Why Some Like it Sweet - Sugar, Treats and Genetics

Have you got a sweet tooth? Your genes play a role in sweetness perception.

13 Apr, 2016



Sweetness is in your genes

A single set of genes affects a person’s perception of sweet taste, regardless of whether the sweetener is a natural sugar or a non-caloric sugar substitute, a study suggests.

“Eating too much sugar is often seen as a personal weakness. However, our work suggests that part of what determines our perception of sweetness is inborn in our genetic makeup,” said the study author Danielle Reed, PhD, a behavioural geneticist at Monell. “Just as people born with a poor sense of hearing may need to turn up the volume to hear the radio, people born with weak sweet taste may need an extra teaspoon of sugar in their coffee to get the same sweet punch.”

an abstract photo of rainbow swirled frostin
Twins share sweetness perception

Studying twin pairs allowed the researchers to determine how much influence the twins’ shared genetics contributed to their perception of sweet taste intensity.

The resulting data indicate that genetic factors account for approximately 30 percent of person-to-person variance in sweet taste perception.

The study also revealed that those who perceived the natural sugars as weakly sweet experienced the sugar substitutes as similarly weak. This suggests that there may be a shared pathway in the perception of natural sugar and high-potency sweetener intensity.

Understanding the genetic differences that affect an individual’s perception of sweetness may eventually help food manufacturers reduce the amount of sugars and sweeteners they add to food.

“Even though almost everyone – consumers, physicians, and public health officials – wants to decrease the amount of sugar in our diets, right now we have no tool that has the sensory equivalence of sugar,” said the author. “However, if we can understand why some people have weaker sweetness perception, we might be able to adjust this attribute so we could reduce the amount of sugar in foods.”

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