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Dispatches from Experimental Biology 2017

Study unlocks how genes may affect dietary preferences

By Stephen Daniells , 24-Apr-2017
Last updated on 24-Apr-2017 at 14:50 GMT2017-04-24T14:50:15Z

Image credit: Adriano Kitani
Image credit: Adriano Kitani

Genes involved in behavioral and psychological traits appear to drive a significant part of someone’s food preferences and dietary habits, says a new study from Spain.

Previous research has identified genes involved with behaviors seen in eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, but the new study is reported to be the first to examine how natural variation in these genes could affect eating behaviors in healthy people.

The data was presented this week during the American Society for Nutrition Scientific Sessions at Experimental Biology 2017 in Chicago.

“Most people have a hard time modifying their dietary habits, even if they know it is in their best interest,” explained Silvia Berciano, a pre-doctoral fellow at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, who presented the findings. “This is because our food preferences and ability to work toward goals or follow plans affect what we eat and our ability to stick with diet changes. Ours is the first study describing how brain genes affect food intake and dietary preferences in a group of healthy people.”

Study details

Berciano and her co-workers analyzed genetic data from 818 men and women of European ancestry participating in the Genetics and Lipid Lowering Drugs and Diet Network (GOLDN) Study, which included people from Minneapolis, MN, and Salt Lake City, UT. Dietary intake data was collected using a diet-history questionnaire and correlated with 1,359 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) previously linked to behavioral and psychological traits such as stress, addiction, depression, impulsivity, novelty-seeking, and aberrant eating.

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Results showed that the genes they studied did play a significant role in a person's food choices and dietary habits. Higher chocolate intake and a larger waist size were associated with certain forms of the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR), while an obesity-associated gene (FTO) played a role in vegetable and fiber intake. They also observed that certain genes were involved in salt (CREB1 and GABRA2) and fat intake (SLC6A2).

“The knowledge gained through our study will pave the way to better understanding of eating behavior and facilitate the design of personalized dietary advice that will be more amenable to the individual, resulting in better compliance and more successful outcomes,” said Berciano.

The researchers said they plan to perform similar investigations in other groups of people with different characteristics and ethnicities to better understand the applicability and potential impact of these findings.

They also want to investigate whether the identified genetic variants associated with food intake are linked to increased risks for disease or health problems.

Source: The FASEB Journal
Volume 31, Number 1, Supplement 299.1
“Behavior related genes, dietary preferences and anthropometric traits”
Authors: S. Berciano et al.