked to all sorts of addictions such as gambling and drugs. Food intake is also mediated by the same pathway, regulated by dopamine and other molecules in the brain.

In a 2018 study involving 276 Mexicans, it was found that people who had a specific variant of DRD2/ANKK1 TaqIA (i.e. those with the A1A1+A1A2 genotype) consumed more food that was categorized as 'unhealthy' (which include fried dishes, sugars, etc.) than those with the alternative variant (the A2A2 genotype). At the same time, those with the high-risk genotype also had a lower consumption of 'healthy' food such as legumes than those with the lower risk variant.

Interestingly, the extent to which the high-risk gene variant is rare or common varies between different populations: for example, it is very rare among Caucasians (less than 3% prevalence) while very common in Native Mexicans (67%). In this sense, the population that was studied in this investigation was a particularly high-risk group for obesity and other diet-related conditions (true enough, almost 75% of Mexico's population is overweight or obese). Get the study details here:

Like with many other nutrition studies, the limitations of this study include having a small sample size and using a food questionnaire for measuring the consumption of certain food groups over a 24-hour period. Despite these limitations, this study presents insight that would allow us to identify genetically susceptible people to unhealthy diets and ultimately dietary disease.

How Can This Information Help Me?

Even if you did inherit the genes that make you crave unhealthy foods, you are still responsible for your food choices, right? Yes, that’s true, but understanding how your DNA influences preferences and habits provides important information you can use to design a healthier lifestyle. For example, knowing your preference for French fries over carrot sticks is partially influenced by genetics could help you make better food choices. 

The information learned from studies on genetics and unhealthy food intake also improves personalized medicine — tailoring pharmacological therapies to an individual’s genetic code. With more studies, this type of research could lead to breakthroughs in health management, reducing the risk of obesity and its related complications. 

Want to know your genetic predisposition to consume unhealthy food? Find out on Genomelink now.

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