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Why Do Some Crave Sweets While Others Are Drawn To Salty Foods?

posted on 7/15/2016 Facebook Facebook

Do you find your sweet tooth outweighing your moments of cravings for pizzas or potato chips? Well, as we realize our preferences for a particular taste significantly varies from each other. What tastes we prefer and which foods we eat is probably one of the most fundamental conundrums of the human behavior. And what’s more interesting—it’s actually not that you only like one particular taste, it’s your affinity towards it that makes the other less significant. Confused? Let’s simply it!

The Science Of Taste
We have about 10,000 taste buds which respond to four different types of flavors—sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. Not all of these taste buds are located on the tongue; some are found on the roof of your mouth while a few others are present in the throat. Guess now you know why medicine often taste bitter going down the throat?

Each taste bud is connected to a receptor which relays information to the brain through a bundle of sensory neurons. While everyone has similar taste buds, they respond differently. Science says that our ability to differentiate between the four basic flavors starts in the womb where the amniotic fluid transfers these tastes to the fetus. But flavor isn’t just a product of your taste but also its aroma. Flavor is a combination of taste and smell, and a few other sensory inputs. Try holding your nose while eating or drinking and you’ll find that the food completely loses its flavor. 

How Genes Influence What You Like To Eat
Genes that code for your taste and smell receptors also play a significant role in how sensitive you are to taste. Some scientific studies have found a link between variations in FGF21 and FTO gene and preference for sweet food. These genes are more associated with how people metabolize food and their body mass. FTO gene is known to have a strong influence in obesity and the involvement of this gene in increasing one’s affinity towards sugary foods could offer more insight for researchers studying diabetes, obesity, and nutrition.

But aside from your genetic influence, taste is largely dependent on what we get used to eating growing up. Childhood experiences play an important role in determining your liking profoundly. For example, if your father always treated you to ice-cream when you did something good and you associated this gesture with love, then your brain rewires the neurons to favor sweets, i.e to say you become a sweet tooth. So, we believe the opposite may be true as well, wherein if you felt sick and threw up after you first tasted a hamburger, it could program your brain to dislike the item for the rest of your life. 

And while we often hear more and more of sweet toothed people around, what about all those who reach out for pretzels and bags of potato chips? Looks like these people are called ‘supertasters’ who contain a specific genetic makeup and the flavors they taste are stronger than how most people perceive them. So, whichever side you belong to, make sure you don’t over indulge. 

References:
Drayna D. Human taste genetics. Annu Rev Genomics Hum Genet. 2005;6:217-35.Review. PubMed PMID: 16124860.
Garcia-Bailo B, Toguri C, Eny KM, El-Sohemy A. Genetic variation in taste and its influence on food selection. OMICS. 2009 Feb;13(1):69-80. doi: 10.1089/omi.2008.0031. Review. PubMed PMID: 18687042.
Keskitalo K, Knaapila A, Kallela M, Palotie A, Wessman M, Sammalisto S, Peltonen L, Tuorila H, Perola M. Sweet taste preferences are partly genetically determined: identification of a trait locus on chromosome 16. Am J Clin Nutr.2007 Jul;86(1):55-63. PubMed PMID: 17616763.
Mennella JA, Finkbeiner S, Lipchock SV, Hwang LD, Reed DR. Preferences for salty and sweet tastes are elevated and related to each other during childhood. PLoS One. 2014 Mar 17;9(3):e92201. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0092201. eCollection 2014. PubMed PMID: 24637844; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3956914.
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