There Might Be a Scientific Explanation for Veggie-Haters

For picky-eaters out there who’ve never had a steamy love affair with dark greens, don’t “get” the Kale obsession and never met a Chopt salad they could stand, researchers at the American Heart Associations Scientific sessions may have found a gene explaining why some people just aren’t able to get into leafy greens. Turns out, you might just be a “super taster,” making these veggies taste too bitter for you to enjoy.

“Your genetics affect the way you taste, and taste is an important factor in food choice. You have to consider how things taste if you really want your patient to follow nutrition guidelines,” Jennifer L. Smith, Ph.D., R.N., co-author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in cardiovascular science at the University of Kentucky School of Medicine in Lexington, said.

According to Smith, the taste gene, called TAS2R38, is inherited by each person twice. When both of a person’s copies of the gene include a variant called AVI, they aren’t all that sensitive to the bitter tastes. People who have one copy that is AVI and another variant called PAV can perceive the bitter tastes. And, then, it’s people with two PAV variants — the so-called “super tasters” that are way more sensitive to the tastes.

This doesn’t just affect their love of veggies, it can also make folks averse to other intense flavors (including coffee): “We’re talking a ruin-your-day level of bitter when they tasted the test compound,” Smith said. “These people are likely to find broccoli, brussels sprouts and cabbage unpleasantly bitter; and they may also react negatively to dark chocolate, coffee and sometimes beer.”

So, okay, maybe your kid pushing their broccoli around their plate has a valid reason (maybe). In the study, they found that of 175 people surveyed, people with the double PAV form of the gene were more significantly more likely to report eating veggies the least.

For the scientists, who are obviously invested in helping folks embrace heart-healthy foods (and, ideally, enjoy them), the next step will be studying ways to help these hyper-sensitive super tasters embrace the veggies they’re genetically predisposed to be repulsed by.

“Down the road we hope we can use genetic information to figure out which vegetables people may be better able to accept and to find out which spices appeal to ‘super tasters’ so we can make it easier for them to eat more vegetables,” Smith says.

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