Our preference for coffee or beer is not based on the way the beverages taste, but how they make us feel, according to a study.
Scientists from Northwestern University in the US searched for variations in our taste genes that could explain our beverage preferences, because understanding them could indicate ways to intervene in people’s diets.
They counted the number of servings of bitter and sweet beverages consumed by about 336,000 individuals in the UK Biobank.
The researchers did a genome-wide association study of bitter beverage consumption and of sweet beverage consumption.
The study, published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics, showed taste preferences for bitter or sweet beverages are not based on variations in our taste genes, but rather genes related to the psychoactive properties of these beverages.
“The genetics underlying our preferences are related to the psychoactive components of these drinks,” said Marilyn Cornelis, an assistant professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“People like the way coffee and alcohol make them feel. That is why they drink it. It is not the taste,” Cornelis said in a statement.
The study highlights important behaviour-reward components to beverage choice and adds to our understanding of the link between genetics and beverage consumption – and the potential barriers to intervening in people’s diets, she said.
Sugary beverages are linked to many disease and health conditions, researchers said.
Alcohol intake is related to more than 200 diseases and accounts for about 6 percent of deaths globally, they said.
Cornelis did find one variant in a gene, called FTO, linked to sugar-sweetened drinks.
People who had a variant in the FTO gene – the same variant previously related to lower risk of obesity – surprisingly preferred sugar-sweetened beverages.
“It is counterintuitive. FTO has been something of a mystery gene, and we don’t know exactly how it is linked to obesity,” Cornelis said.
“It likely plays a role in behaviour, which would be linked to weight management,” she said.
“To our knowledge, this is the first genome-wide association study of beverage consumption based on taste perspective,” said Victor Zhong, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University.
“It is also the most comprehensive genome-wide association study of beverage consumption to date,” he said.
Beverages were categorised into a bitter-tasting group and a sweet-tasting group. Bitter included coffee, tea, grapefruit juice, beer, red wine and liquor.
Sweet included sugar-sweetened beverages, artificially sweetened beverages and non-grapefruit juices. This taste classification has been previously validated.
Beverage intake was collected using 24-hour dietary recalls or questionnaires.